In today’s fast paced, high-tech world, it is common for a young and inexperienced individual to find themselves in a position of leadership. It is also not uncommon for young leaders to be extremely vocal. I have compiled a list of ten traits I believe are important for young leaders. This is in no way an exhaustive or perfect list (see number 4). It is also not an original list. Each of these ideas have been taught or caught as I’ve talked with, read, and worked alongside other more experienced (and less experienced) leaders. I’ve broken these rules and learned from those mistakes.
#1 Listen more than you speak. Listening is one of the single greatest things that young leaders can do. Listen to those in a positions above you and learn from them. Listen to those whom you lead. I think a great leader rarely gives advice but listens long enough to allow the other person to talk out their own solution. And with the ability for anyone to start a blog or join twitter and become a “writer” I would add “read more than you write.”
#2 Be confident but not arrogant. Get over it now, you are not the supreme authority on anything. There will always be someone with a little more knowledge or experience than you. Even if you’ve created your field, stop believing you have all the right answers. One arrogant statement from you can be overlooked and forgiven, but if you constantly act like you have it figured out and no one else does, I’ll stop listening to you and so will others. It’s okay to be confident. You have gotten this far because you have at least some talent and you can contribute much to your community. Just be sure to recognize your limitations and inexperience.
#3 Accept correction humbly. If you follow number two, this one is way easier. If someone takes the time to correct you, it’s because they care about you or your ministry/product/service. They may not always be right, but accept the correction humbly either way. Never let your pride or arrogance get in the way of making yourself or your ministry/product/service better. As you begin to accept and appreciate correction, you will blow the lid off of your limits as a leader. Sure, there will always be hecklers, but oftentimes humbly accepting the correction of a heckler is the quickest way to shut them up. They want to get a rise out of you and if they don’t they will move on.
#4 Share from experience, but don’t believe it’s the only way. As a young leader myself, I’m always cautious about how someone will take me because I like to share what I have done or gone through in the hopes that it may help someone else. I always try to share in a way that comes across as if I’m saying, “This is what worked for me or what I did, but it certainly is not the right way or even the best way.” I also share my experiences in the hopes that someone will offer suggestions that will help make me better. When they see what I’ve done or am doing, that allows them to offer those suggestions knowledgeably.
#5 Give credit where credit is due. Hey, that’s a great quote or idea you just tweeted, but I wish you had told me where you got it. One, giving the impression that someone else’s idea is your own is a really dishonest and arrogant thing to do. Second, I’d like to explore that idea further and I cannot unless you tell me where it came from. If you got the idea from someone else in your field, someone in another field, or even from your competitor, let me know. My respect for you will increase and so will your credibility.
#6 Say thank you. It is the right thing to do to properly credit someone else for their work or idea, but as an added measure, thank them personally. A quick email that just tells them that you appreciate what they contribute to your life or field will speak volumes of you. Other leaders who are putting themselves out there to better you deserve to be thanked for their contribution, especially when that contribution is offered for free. When doing so, make sure you respect the time of the person you are thanking. Don’t write a twenty page novel or try to sell them on your idea or product. Just say thank you and quickly say why you are thankful.
#7 Contribute something of value to your community. Have you ever sat in meetings with that one person who rarely talks, but when they do everyone listens because they know it will be profound? Be that person. Whether it is sharing something of yours or sharing someone else’s work with proper credit, make sure what you are contributing to your community is of value. Every book or blog post you read is not going to be life-changing for everyone else, so share wisely. If you are not sure what your community values, ask.
#8 Adjust your goals from being THE leader to being a great leader. Oftentimes, the leader whose only goal is to get to the next level will not make it. Those who focus on being an excellent leader in their current position will usually find advancement around the corner. Two key things happen during these seasons of leadership. First, you receive valuable experience and insight that prepares you for future leadership roles. Prepare yourself to take on more by being excellent at what you are currently doing. Second, you prove that you are capable of handling more or learn that you are not yet ready for the next step. Either one is valuable.
#9 Fail publicly, but succeed there as well. It is okay to make a mistake in public. Better to fail publicly in small things along the way than to fail miserably and end something great (it has happened to leaders in every single field, so don’t believe it cannot happen to you). Being honest about your failures prevents them from happening in the future. On the flip side of the equation, it is okay to succeed publicly as well. Young leaders often fear their public success for fear that it will come across as arrogant. If you follow previous suggestions–humbly accepting correction, properly crediting those who have helped you get here–people will rejoice with you.
#10 Serve upwards, downwards, and laterally. I saved a critical one for last. This one point will make all others a more natural part of your leadership. As a young leader, it is important to remember that it is not about you. You need to serve those you lead. Find ways to make their lives easier and they will honor your leadership. You also need to serve laterally. By serving those around you, you create valuable peer relationships that ultimately strengthen you and the community as a whole. And serve upwards. When you serve those who are leading you, you model key behavior for those who follow you. You also establish good relationships with your leaders. This will allow them to speak into your life and leadership which makes you better. It will also create a line of communication that allows you to increase your influence beyond your current leadership limits.
Even though you are young, you have great potential to be an excellent and respected leader. Following these ten suggestions will enhance that potential. What would you add to this list? What do you disagree with?
(Image credit to FOTOCROMO)