7 People Every Young Professional Needs to Get Ahead

My colleague Ann challenged my thinking recently. As she transitioned into a new CEO role, she reflected, “Other people have paved a way for us to succeed in ways we probably don’t realize.” I bristled at first because I wanted to believe most of my success was self-made. (This despite my being far from CEO material.) But a few days later as I stared out the window counting the Camaros in the parking lot, I came to a realization.

Someone else has already invented the wheel. And because of that, all of us can focus on greater achievements.

That may not sound very profound, but it helped me accept Ann’s observation.

Zig Ziglar used to say, “If you come across a turtle on a fence post, you can rest assured it didn’t get there on its own.”

If the achievements of others propel us to greater heights, how much more does the intentional involvement of others along our journey?

So if you’re tempted, as I am from time to time, to pursue success on your own, stop to consider you may be taking a significant detour. There are helpers available to you along the way.

Here are a seven every young professional ought to utilize.


An expert is someone who knows something you don’t know but you need to know in order to be successful. The time it takes to figure these things out on your own can be turbo-charged if you get their input. Not only that, as I point out in my book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise, experts can help you learn from the mistakes of others so you don’t make them yourself.

Experts may be individuals at higher levels in the organization, subject matter experts, thought leaders or simply curators and distributors of information. They can serve as either formal or informal mentors, if you take the initiative to ask them. Or you may follow the work they produce from a distance.


Champions have the power and personal interest to help you get where you want to go. They may not be ultimate decision-makers, but they generally have some level of authority or influence over the process. For instance, if you want to make an internal career move, a champion can help shape conversations or pull strings to make things happen.

It’s much easier to make achieve a new milestone with the support of a champion (or several champions) than by yourself.


Encouragers may not have special expertise or influence, but they play an important role in your success, if you let them. Encouragers tell you to keep up the good work – you’ll be successful if you keep at it. They can be friends, family members, colleagues or others you trust.

When you have a big dream or are considering a tough or risky next step, talk to your encouragers first. They will tell you that you can do it. When you make a mistake, encouragers help you get back on your feet.


A coach is a unique role. They may be expert, champions or encouragers. But the contribution coaches make is to help you clarify where you are, where you want to go and how you will get there. They won’t criticize your ideas, but they won’t always take them at face value the way an encourager will. Coaches will challenge you to sharpen your ideas and perhaps consider a few more. A good coach won’t be satisfied until you’ve chosen your best path move forward.

A good coach won’t be satisfied until you’ve chosen your best path move forward.

Great Examples

If you fast forward 5/10/20 years into the future, who would you like to be like? Are there others who are now what you hope to become?

When I was a senior in college, I had the privilege of meeting Mark Miller, VP of High Performance Leadership at Chick-fil-A and bestselling author. Mark has the character to back up his accomplishments. Since I work in corporate leadership development and write as well, he’s been a great example for me to look up to in my career, as have many others.

In any organization, it pays to look at the leaders at higher levels. Ask yourself which of them you would like to be like someday, professionally and personally. If they set an example worth following, don’t be afraid to emulate them.


On the other hand, it’s important to know what you don’t ever want to become.

It’s risky business looking for negativity simply because we tend to find what we look for. I don’t suggest looking for the worst traits in others, but it is worth taking a mental note when you inevitably encounter them. It also pays to be specific – what about their behavior is so undesirable? What would you do differently?

It’s risky business looking for negativity simply because we tend to find what we look for.

It is very difficult to set a good example if you only learn from a poor one. Therefore, for every anti-leader behavior that stands out, search extra hard for a contrasting great example.

Serving Profiles

Perhaps the most important person to help you along your journey is a living, breathing example of the person you most wish to serve. I call this person a “serving profile.” (Depending on your line of work, you may call it a “customer profile.”) When life and work gets complicated, all you need to do is step back, take a deep breath, picture the person who needs your help, and get back to work figuring out how to serve him or her.

I have several of these. One is my friend Laura. Almost a decade ago, she shared her challenges of being a young fifth grade teacher but wanting to become a principle someday. Her extra leadership responsibilities with more tenured and sometimes unsupportive teachers were incredibly stressful.

Another is my former dentist Mary Kay. I met Mary Kay just as she bought her first dental practice. Overnight, she needed to learn how to become an effective business owner and practice leader in addition to a practitioner. Her challenges converged into a single point-blank question she posed to me one afternoon, “What does it mean to be a leader anyhow?”

For young professionals with a lot to prove, it can be fun and a little energizing to think of yourself as a self-made (or potential self-made) success. Resist the temptation. The flip side of “independent” is “isolated.” It’s much better to be the turtle on the fence post than the one belly-up with no one to help him out.

It’s much better to be the turtle on the fence post than the one belly-up with no one to help him out.

Which of the people are you already teaming up with? Which do you still need to find? All you need to do is pick one and start from there.

To learn more about my work with both young professionals and corporate leadership teams, or to make a speaking inquiry, please click here.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.