What Young Professionals Need to Know About Leadership

I recently got the chance speak to several college and high school student groups about leadership. It reminded me of my college experience when the subject of leadership really clicked with me for the first time. As always, our future rests on the ability of the next generation to lead well.

So I want share with you a few simple ideas that all young people (as well as the rest of us) need to hear about leadership. I encourage you to share them with the young people you know – either with this post or more importantly, with your own words. Here they are.

You Don’t Need to Be Special to Be a Leader

I didn’t really think much about leadership growing up, but if I did, I probably assumed that “leadership” was reserved for a special group of people: the popular, charismatic or privileged. The problem with that assumption is it lets the rest of us off the hook. We all have a responsibility to ourselves and to the people around us to make wise decisions, develop the character that can stand the weight of unpopular opinion and have the integrity to do the right thing even when there are no foreseen consequences. This isn’t just my opinion; this is essentially the universal prerequisite for effective leadership at most of the organizations I’ve worked with.

You Don’t Need a Position to Be a Leader

Leadership is about influence, not a title. Sure, it’s easier to get some things done when people have to do what you say. But giving orders doesn’t require any leadership ability. Having responsibility without authority – now that takes real leadership. And in my professional experience, there are just as many of these kinds of leaders as ones who hold special positions. In fact, it’s also usually a prerequisite. So find ways to influence, motivate, persuade and develop others now. Don’t wait until later.

You Don’t Need Followers to Be a Leader

The purpose of leadership is to create positive change for others. So just because no one is following you doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to make a positive impact. Think of something you can do to benefit a group of people: solve a problem, improve a process, share a good idea, meet a need. Then act on it. Then do the same thing again, but invite someone to join you. Repeat the process. As you are successful, your influence will grow.

You Don’t Need to Be the Best to Be the Leader

This is a common misconception among young folks. But the best coaches are rarely the best former athletes. The highest performers don’t always get the promotion. The students with the highest GPA don’t always land the best jobs. You need to be competent, but there are smart people everywhere. The folks who are usually given the most authority are the ones who get along well with others, put the team before themselves, are good at making others look good and take an active role in developing the skills, capacity and confidence of the people around them.

You Don’t Need to Wait to Become a Leader

Many young people are timid because they are young and inexperienced – and they know it. But I say: don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young. Why not? Because you are never too unqualified to set a good example. Don’t wait for permission. You don’t need it.

At the end of the day, leadership isn’t about me. It’s not about you. It’s about us. And it’s about them. It’s about accepting the responsibility to take the influence we have and use it to set a good example by making positive changes for those around us. Not everyone is up for the challenge, but the position is open. And there is no age requirement. You don’t need to apply. When can you start?

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, coach, facilitator 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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

2 thoughts on “What Young Professionals Need to Know About Leadership

  1. Nate, this is an insightful article that many young and older people need to read. So many people just want to be in charge in order to bully others or to have titles. However, that’s not leadership. That’s ego! I believe great leaders want to serve others and make others better. One of the things I am seeing with the millennial generation is a need to be right. In their generation, there were no loser. Everyone is a winner so we have a generation of young people who always have to get their way. Then they enter the workplace with the attitude, “If you try to correct me, you are bullying me!” I believe leadership training needs to start in high school where students are taught to be leaders regardless of your title – 360 Leader (John Maxwell).

    • Thanks for sharing the article, Lakesha. I agree, I think many people want to be a “leader” because of the feeling of importance that is associated with a position. But you’re right, that’s not leadership!

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