Young leaders are full of energy, vision, passion, and faith. Identifying emerging leaders is essential to building good teams, and established leaders play an instrumental role in their growth and development. After 20 years of leading, here are a few tips I’d like to share with young leaders…things I wish somebody had shared with me. And if you work with young leaders, consider how you can help them grasp these ideas.
1. Put Character at the Top of Your List – Most young leaders want to prove themselves. It’s a natural reaction because you’re trying to get people to take you seriously…which tends to happen when you have a solid track record. But be careful not to sacrifice your character on the altar of achievement. Ruth Barton once said, “We set young leaders up for a fall if we encourage them to envision what they can do before they consider the kind of person they should be.” What kind of person do you want to be? Work hard to cultivate character so that what you do doesn’t outpace who you are.
2. Make Listening Your Default Response in Meetings – As a young leader who wants to be taken seriously, you may feel a temptation to continually voice your opinion. However, it’s important to realize that when you give voice to your opinions, credibility hangs in the balance. Remember the words of Jonathan Swift: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say helpful, respectful, and beneficial?” Helpful is “what” you’re going to say; respectful is “how” you’re going to say it; beneficial is “who” will benefit from it. As Jim Collins says, “What’s your questions to answers ratio, and how you can you double it in the next year?” Learn to ask more questions rather than declaring all of your answers.
3. Develop the Master Skill – Authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner once wrote, “Learning is the master skill. When you fully engage in learning–when you throw yourself whole-heartedly into experimenting, reflecting, reading, or getting coaching–you are going to experience the thrill of improvement and the taste of success. More is more when it comes to learning.” You may have graduated from school, but never graduate from learning. Being a lifelong learner is what empowers your relevance for the rest of your life. Eric Hoffer captured it best when he said, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Don’t be equipped for irrelevance…keep learning.
4. Sharpen Your Self-Awareness – All of us are trying to figure out who we are when we’re young. That’s a natural part of the growth journey. What’s sad is when people get older and yet still lack the awareness of who God made them to be. Increasing your self-awareness while you’re young allows “life purpose decisions” to compound over time. In other words, the more you understand how God wired you, the better decisions you’ll make about the direction you choose for your life. Good self-awareness always leads to better decisions about jobs, priorities, and time management. To increase your self-awareness clarify your strengths, discover your passions, and reflect on your dreams.
5. Seek Out Coaches – Coaching is possibly the most important strategy to help you grow. Seeking out coaches and mentors will push you light years ahead of where you would be if you travelled alone. As Andy Stanley says, coaching helps you go further, faster. Good coaches take A.I.M. at your potential and help you close the gaps between who you are and who you have the potential to become.
6. Establish Your Boundaries – Too many young leader have crashed and burned because they didn’t put the appropriate boundaries in their lives to keep them healthy. Research suggests that only one-third of leaders finish well. While you’re young, establish boundaries to help you protect your family, your relationship with God, your health, your schedule, and your sexual purity. Boundaries provide banks for the river of your life. Otherwise, your life becomes an out of control flood of dysfunction and destruction.
7. Learn to Work with People – In my early leadership years, I burned bridges and hurt people because of my own insecurities. I had to learn to cultivate people skills, develop emotional intelligence, foster trust, and build goodwill with people. Bill Hybels said, “My definition of ‘people skills’ includes sensitivity to the thoughts and the feelings of others, and the ability to listen—and I mean really listen—to the ideas of others. I’m looking for people who genuinely care for other people, who view others as more than a means to an end.” I once knew a young leader who was so forceful with his opinions that he repelled everybody who worked with him. He couldn’t attract volunteers because his personality communicated a “my way or the highway” attitude. Your ability to work with people and successfully manage conflict will determine in great part your effectiveness as a leader.
8. Own Your Mistakes – You will make mistakes…this isn’t even a question. The question is, how will you respond when you make mistakes. You can make excuses, shift the blame, point your finger, laugh it off, avoid the critics, and pretend they never happened…or you can own them. When you own your mistakes you exhibit a posture of humility and responsibility. When you don’t, you actually deplete your credibility. Either way, you reveal your true character.
9. Grow Your Pain Threshold – Leadership is painful, and some of your greatest pains will come from your early years of leadership. Lack of experience, poor judgment, and unrefined skills may lead to some of your pain. Other pain will be the result of people who betray you, gossip about you, or even lie to you. And other pain will stem from the resistance you feel when you try to initiate new changes or launch a new vision. While your goal isn’t to create circumstances that foster pain, you must understand a key insight taught by Dr. Sam Chand: Leaders only grow to the threshold of their pain. If you fail to grow your pain threshold, you’ll always take the path of least resistance. Good leaders don’t seek pain…but they don’t avoid it either.
10. Execute with Excellence – One of the things I love about young leaders is their ability to dream and innovate. This is one reason every team needs young leaders…they keep the organization from becoming stagnate, complacent, and irrelevant. But the great separator between average young leaders and great young leaders is the ability to execute with excellence. It’s one thing to dream up brilliant new ideas, but it’s an entirely different thing to turn that brilliance into tangible results. Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, and Lane Jones write, “Your ministry is perfectly designed to achieve the results you are currently getting.” If you’re not getting any results, or your results are marginal at best, you have to learn to move from intentions to actions. Execution and follow-through make the difference. Execute with excellence and you’ll build credibility with people.
If you’re not developing young leaders around you, start today! That’s when leaders are at their best.
Question: What other helpful advice could you offer to young leaders?