10 Critical Things Young Leaders Need

10 things young leaders need

Leaders — real ones — want to grow. They tend to have an almost insatiable appetite to learn, grow, develop, and just get better. Now it should be noted that there are others — and it doesn’t come from a bad place I don’t think — who want to want those things; but when it comes down to it, they really don’t. They like the idea of leadership, and they like the idea of being perceived as a leader; but they don’t really, truly like the hard work involved with actually being one.

Talking about leadership is easy. Leading is hard. But for young leaders who really want to learn and grow, here’s what they need…

Young leaders need someone to tell them yes.

In order for young leaders — or anyone, really — to grow, they need to be able to ask things and try things. Always hearing “no” will eventually make them stop asking. (And no, I’m not saying they should always hear “yes.” See below.)

Young leaders need someone to tell them no.

Some young leaders need to be told “no.” This is especially true with those who might struggle with ego, self-awareness, and the like. If it’s not caught early, those leaders can grow into petulant children quite the terror for the rest of whatever organization they end up leading down the road. It’s good for leaders — of any age — to understand that leadership isn’t just about leaders getting whatever they want. That’s why accountability is a good thing. Unchecked power is not.

Young leaders need to do meaningful work.

Young leaders won’t grow by simply doing busy-work. The way they’ll learn to lead people and teams to accomplish meaningful things is to make them responsible for doing just that.

Young leaders need to clearly understand what leadership means.

I know this sounds simple, but hang on a second. I think you’d be surprised what some folks think leadership is or what leadership is about. If you don’t believe me, just look around at what seems to consume many young (or young-ish) leaders. There’s lots of hunger, but not as much humility. There’s lots of talk about salary and office size, but not nearly enough talk about selflessness and serving others.

What’s happened is that some have developed an unhealthy fixation with what they perceive to be what they’re entitled to as leaders, rather than actually understanding what leadership really is. Leadership is a vehicle for serving others, not the means to a nicer vehicle.

[bctt tweet=”#Leadership is a vehicle for serving others, not the means to a nicer vehicle. #servantleadership”]

Young leaders need to understand what leadership looks like within their particular context.

Beyond understanding leadership in general, they need to know what it means to lead where they’re at. What does it mean for them every day? They may think it means high-fiving everyone, while you might think it means them pushing projects to completion and engaging in meaningful coaching and development sessions with each member of their team. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

Young leaders need to be responsible for the development of others.

And they need to feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s crazy to me how often organizations promote people into leadership roles without having seen any real evidence that those people have developed people or teams. I say that because I’m not one who thinks development has to be formal, so I think anyone in an organization who knows something should be teaching others something. It’s that simple. Everyone should be helping others learn and grow, but very few people actually do that. Leaders do though.

One of the first things I ask people who’ve applied for leadership positions is what they’re already doing in their current roles to lead. I ask them what specifically they’re currently doing to develop their teammates. If they’re not doing anything, they’re not ready to lead; because leaders develop others, whether they have a title or not, and whether they have a program or not.

[bctt tweet=”Leaders develop others. If you’re not developing others, you’re not leading. #leadership”]

Young leaders need to understand culture and how their leadership affects it.

Young leaders need to understand culture, how it works, and how leadership in general — and their leadership in particular — affects it.

Young leaders need self-awareness.

It’s true of all leaders, and it’s certainly true of young leaders as well. Self-awareness is absolutely critical. Without it, leaders are doomed to a life of leading without humility, vulnerability, and so on.

Young leaders need experienced leaders who believe in them and will guide through learning from successes and failures.

People learn better in community, and the same is true of leaders. What’s especially helpful, though, is when young leaders can be mentored and guided by experienced leaders who will come alongside them and guide them through the inevitable ups and downs of the leadership journey.

[bctt tweet=”Young leaders need experienced leaders to come alongside them & mentor them. #leadership”]

Young leaders need robust development.

They need leadership development based on servant leadership principles. They don’t just need to learn how to do things; they need to understand why they’re learning to think about them and do them that way. That’s why Mojo Leadership Development is so different from most leadership development programs out there. It’s not just about learning how to do things. To change how we do things as leaders, we first have to think differently. Then we can lead differently and more effectively.

Those are just a few of the things young leaders need to thrive. What else would you add? Leave them in the comments below!

8 thoughts on “10 Critical Things Young Leaders Need

  • Great article, Matt. I’m in the thick of this right now personally. I’ve been given increasing responsibility over the last couple of years at my company, and I’m on the short list for a couple of management positions. Much of what you’ve said here really resonates with the kind of development path I think would be highly valuable and practical.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on something in followup. How would you suggest I approach the very real possibility that I may be managing people in the near future that are currently my “pears” in our organizational structure? How can I best prepare now, and what can I do to start things off well as their likely new manager? I appreciate your emphasis on servant leadership, and I want to be intentional about that as I step into this new capacity.

    Thanks again. Great article.

  • Great post!

    I think leadership by serving is huge.

    Not everyone sees the importance, but those that do have influence and effectiveness as leaders that is head-and-shoulders above the rest.

  • This is an obvious must hear for young leaders, but also written with the necessary tone for experienced leaders who have lost perspective in those difficult organizational situations. For me, the constant analysis of self perspective in relation to organizational and individual change was helpful. One summary thought while reading is to be aware of your outward influence on those requiring inward guidance.

  • Many of these principles have been written about but the one I haven’t seen before is “Young leaders need experienced leaders who believe in them and will guide through learning from successes and failures”.

    An organizations success is ultimately determined by the mentoring, coaching, teaching and guiding up and down the line. One can’t be expected to be a strong leader unless there is insight being provided from above. Conversely, future leaders cannot be developed effectively unless they see that the culture supports that notion.

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