It is graduation season. In fact, I attended a graduation celebration today for some very impressive young women who are graduating from high school. And it is Summer Intern season where I work. So, youth and optimism are in the air.
I thought I might take this opportunity to offer up some advice for those making the transition from high school to college, college to career, and ultimately, child to adult.
As a young professional just starting out, you may think you can’t lead because of your youth or short tenure within your new company. I am going to invite you to reconsider that thought.
In fact, youth and short tenure can be assets. Young professionals may not bring years of experience to a company, but they bring optimism, enthusiasm, energy, exuberance, a set of new ideas, and experience with new technologies that others in the company may not have. They also bring a fresh perspective — a new look at old problems.
As a young professional, you can still be a leader even though you may not have yet achieved a position of power. In fact, if you exercise your leadership skills as a young professional, your road to a more desirable position can be much shorter.
Consider if you will these five fundamental things you can do to cultivate and exercise your leadership skills without having positional power:
Work Hard — It is a cliché, but it’s true – lead by example. Show up early. Ask questions. Stay late once in a while. Offer to take notes at meetings. Do the best you can do, push yourself and try to exceed all expectations. Hard work is still respected.
Get a Mentor — Find someone early on who looks and acts like you want to look and act. Introduce yourself to them and ask them to mentor you. You, as the protégé, learn from your mentor’s experience, while your mentor grows and benefits from your fresh perspective and knowledge. Don’t settle for the excuse that your organizations doesn’t have a formal mentorship program. If your organization does not have one, take the initiative to get one or more mentors on your own. You will stand out by doing so.
Stay Away from Drama — Nobody likes a “Drama Llama.” It seems fun to watch. But be careful. You will get sucked in before you know it and become a participant and not an observer. Also, stay away because you will often become guilty just by associating with those who are prone to drama. In short, stay away!
Take on an Initiative or Volunteer — Take some initiative. Look for projects that are just starting and try to get assigned to them. Get involved in any volunteer opportunities that exist for your company. Companies often support charities in significant ways and this will give you an opportunity to lead a small team without the risk of damaging the bottom line. Also, leading one of these groups can increase your exposure to other leaders and managers in your organization. Sometimes the easiest way to get your first bit of attention is to volunteer to present the weekly or monthly “safety topic.”
Speak, Write or Blog About Your Activities — Verbal (written or oral) presentations establish you as an “expert” on a subject when you are confident enough to present it in a public forum. (See above on taking initiative.) Offer to give a “brown bag” presentation over lunch to your peers about your recent area of academic study or expertise. You can also submit articles for your industry trade journal, alumni magazine or the company newsletter. This extra effort can provide a lot of extra exposure and opportunities to shine. You can even reach out to us at Leadership Voices and offer to be a guest author from time to time. We are always looking for ways to support young leaders.
What is the Leadership Lesson?
You don’t often start your career with very much positional power. But you begin to develop influence from the very first day you start a new job or phase of your career. If you follow these five fundamentals to leading without much positional power, you may find your peers and coworkers beginning to respond to you as a leader.
I don’t often bring specific Biblical references to my writing. But, one passage is unavoidable given the theme of this article. For those inclined, I would point you to the New Testament and to 1st Timothy 4:12.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
I think that is pretty good advice, don’t you?