5 ½ Tips for Every Young Leader’s Success

This blog was written by Kristin Fry, Executive Search Consultant, at Vanderbloemen.

Did you know that when Airbnb was founded, CEO Brian Chesky was only 27 years old? Or that Steve Jobs was only 25 years old when Apple went public? And Bill Gates was only 20 when he founded Microsoft. Young leaders have the ability to achieve amazing things. But being a successful leader is more than just being lucky at the right time in the right place. 

To be successful, young leaders typically share some pretty important characteristics. Let’s look at 5 ½ of those. 

1. Listen and Learn.

Great leaders ask great questions. Stay curious and committed to learning something new. When you listen more than you talk, you build up a reservoir of knowledge and ideas to draw from when the time is right. Additionally, did you know that asking questions builds trust? When you demonstrate an interest in learning from others, you also show that you are about more than merely trying to push your own agenda. You communicate a value in learning and leaders see that as a trustworthy trademark in someone they want to promote. Listening and learning stem from a posture of humility and who wouldn’t want to work for someone like that? 

2. Non-verbal Communication IS Communication.

A critical component of effective leadership is the ability to communicate effectively. This is more than just words. Avoid slouching, make eye contact with the person you’re talking to. Avoid eye-rolling and making faces when you disagree with someone. Present a confident and calm appearance when walking into a room and engaging in conversations. And most importantly, read the room! This means paying attention to the non-verbal cues of others. You will find that people will say more with their non-verbal cues than they do with their words. Learn to read people and respond appropriately. 

3. Responsibility Will Make or Break You.

If the meeting starts at 9:00 am, be in your seat by 8:59 am. When you are late, you are communicating that you are lazy, selfish, or can’t manage your own time. No one will promote someone like that. If you asked for a meeting, lunch, or phone call, come prepared with questions and an agenda. Time is valuable; don’t waste yours or theirs. 

4. Look for Mentors.

Build a network of successful people. Surround yourself with people you want to be like. Both up close and from a distance. Spend time with those you know personally. Socially, professionally, over a meal, or a walk. Watch them. Learn from them. And, read the blogs of others from a distance. Listen to their podcasts. Read their books. Show up to their events. We are naturally influenced by those we spend the most time with. 

5. Play the Long Game.

Don’t get so laser-focused that you stop saying yes to opportunities. Sometimes young leaders feel the pressure to have it all figured out so early that they stop learning and stop saying yes to what they think doesn’t fit their goals. This can be a costly mistake. Change happens and flexibility is key to being a great leader. If you haven’t said yes to multiple things and given yourself the chance to try something new, when change happens, if you can’t roll with it, then it will roll over you. Leadership is for the long haul and developing a diverse skill set makes you more relatable and valuable not less. 

5 ½ Buy a Ring Light.

This is 2022, and I probably don’t even have to make this point, which is why it’s only getting a ½ on this list. We live in a virtual world but that doesn’t mean you can toss presentation out the door. When you are sitting in a meeting through your computer, your appearance still matters. Lighting still matters. Your hair still matters. Your clothes still matter. If you are in a dimly lit room with your bathroom door partly open in the background, people will not take you seriously. If your cat walks across the screen, it’s not funny and your boss thinks you lack the maturity to do your job. Look presentable, minimize distractions, and buy a ring light to light up your face with a clean, non-distracting background.

The best leaders are the ones who are always learning and growing – no matter what the age. If you develop these tips early and often, you’ll be set up for success for a very long time!

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