I have a confession to make: I used to be embarrassed by my age. After years of doing everything possible to avoid revealing those two little digits, I have managed to overcome my embarrassment – partly because I’m a little older, but mainly because I’ve come to terms with what I have accomplished and the hard work it took to get there.
History is laden with young leaders, trailblazers who envisioned goals that those above them seemed unable to see and I believe there are more now than ever before. The pace of business is accelerating and I believe it is due to the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of young people who aren’t afraid to say, “I can do this, and I can do it really well.”
If you are a young leader in the making, it’s important you know what leadership qualities make a great leader. Below are my tips for doing just that.
Don’t be afraid to show that you understand the business.
The most important thing that’s happening in your workplace is the overall health and prosperity of the business. It is vital that you not only work hard in your position, but also that you understand how your role fits in with the rest of the business to drive real results.
And don’t ever be afraid to demonstrate this intelligence. For instance, if you happen to step into the elevator with the CFO, ask a question that represents your awareness of what matters to them, instead of a casual “So, how’s business?”
Don’t wait for a promotion to start leading.
You don’t need a promotion to grow at work. If you think you can lead, then all you need to do is prove it. This means asking for opportunity to shine, and demonstrating that you can step up when duty calls. It might only be a small task, but others will take notice. However, as you rise in rank at your organisation, it’s important to learn to stop managing the day to day, and start leading the vision (otherwise you may fall into the trap of micromanagement).
Make changes sooner, rather than later.
Even the most traditional company should be open to new ideas (and if yours is not, maybe a new job is what you need). Even if the answer is ‘no,’ the fact that you aren’t afraid to reimagine ways of doing things will get you noticed.
It’ll be easiest to do this when you first start a job. When I worked at Microsoft, my mentor told me that you only have about six months to question everything before the position starts to change your lens so don’t be apprehensive about challenging old ideas.
Know what you know (and what you don’t).
I would never claim to be an expert in [everything]. In that same light, there are frequently aspects of your job that sit outside of your specialty. You should be confident in your expertise, but never be embarrassed by what you don’t know – it’s the only way you’ll ever give yourself an opportunity to learn more. Remember: knowing all the answers and being wise in the workplace are two very different things.
Share your thoughts.
No one looks at things quite like you do, and your insight could be invaluable at the appropriate time. Your opinions might not shake the earth every time, but there’s no harming in sharing what you think with others. In fact, it takes guts to share your opinions — especially if they are potentially controversial. So while you may not be a thought leader just yet, you can test the waters by writing blog posts, engaging in Twitter conversations, planning coffee catch-ups, and taking advantages of chance elevator encounters.
Let your defences down.
Many young leaders get defensive far too quickly, and they guard their ideas like they’re children. Push that zeal aside for a moment and take on feedback in any form — good or bad. You should also become able to share feedback with others as they’ll respect your honesty, even if they don’t show it the first time. The more feedback you receive and the more you give, the better you’ll become at yielding positive outcomes. Everyone will improve around you, which is what leadership is all about.
Ryan Bonnici is the Marketing Director at HubSpot. He’s an experienced digital marketing leader having held roles previously at Salesforce, ExactTarget, Microsoft and Qantas Airways. For more frequent updates on marketing, leadership & executive coaching, follow him on Twitter (@ryanbonnici) and Linkedin).