How can young professionals harness their leadership skills?
There are many theories about leadership and what makes a great leader. Contrary to popular belief, leaders are made, not born. According to a recent case study by Ethan Bernstein and Kirstin Lynde, research shows that although there may be innate qualities associated with leadership, those qualities must be harnessed and developed.
Bernstein and Lynde argue that Millennials are redefining the traditional confines of leadership development. In the past, this was often available only to top executives through a corporate program. However, as the generation of innovation and technology, young professionals are accessing tools readily available on the internet. The case study embraces this idea of leadership “self-development” and encourages young professionals to find ways to set goals to develop their leadership skills.
Below are four leadership development areas that I’ve learned from my mentors and through past experience over the course of my early career. I hope these will resonate with you and are concepts that you find easy to put into practice on your path to leadership “self-development.”
Maintain authenticity. One key point that Bernstein and Lynde make is that “authenticity matters.” Too often, leadership training programs seem to be molding young leaders into the older generation of leaders and not “embracing the full diversity of what leadership can look like.” This does not mean that maintaining authenticity is an excuse for not changing, it simply means that one should fully realize what makes them “unique” and effective as a leader.
Elicit feedback. A well-known trait of young professionals is a desire for constant feedback. It’s important to ask for feedback and not expect that it be given to you as often as you would like. If your organization does not have a process for giving feedback on a regular basis, speak with your supervisor and set up a one-on-one to discuss the topic as it pertains to your overall performance or a particular project. If you ask for feedback, be prepared to hear and receive what you may not expect and ask specific questions on how to improve. Conversely, at times it is important to (after the fact) use your best judgement and discern what is constructive and what could be misguided. When asking those who may not know you or your work closely, they may have misconceptions about you and be unable to respond accurately.
Self-Advocate. Because of my last point, it is important to advocate for yourself and share your work with others in your organization. As a high performer, your work will often speak for itself. Your manager and those closest to you on your team may gain your respect; however, you cannot expect everyone to understand what you do and the quality of your work. Seek out leaders in your organization and ask their advice on a project you’re working on or facilitate a lunch-n-learn between departments to present on successful initiatives. The sharing of ideas may not only educate others on what you do but could lead to collaboration as well.
Communicate. Maintaining agility in your communication style is vital to being an effective leader. Mirroring is a technique in which you reflect the communication style of the individual you are speaking with through their inflection, body language, and mannerisms. Another useful technique is responding and adjusting your communication style based on your counterpart’s energy level. The ability to tune your communication style to another individual or even when switching to another company requires self awareness and flexibility but can be a major factor in clarifying intention and getting everyone around the table on board to successfully execute a project.