Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them, so the Shakespeare saying goes. I was not born great by far, but having it thrust upon me happened and happened fast for me in corporate America. After college, I went to work as most graduates and expected to pay my dues, work hard and maybe get a chance at a leadership position in my 30s.
What I got was different. Nine months into a new job and industry, and still wet behind the ears, my boss was fired and I received a phone call saying “Hey, it is your job now.” At 23, I thought, what the hell am I supposed to do at a division worth millions of dollars?
“College does not prepare you for the oh-shit moments.”
Many adventurous years later, tons of lessons learned, and now working on my own entrepreneurial endeavor, I am here to share some tips for new and young leaders of organizations so they can seize the next opportunity that falls in their laps.
1. Your Age Does Not Determine Your Worth
I have heard at nauseating lengths the “pay your dues” comment or “you are too young to realize”. In business it is not your age that makes you more or less valuable, it is your ability to think, create, and solve problems. Days and months after that “Hey, it is your job” phone call, I received backlash about being too young and not having enough experience. To my peers and longer tenured teammates, it did not matter if I could do the job or if I possessed a growing skill-set. It turned that out the young kid on the block helped post operating margin growth yearly, and helped other leaders understand the complexities of their new millennial generation of workers.
“A leader is not defined by their age, but their resolve.”
As a young leader, you come into an organization with a unique opportunity. It allows you not to say “no” because it did not work in the past, but to think and innovate freely to make those around you better.
2. Pick Your Leadership Style Carefully
Defining your leadership style early helps you navigate your growing responsibilities, and builds your credibility. In graduate school, I learned about the two types of leaders: Transactional or Transformational. Both are necessary to lead organizations but you need to choose the style more fitting for you or your style will choose you.
The transactional leader is a great technician and knows the processes better than anyone. They are the person you call on to fix things and make the operation run smoothly by adhering to the processes. You cannot go home stress-free without this leader. The other side of the coin is the transformational leader. This leader spends much time thinking strategically and charting courses. With a desire to motivate and build teams, this leader is all about personal growth and inspiring greatness in others. You cannot get to new heights without this leader. Over the years leading organizations, I have learned to make good friends with the transactional leaders, as they fill in my gaps when I need help organizing my creative chaos.
3. You Cannot Lead Without Followers
It does not matter how great of a leader you think you are. If no one is willing to go down a path with you, then you are not leading anyone. Getting your teammates to follow you is not like Instagram or Twitter, and losing a follower hurts way more in business. Being genuine in your care, transparent in your communication, and never asking someone to do something you would not, are authentic ways to show others you are worthy of their support.
One thing I have always believed in is greeting and checking-in with every teammate in the morning, ensuring they don’t have to second guess that I care about them as a team member or a person. A mark of a phenomenal leader is that someone believes and trusts in your vision so much, he or she is willing to endure the race with you and for you.
4. Micromanagement Eliminates Confidence
Who likes working in an environment where they never feel empowered or constantly have someone looking over their shoulder while they work? No one. I have watched more people leave a job due to micromanaging from their boss than leaving because they wanted higher compensation.
Micromanaging creates a lack of trust in others’ abilities. If a teammate was good enough to be hired, then you have to give them a chance to be good enough for the job.
As a leader, we have to focus on setting the foundation for creativity, innovation, and integrity in our team’s work. Once we can foster an environment of discovery and innovation, we allow teammates to be the best version of themselves.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Admit Your Mistakes
Successful leadership requires a tremendous level of humility. Admitting when you make a mistake is the ultimate compliment to a leader’s integrity and a fast way to build trust. Many leaders fear this rule, as they worry about their egos taking a hit.
My ability to create loyalty among teams I have led started with me being willing to say “Hey, I screwed up.” If you want to shock your team, ask for their feedback on how to fix an organizational issue and allow them to have an actualized impact on the result.
6. Great Leaders Make Everyone Around Them Better
When you are in the presence of a great leader, the energy and empowerment you feel can’t be measured. They raise the beliefs and abilities of everyone they reach, because great leaders forego their ego for the sake of their team. You will find them constantly coaching others, seeking ways to improve their skill-set, and holding themselves to an incredibly high standard. We can all be selfish and think about ourselves. It’s normal. However, by also helping others achieve their goals, we can consequently reach ours.
“Becoming a top level leader is not measured in your title, but by the number of positive realities you help create for others.”
Every opportunity you have experienced to lead or follow has shaped your outlook on the type of leader you want to be. Whether you were born great or had it thrust upon you, being a young leader can bring out the best in you early in your career. Learn fast, care about others others, and everything else will take care of itself.
*Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Medium.
TJ Neal is a blogger, lover of side hustles and co-founder of HL Threads. TJ writes about his experiences in both career and entrepreneurship. He loves helping other creatives seize their moments in life and business. You can follow TJ on Instagram @tj_possible and get advice on how to inspire your creative process on medium.com/@tj_possible.