Wednesday, 7 March 2012

You're Never Too Young To Be A Leader: Here's How

Most people near the starts of their careers aren’t typically thought of as leaders in the workplace. Not only do they inhabit a low spot in the office hierarchy and lack experience and skills, but also many are too timid and insecure to assume a leadership role. But with the right attitude, an observant eye and a desire to learn, any young professionals can prevail early on.
The first hurdle to overcome is getting your colleagues to see you as more than a fresh-faced, immature college grad. Instead, demonstrate that you’re capable of leading without stepping on any toes. Once you do that, there are many more things you can do to become a successful leader in the early stages of your career.
Career experts and authors Al Coleman, Jr., Alexandra Levit, Ryan Kohnen, and Dr. Katharine Brooks weigh in on why senior employees don’t often regard their young colleagues as pathbreaking workers and how those newbie’s can emerge as leaders.
In Pictures: 10 Steps You Can Take To Become A Successful Young Leader At Work
“Most people view a leader as someone who can direct, guide or facilitate because of previously successful experiences,” says Al Coleman, Jr., author of Secrets to Success: The Definitive Career Development Guide for New and First Generation Professionals. Since most young or new professionals haven’t successfully managed others in the workplace before, they aren’t always taken seriously that way.
Ryan Kohnen, the author of Young Professional’s Guide to Success, points out another challenge: “Young professionals can definitely be perceived negatively by their more seasoned counterparts [because] the culture we grew up in of video games, internet, iPods, and Twitter has contributed to shorter attention spans and extreme multitasking, which is sometimes a positive and sometimes a negative, and this can be perceived as unreliability or irresponsibility.”
Alexandra Levit, the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success, offers an additional thought: “I think older colleagues are wary of young professionals [as] a result of many years of new college grads coming into a workplace and trying to take over right away. Today’s young professionals have been humbled by the recession and come across less entitled and more eager to learn, but negative perceptions still linger.”
Assuming a leadership role without crossing any lines can be a trying task, but if as a young employee you get the lay of the land before you jump in, you can better understand what’s acceptable at your particular organization, says Dr. Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services at The University of Texas at Austin and author of You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career.
Kohnen agrees: “The young professional is the new employee, going into an organization where people have a lot more experience and seniority in the organization,” he says. “It’s their responsibility to get to learn how things work in an organization and learn about the existing employees. Then they’ll find themselves in a much better situation than the traditional ‘Look at me, I’m here!’” Lesson learned: Get familiar with the culture of your new workplace to avoid rubbing your colleagues the wrong way.

In Pictures: 10 Steps You Can Take To Become A Successful Young Leader At Work
While you don’t want to come off too strong, flaunt your ego, or step on any toes—you shouldn’t withhold or be too hesitant, either.
“Those who are hesitant understandably feel that they don’t yet know enough to take on a leadership role and would rather take a few years to absorb the expertise of those around them,” Levit says.
Kohnen agrees. He says young professionals are often cautious because “they don’t exactly know what a true leader is, or they are unaware of how best to take on a leadership role in the workplace.”
Kohnen and Brooks both say you have to define leadership within the context of your specific field or organization. “It doesn’t mean just taking over, or jumping in with solutions to every problem that is brought up,” Brooks says. “That can quickly result in your ideas being dismissed as ‘already tried; didn’t work.’  Many student leaders worked with clubs or organizations where the student members didn’t always follow through, and as a result some of those leaders assume that leading means you take charge and run the show yourself.  That style of leadership probably won’t work in most new work settings—unless that’s what the new employee is instructed to do.”
Rather, leadership that is more aligned with being an active part of the team, communicating and respecting others’ opinions, listening, recognizing opportunities to help out and do the necessary work–even if it’s less-than-glamorous–and offering to take initiative to get things done are more appropriate ways to “lead” in the beginning, Brooks adds.
Coleman says studies have shown that leaders in the workplace—regardless of age—enjoy lower levels of unemployment, higher salaries and more opportunities for advancement in their organizations. “All of this leads to a generally happier and more engaged employee,” he says. So you might as well assume a leadership role early on.

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