One of the most important moments in a great leader’s career is the point at which they realize they are a leader. The earlier that happens, the more time people have to develop their capability to lead. While many people associate leadership purely with specific roles or years of experience, leadership capability emerges for some as early as childhood. Research indicates that 40 year old leaders can be just as effective, if not more effective, than leaders who are 60. Young leaders who recognize their capacity to lead early in their career, perhaps as early as their 20s, have significantly more time to hone their leadership superpowers in preparation for future executive roles.
One common trait underpins leadership effectiveness. Studies show that effective leaders can have a vast array of different traits and styles. Each leader is different. That said, the concept of Servant Leadership distills effectiveness down to one key behaviour: “the leader is a servant first”, ensuring that the team’s highest priority needs are being met. Servant Leadership sees the true test of a leader as whether those being led have grown. Are they healthier, freer, wiser, more autonomous? I like to say that the best leaders see ‘supporting lines, not reporting lines’.
What is your personal definition of leadership? While being of service to the team supports great leadership activity, every leader has their own style. It is helpful to create a list of the specific leadership behaviours that you value. To do this, you may reflect on the attributes of great managers you have worked with. You may learn about the specific strengths of inspiring leaders from the global community or subscribe to a leadership podcast.
I recently posted about behaviours people observe in effective leaders: things like empowerment, acknowledgement, support and compassion. These traits are less about domain expertise or level in the organization, and more about how a leader shows up for the people being led. Our personal definition of leadership evolves over time and even seasoned leaders benefit from revisiting this periodically.
What personal development is required to achieve your leadership vision? Your definition of leadership helps create a vision of the leader you aspire to be. In order to realize that leadership vision, personal development is critically important. A focused development plan emerges from an objective assessment of current strengths and opportunities for growth. You may wish to seek feedforward from those around you to understand what makes you an effective leader today and what might make you more effective in the future. While this can be done via survey, I encourage you to enlist the help of a coach. Contact me to learn about how a coach can quickly conduct and debrief an interview-based 360 review for leaders at any level. I’ll likely blog about 360 reviews in the future.
What opportunities do young leaders have to hone their skills? Young leaders have daily opportunities at work and in their personal lives to demonstrate their leadership skills. Be that compassion for a friend who is struggling with a challenge or building the confidence of a younger person in their life. One of the most overlooked opportunities to lead, at any stage of your career, is serving your community. I served as a Director on the boards of prominent Canadian charities such as Covenant House and Food Allergy Canada for almost 20 years. I started when I was 23 and immediately gained insight into leadership from amazing people who were on these boards with me. They typically had 20+ years more experience and helped me learn a great deal about how I wanted to lead.
Take ownership of your leadership journey. In summary, it is important for young leaders to recognize their leadership capability as soon as possible. Once young leaders settle on their personal definition of leadership, it is critical for seasoned leaders to provide feedforward for growth and encourage them to put skills into practice. I hope you are inspired to take ownership of your personal leadership journey and be deliberate about which capabilities you focus your development efforts on. The world will be a better place as more leaders appreciate their capacity to lead and develop toward their personal leadership vision.