10 Ways Young Leaders Can Start Strong

Many young leaders struggle with starting strong. They’re passionate and energized. And they want to make a great impression.

Yet there’s the struggle: How does a young leader start strong and leave the best impression possible?

Start Strong

1. Be Passionate: My first piece of advice would be to have a passion for leadership and what you’re doing. The more passionate you are, the more engaged you’ll be as you lead.

2. Listen to your team: You may be the leader of the team but you’re also fresh to the team. If you’re joining an already established team, listen to those who have been there awhile. They’ll have seen how things are run and what improvements can be made. Take their suggestions to heart.

3. Begin to form relationships: Relationships are the bedrock of true leadership. Mingle with others within your organization and get to know them. Without relationship you’ll have a hard time influencing others.

4. Bring something to the table: You were probably brought onto the team for what you have to offer. Don’t be scared to share your voice. Give your opinions on matters that are brought up. Share your new ideas.

5. Take action: Fear can easily enter in as you begin to lead in a new position. Sometimes this can be immobilizing. Don’t let fear cripple your ability to take action. After you’ve listened to the team, be willing to step up and take action.

6. Ask questions: Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers. When you enter into a new position, be willing to ask questions. Even stupid questions. As you ask others what’s going on, what’s happened, what is created within the organization, etc. you’ll gain valuable insight into the company.

7. Do the difficult jobs: Don’t let your title go to your head. Be on the lookout for the jobs that need to be done but may not be getting the attention they deserve. If you see something that needs to be done, do it.

8. Continue to learn: You’re already asking questions and learning about the business. But don’t let this stop you from continuing your education. Read great books, attend seminars or conferences, and fill your mind.

9. Find great partners: There’s the old saying that “Leadership is lonely”. I say it’s only lonely if you let it become lonely. Find other leaders you can partner with or have lunch with. Discover people with similar passions and help build each other up.

10. Have fun: More than anything, don’t let leadership become a drag. It’s an awesome responsibility that can also be a lot of fun. Bring a sense of excitement to the team.

You’ve been given the basics for starting your leadership journey. Get started today!

Question: What else would you recommend to a young leader who is just starting out? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Joe, I’m a big fan of asking questions. When I first started my current job, I asked tons of questions, even the same ones multiple times until I got it all down.

    One thing I think all leaders need to be cautious of is changing things as soon as they take over. We need to learn why things run like they do and why people behave a certain way. Drastic change isn’t the only way to make an impact. Thanks for sharing Joe!

    • Ellory, that’s a great suggestion. Change right away can be difficult and even wrong. This reminds me of the huge changes JC Penney’s recently departed CEO did when he first entered into the position.

  • You mentioned “Listen”. I would add, “Listen intently and on purpose.” Let people know that you are listening with your body language and your eyes. People love to be heard and it’s a trait so many leaders let slip over time.

    • Excellent Charles! We’ve got to let others know we’re listening.

  • Terrific list. Questions, listening with focus, connecting. It’s important not to change anything until you first understand the current state. Often there are hidden benefits to the way ‘it is’ that you need to know before creating the future.

    • Skip, thanks for adding don’t change things until you understand what’s going on. @ElloryWells:disqus mentioned that in his comment as well and it makes a lot of sense. The systems that are in place might be there for a reason and they’re working because of the multiple layers. It’s best to wait until you understand what’s happening before you change anything.

  • This is a great list, Joe! Young leaders often struggle to achieve buy-in or create alignment because of all the dynamics at play. Why complicate the transition into leadership or a new team any more?

    • Thanks Justin! Making the transition more difficult doesn’t make any sense.

  • This was alluded to by a couple of your points, but I would add confessing that you don’t have it all together. I would rather follow an honest leader than a slick leader.

    • Sean, thanks for adding that. Honesty trumps everything.

  • Get out there and help others solve problems. Being generous, helpful, and humble goes really far, really fast.

    Of course everything you listed above is essential, Joe -excellent list.

    • Love the additions Jon. Those are all top-notch leadership qualities that need to be implemented.

  • These are all essential for young leaders. I’d add have a standard of excellence in everything you do.

    • Thanks Dan! Having excellence in what you do is critical to the success of young leaders. If all you do is put out mediocre work, that’s all people will see you as.

  • As has been said before, listen – but listen to the voices of experience. They are not always found among the young hotshots, especially the ones who run in their own pack.

    Be honest about not knowing it all, and make up for that lack of knowledge by applying the passion to learning what it is you are trying to accomplish both from a strategic and a tactical viewpoint.

    Own your mistakes. I’ve met one too many young leaders who chose to ignore the older guys who knew a thing or two about practical application in favor of B-school theory and peers only to find themselves answering to higher authority when things went wrong. So did my dad – when he was in charge of construction projects, he knew his materials better than the young engineers fresh from the States (Dad worked a lot of overseas jobs because he was good, and could get along with the suits as well as the sweats). A few of them lost their jobs when they tried to tell him – and overruled his knowledge – about desert construction and the need for expansion joints (yes, you need them). Only cost the company a few million in replacements – on a major airport job. Ouch.

    .02 from an old guy – leaders *can* age gracefully and hold their positions.

    • Rick, thanks for sharing your experience! You raise a great point about listening to the voice of experience.

      A lot of young leaders think they know it all and are willing to bet the farm on it rather than listen to those who’ve been there and done that before.

      Young leaders have got to be willing to listen to the wise. This is why it’s so important for young leaders to find guides that can help them as they’re starting out.

  • Dan Forbes

    Hi Joe. Thanks for a fine list. I would recommend that young Leaders find a Mentor or a Coach. Enter into a relationship with someone who intentionally is there to help you grow.

    • Another excellent addition Dan. Young leaders have got to be willing to be mentored and guided as they take the steps to lead. Any recommendations on how young leaders can find great mentors?

      • Dan Forbes

        Some companies provide Mentors, that’s a start. But it may be even better to find someone outside the company (or have both). Network and ask around. If you see someone that you admire, just ask them if they’d be willing to meet with you every couple of weeks. Many Leaders are happy to Mentor others if someone just asks.

  • You forgot “conquer your fears”!

    • That’s something leaders have got to do Lorraine!

  • Great points. Develop and implement a compelling vision that is inclusive.

    • Bernard, vision is vital to any leader. He’s got to be willing to cast it and include others in the journey.

  • I would add “learn from your experiences so you are stronger and smarter than when you started.” That means taking the time to investigate how/why things went right, and how/why they went wrong.

    Great list.

    • LaRae, that’s a great addition. Not only can we learn from our experiences, we can also learn from the experiences that have gone before us and that are still there.

  • I agree with your tips. I think that until and unless the leader himself is not determined to cooperate, commit and moderate things he cannot become successful no matter how sharp he is.

  • Be confident. You have something to add to the discussion. Don’t be intimidated because you don’t have the experience of others.

    • Love it Jon. Confidence can make or break you at the beginning.

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  • Let’s Grow Leaders

    Joe, This is a great list. I also agree with Skip, about going slow and not changing without understanding. I would add start early and learn leadership in as many places as you can. Leadership comes from practice.

    Here’s a bit about maximizing your college leadership experience to grow skills


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