How To Prepare For Leadership

Regardless of how old you are, you can always step into the role of a leader. Doing so requires you to prepare for leadership.

Many people will overlook these steps and hop right into the role. Often ending in disaster, for the leader and, sometimes, for the organization they’re leading.

This is why it’s important young leaders prepare for the role of leadership. When you do, your leadership becomes magical.

Abraham Lincoln once famously said

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.

Lincoln, a great president knew there was a correlation between preparation and success. And he was willing to go to great lengths to prepare.

So, as a leader or emerging leader, why wouldn’t you want to prepare for your role as a leader.

That’s why I believe every leader should go through a period of preparation. Doing so ensures a leader knows the roles and responsibilities he’s stepping into.

But what happens when there’s nothing in place? Can a leader still prepare for leadership without guidance from their organization?

I believe so. Here’s what I believe someone needs to do to prepare for leadership.

1. Develop people skills: If overall preparation for leadership is overlooked, developing people skills is probably the most overlooked skill in preparing for leadership.

As a leader, you’re going to be dealing with people every single day you show up to lead. There’s always going to be someone looking to you, needing to know what’s going on.

It’s your responsibility to know how to deal with people. And developing people skills will take you further as a leader than you could ever imagine.

2. Find a mentor: Young leaders may think they know it all but they’d be wrong in thinking so. You’ll never know everything there is to know about leadership.

This is why it’s critical you find a mentor to help show you the ropes.

Mentors can help you as you struggle in leadership. Mentors can help you understand the tough decisions laid out before you. Mentors can help you develop your leadership skills and abilities.

If you haven’t found a mentor, make it a point to find a mentor today.

3. Reflect on your past: Our pasts tell quite a story. Too often we let our past define us. However, we shouldn’t overlook reflecting on our pasts as we step into the role of leadership.

Look to your past to discover:

Where your best abilities lie

What causes you stress

How you deal with people

When you understand where you come from, you can start to see how all the pieces fit together. You can also see the traps you need to avoid as you become a leader.

4. Sign up for a course: The last way to prepare for leadership I want to touch on is leadership training.

There are thousands of leaders who have lead well only to pass the leadership baton as they step into their next role. This role often includes teaching others the basics of leadership.

Don’t be afraid to go back to school or join a class on leadership.

You can find great leadership training online at Udemy, Coursera, or edX. In addition, you can always check out your local universities and colleges to see if they offer and college leadership courses.

PS: Your local college classes are great for connecting with other leaders. Never discount the power of networking.

Question: What other ways would you recommend a young leader prepare for leadership? Please share your suggestions in the comment section below.

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

  • Going back to school to get my MBA was a huge help in preparing me for leadership. For one, I learned a fair amount in the program. Second, it demonstrated to the leaders in my company that I was preparing to move up.

    • Good insight on letting the other leaders know you want to move up. That can be a huge way to prepare to lead.

  • I think it’s important for young leaders to invest in more training. The places you mentioned are great and won’t bust your budget.

    • Training is a very important piece of the leadership puzzle. Any other suggestions on where to get it Kimanzi?

  • Liking the post, Joe, and really digging that Abraham Lincoln quote.

    On finding a mentor, what do you think is the best way to do that?

    • Wan, there’s a few ways you can find a mentor. Try one of these:

      If you attend a church, find a person within the church that is doing what you need mentoring in. This can be an easy way in as you’re both part of a local congregation.

      You can also look within your work organization. There will be people who are a step or two ahead of you that can help lead the way. Step up and ask for a little mentoring.

      There’s also the chance of finding a mentor at a local business organization. Check out the local Chamber Of Commerce or Toastmasters. These are places leaders are hanging out and you might be able to catch their attention.

      Lastly, you can always find a virtual mentor. This could be an author and you study his books. Maybe it’s a speaker and you watch his online presentations. Or it could be a blogger or podcaster.

      Hope that helps Wan! And I think you inspired a blog post from your question.

  • Gaining people skills is so essential for leadership. I know and have know many leaders/managers who failed when it comes to people skills and they soon fail to influence others. Great post here!

    • Great addition Dan! Knowing how to handle people goes a long way.

  • Volunteer for leadership roles. Young people can do what two young men in our subdivision did. They had a nice color flyer printed of their grass cutting business. They are 14 and 16. They were starting their business to save money for college. The presentation was well done. This will give them great leadership skills. I would use them if I didn’t have a teenage son.

    • The young men in your neighborhood are well on their way to becoming leaders, so it seems Bernard! They’ve shown initiative and a work ethic by putting forth the effort to start their own lawn care business.

  • I think you nailed the most important chapter titles, Joe! These each are so incredibly important. If you are speaking to a mostly younger group, here, I would caution you of the younger generation- Young men and women, smart, savvy and motivated… be VERY careful at holding yourself back by believing that you do know more than you do- yes, yes, I understand that you know so much already. But have you looked deeply inside yourself yet and seen where you lack? Where you are weak and really honestly now ~ where you SUCK? Until you do- and you can acknowledge THAT and speak of it- you will only be a small bit of what you could be ~ and you can BE so much!

    • Thanks for adding that very important reminder to the message Amber-Lee. We’ve got to remember to come from a humble place where we know we don’t have all the answers. If we begin to think so, we’ve got to knock ourselves back. Any tips on doing that?

      • Hmm. Good question. Well, I suppose looking death in the face isn’t going to be one most folks go searching for..so next best?
        I suppose one should start privately. Write down YOUR weaknesses- we all have them, don’t be silly, write them down. Now that you have a list (uh-huh) ~ look deeper- what did this one weakness cause? What came from it? How could you have handled whatever it was better? Look deeper. Are you trying to say you are perfect? Even only to yourself and your Higher Power? Really? Ok then, look deeper- yes, this can make you feel like doggie doo and bring on the shame and tears- but hey! Don’t worry- it is healing, it will be ok, keep going. Strip all the polish and gloss off and be honest – with yourself! Now that you know where you come up short- get to work! THAT is something you do well, yes? Well, now you are working on something FABULOUS!! You! Now, here comes another tough one: Talk about it. Yep, your weaknesses. Yep- out loud and Yes- to others. Why not?! DO you really think that THEY believe you are perfect? No? Well then, don’t worry! Share! One of your own weaknesses may help someone else to find the courage and strength to confront their own! There is nothing more humbling, Joe, than sharing our own weaknesses with others.

  • Assume nothing. What you think you know as a young leader is much smaller than you think!

  • I’d say find “mentors” and look to be mentored while “doing life.” I learned this the hard way. I use to try to find one mentor and would ask that mentor to meet with me every week (huge commitment for the mentor). Wrong approach!

    When I started looking for several mentors and just asked them to mentor me while “doing life” (grabbing a meal together – my treat, going for a run, bumping into them at church), it was much more dobable for the mentors and I actually received more mentoring.

    • That’s a great tactic Kent. Breaking out different mentoring roles to different mentors while doing life together. This method also provides different points of views as well, right?

  • This is such an insightful post Joe. I’ve seen people move into leadership roles when they were not prepared and it created hardships for them and those they led. However, sometimes the best preparation is just getting in the game. Nothing like experience to push you to get better. This post encourages me to ensure I’m preparing so I don’t have to rely on a bad experience for motivation.

    • Thanks Adam. Those unprepared leaders really trip up leadership, don’t they?