How to Be an Effective Leader When You're Young and Less Experienced - America's Future Foundation

June 1, 2020

Career AdviceLeadership

How to Be an Effective Leader When You’re Young and Less Experienced

By: Chloe Anagnos

It’s not often that you see a young and relatively inexperienced professional in a leadership role. But as the needs of businesses change, so does the age of those tasked with showing the way.

Millennials currently dominate the labor market, being the largest workforce generation in the US, while members of Generation Z now make up 24% of the global workforce. With remote work becoming part of a growing number of working teams in America, business owners are starting to look at younger workers for reference, not just a hand.

Considering that Gen Zers are also some of the most reliable and dedicated workers today, as well as more than willing to remain faithful to the right employer, it isn’t far-fetched to expect they will soon be holding a growing number of leadership positions.

To those who end up landing these positions sooner than they were expecting, the pressure might put them at a disadvantage. After all, what should one do if they are offered a job that they weren’t hoping to get until later?

Others, however, will enjoy the challenge but might still not feel fully prepared.

Whichever category you find yourself in, here are five steps you should take to embrace the challenge and gain the respect you deserve, all the while helping those you manage to go farther.

1 — Establish an Open Line of Communication

Young leaders have a hard time being trusted in the workplace. This concern arises from the fact that when young people are put in a leadership role, older or more seasoned employees oftentimes feel left behind, betrayed, or treated unfairly.

For a young leader, that could mean trouble.

In order to navigate this trial and come out unscathed, you will have to establish an open line of communication with your co-workers.

Demonstrate that, while you want to achieve clearly set goals, you are not in it to threaten anybody. Quite the contrary.

Talk to your team about what you expect from them and be clear about how you want to go about it, but also show them that you’re there to listen to their ideas. Make it clear that you’re always open to suggestions, and when they do come to you, listen.

Leaders who don’t take the time to listen simply don’t last.

2 — Keep Promises, or Don’t Make Any Promises at All

Young leaders often feel pressured to prove themselves as soon as possible, but fail to go about it in a healthy way, often pushing their limits. When that happens, it often involves the bad habit of making promises one cannot keep.

If you do that, you’re simply putting a target on your back.

From the get-go, young leaders must be honest about their perspective and their vision and how that will help to make a new strategy work, but they never should try to be everything to everyone.

Being open about your limitations will actually win people to your cause, not the other way around. Instead of telling every single team member what he or she wants to hear, how about taking on a more realistic approach?

3 — Get to Know Your Team Before Raising the Goalpost

One of the biggest mistakes young leaders make is to oversell a new strategy, only to see it fail when the team can’t make it happen.

While some may think that raising the goalpost early on will make up in the end, providing the needed incentive to help people achieve more, that seldom translates well in the real world.

Remember, those who are older or who have given the business more years than you may have a completely different take on what is required to get the job done. If you set up too optimistic of a goal or if you ask too much of your team too soon, you might be setting yourself up for failure by pressuring people you have yet to get to know.

Whereas you might have more training than others, you still lack experience. Those working with you will feel misled if you dismiss their difficulties.

Start slow, but don’t hesitate to show your team the confidence they require to trust in you. It might take a little while, but it will pay off.

4 — Make This Your Mantra: Micromanagement is for the Birds

Nothing is more irritating to a seasoned employee than being micromanaged.

If you’re a young person put in a leadership position, you will be pressured in many ways to act as if you have control over everything. While it’s part of the game to deal with the pressure, it isn’t a requirement to give in to it.

Trusting those who are working with you and getting to know their limits is actually going to help you get the best of them. After all, micromanagement translates into one thing and one thing only: frustration. Autonomy is the only way to go.

Give your team a reasonable level of freedom to get their tasks done and rely on trust as your policy. Over time, you will have enough information on how they work and what they accomplish to decide whether you would like to change the approach.

If needed, put together a plan to improve their performance and let them go if they are not meeting the expectations. However, do not try to engage in micromanagement without offering them some time to prove themselves first or it could backfire.

Think of your leadership position as a chance to make people’s jobs easier. Facilitate, don’t complicate. Autonomy is the key to making things easier for everybody involved.

5 — Stay Humble (and Thankful)

Gratitude is not just good for your health. It is also extremely important in the work environment, as it demonstrates that you’re humble and not in it for the praise.

By showing those working with you that you’re grateful for the opportunity to lead them sends out a strong message of humility. It also makes it clear that you’re always open to listen to their feedback and tells them that you care. When you care others tend to feel compelled to reciprocate.

In other words, you are more likely to put the good of your team ahead of yourself when you’re grateful. And because that translates into a common trait of a truly effective leader, that’s precisely how your team will see you.