08 Aug '08
Advice for young leaders
Contributing Writer: Lindsay NormanI often find that young leaders are enthusiastic to be mentored and to learn. There are books and materials for individuals already in leadership roles, but significantly less material that covers how young leaders can grow to their potential. Here is what I have found helpful as I intentionally walk the road to develop my full capacity.
Get a Mentor
Only after having a few mentors in my life can I look back and say this has been, and continues to be, one of the most pivotal elements to growing as a leader. I had mentors in leadership roles who recognized I was a leader years before I did. Feedback I received from one of my mentors was, “Lindsay, you need to be in a role where you are standing on your tip toes every day. Be in a role that is just out of reach the majority of the time so that you are challenged.”
Mentors listen, love and speak into your life. The best part about them is that the relationship is judgment free. The purpose of mentoring is to come along side and be a life coach. The assumption is already there that the “mentee” is learning and growing. It is assumed there will be bumps along the way to growth. That removes the judgment factor. It’s assumed we will mess up! The mentor is there, not to prevent you from messing up, but to help process through why and help you look to the future.
Consider yourself a learner
Every leader goes through an extraordinary amount of learning. Learning about the organization, about other leaders, former leaders, and most importantly, learning about yourself are all critical pieces to development. It is difficult to made effective decisions as a leader if you don’t understand the ethos, mission and vision of the organization.
It is equally difficult to lead well if you don’t understand how the other leaders lead. For the sake of optimal effectiveness as a young leader, I don’t want to be making decisions regarding circumstances that are the responsibility of other leaders.
Finally, and I believe most importantly, a potential leader must learn about themselves. As an upcoming leader, the question must be asked, “How am I wired? Where are my strengths? What am I passionate and really good at? What energizes me?”
This can be done through self-knowledge tools like executive testing or other tools like Myers-Briggs, Gallops StrengthsFinders, or the Firo-B. This can also be done by engaging with a life or work mentor/coach who you trust and who knows you well. There is a great deal of resources on the Internet and in books stores that are available today to help us learn about ourselves.
Learn from Mistakes
It is nice when others make the mistakes before we do, isn’t it? As a potential leader, it is critical to learn from the “dumb tax” others have paid. Believe me, you’ll pay your own dumb tax, you don’t need to pay the same tax as others. As you see mistakes or learn from others past mistakes, ask yourself these questions, “Why did that happen? What were the circumstances? What were the decisions that led up to that mistakes? Who was involved? How can I learn from that mistake?”
As a potential leader, look at the mistake from every angle. Critically think through the situation. And most importantly, don’t judge! You will have your opportunity to make your own mistakes! Mistakes are good. The shape, mold, and sharpen us in our thinking, strategies and leadership. Mistakes by ourselves or others should not be dismissed before a thorough autopsy has taken place. The more learning that takes place early in your leadership development, the more effectively you can navigate leadership in the future.
At some point, the bird knocks the baby out of the nest! Why? Because they need to grow, mature and face the realities of the world. As a leader, in order for us to develop, we need to begin making decisions.
I would recommend making decisions after having organizational context (don’t jump into a leadership role and start making decisions with gaining context and playing the role of “learner”) and touching base with a mentor or supervisor. I don’t touch base with a supervisor because I want them to make the decision for me. I touch base with my supervisor or mentor/coach because I want to process my plan of action and decision-making with them.
By doing this, it allows them to speak into any other aspects I haven’t thought of. It allows me to practice decision-making before the decision actually gets made. After doing this a number of times, a potential leader should be learning about all the factors necessary for a good decision. Eventually, independent decisions can be made. This process also builds the trust of your supervisor that your judgment can be trusted.
Growth can’t be done without taking risks. Good mentor/coaches will also encourage you to take risks. How do you learn unless you try?
As a potential leader, I don’t have all the answers. Yes, you heard me correctly. I can draw on my own experience and on my knowledge of the organization, but that only gets me so far.
Questions need to be asked for the purpose of further understanding and for information to make good decisions. Again, having a good mentor/coach or a supervisor who is intentional about your leadership growth is critical so you can ask questions without judgment.
Knowing where and when to ask question is equally important. If I am in a meeting with all organizational leaders and I am finding that I don’t understand something, I often make a note to myself and ask someone at a break, especially if it is evident that all others in the room are following the conversation. On the other hand, if I am “picking up” that others may have questions like I do, I will ask. If you want to grow as a leader, listening and asking questions is important.
EQ – So Important!
Where do I communicate skepticism about a process, policy or decision that has been made? When do I ask tough questions about other leaders or the organization as a whole? What is my role in the organization? Where do I vent? When and how do I support decisions even if I don’t fully agree with them?
Knowing how to answer and navigate these questions is a direct reflection on your emotional intelligence (EQ). As an up and coming leader, observing, listening, asking questions, and dedicating yourself to learning should help you get a feel for how to answer these questions. Many times, these questions should be directed toward your mentor/coach who can help you navigate the situation.
If you are going to create trust with other leaders and coworkers, how you navigate these questions is critical. The answers will differ depending on the organization or ministry you serve in, the communication process in place, the leaders within that organization, and the trust that is built into that organization or ministry. It is difficult to verbally ask some of these questions to others if you are not trusted or if you do not trust the leadership. More importantly than knowing when to ask these questions is knowing WHEN NOT to ask these questions.