Hays UK jobs and employment blog


How to prosper as a young leader

By Barney Ely, Director of Hays Human Resources

As a modern young leader, you should be immensely proud of reaching this level. You now have an influential position amongst many of your peers and are continuing to rise up the ranks to being successful in your career. However, naturally you will sometimes feel out of your depth and believe me, you are not alone.

You might also be reluctant to ask questions due to the fear you'll appear too young for this role.

Here are some common examples:

  • Am I well placed to weigh in on major discussions, given that I have fewer years’ experience than my counterparts?
  • Should I ask for help or guidance?
  • Will people listen or take me seriously?

If this reflects your uncertainties, then I assure you, this is in fact is beneficial. After all, if this self-doubt is honed into self-awareness and the ability to acknowledge your flaws, you will find yourself constantly improving. The key is to tackle these challenges head on, with a problem-solving and proactive attitude. Here's how: 

Know your strengths

Before you do anything else, know and believe in your unique value. You already have the skills to be appointed to a leadership position at such a young age. Ask yourself, why did they hire you? What were the skills that made you stand out from other candidates and how can you continue to utilise these in your new position?

Use your age as an advantage

Remember that you, as a young leader, can offer a unique perspective and attitude which your counterparts may not possess. For example, a recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that the lack of experience in younger leaders often equates to a lack of cynicism. Therefore, you are more likely to maintain an optimistic outlook and welcome change and innovation. If you look at this from a different angle, self-doubt is actually one quality which makes you invaluable as a leader.

In addition, you can offer up a fresh, outside point of view. First, because you'll be less set in your ways. And as it wasn’t too long ago you were interacting with the more junior people within your organisation. These people are typically the employees with more customer-facing roles and are therefore able to offer a more customer-centric, insightful perspective. Considering your recent exposure to these people, you can channel this perspective and contribute some valuable insights. 

Honesty about your skills gaps

There may be certain gaps in your knowledge which are getting in the way of you being fully confident in your abilities to manage and prosper in your new role. Be honest with yourself and make a plan to bridge these gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask your line manager for support, either as coaching from them or external training.

It is also important to be patient with yourself. You were put in this position on the premise of your current leadership skills but also on your potential. Therefore nobody expects you to know everything straight away. What they do expect, is for you to continuously improve, ensuring that you are learning as you go. This is something all good leaders will do, regardless of their age and experience.

Find a mentor

Find an established leader who started in a similar position to you, as they will be able to provide you with guidance and reassurance. Realise that they had the same or similar anxieties and are now here to help you prosper.

Is there anyone you particularly look up to within your organisation? How could you learn from these people? Some organisations will offer mentoring programmes, whereby you can frequently have one to ones with your mentor and discuss any situations which you are struggling to navigate. Many well-known leaders also publish LinkedIn Influencer blogs and books, sharing the struggles that they experienced during their early days, and how they overcame them.

Believe in yourself

Just because you are following the above steps in order to grow, that doesn’t mean you should manage with any less self-belief than those around you. Yes, you are young, but that doesn’t mean the decisions you make are wrong by default. As mentioned before, you clearly already have achieved great accomplishments at your disposal, or else you wouldn’t have been appointed to your position.

Use this knowledge as reassurance. Trusting your gut and believing in what you are saying or doing when leading others will you earn you much respect. You may not always get it right and people may disagree with you. But, learning from these experiences is what shapes successful and trusted leaders.

If you are looking for support with your employment needs please contact your local office.

About this author

Barney joined Hays in 1993 as a business graduate and is now Director for Hays Human Resources. Barney also has operational responsibility for Hays offices across the South of England, placing professionals in over 20 industry sectors covering everything from accountancy and finance to construction, IT education and healthcare.


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