Earning Your Leadership
The first and biggest challenge I faced as a young leader was in earning my leadership. As a young leader, it’s important to learn early on that people will not follow you because someone who came before you put you in a position of leadership; they will not follow you because you have fancy degrees or a high profile resume. If you try to force them to, they will resist. No one is a fan of a twenty-something year old brat trying to take the bull by the horns, changing everything around. Leadership is influence. It is the ability to influence a group of people to move in the same direction, to accomplish the goal of the team or the organization. Especially when you are a young leader, it doesn’t matter how much power you think you have, you will need to influence people in order to get anything done, and this influence will have to be earned. It takes time and a lot of hard work to make your voice one people want to listen to. In an attempt to cut corners, I have seen many young leaders try to force their will on the people they lead. If you take that route, you may be able to get them to do what you want today, but they will never really be behind you; and if you can’t get them behind you, you will never be seen as their leader. You will be considered the the son-of, assistant-of, or replacement-of the leader, but never the real deal.
When I first became an Executive, I learned quickly how little position does for you in leadership. In a short time, I went from being my Father’s assistant (a part-time job I had while I was working on my Masters) to being in charge of the main team of leaders- all of whom are in their forties and fifties. I had everything I needed: a Master's degree in management, years of experience in the church, and a father (their pastor) who had placed me there and “strongly suggested” that everyone respect me. But I couldn’t get them to listen to a word I said. All of my ideas were rejected. I was interrupted almost every time I started to speak. I had a position, but I hadn’t earned any influence. In their defense, let’s look at it from their perspective: they had worked years to get where they were and this young girl was coming in to try and tell them what to do! Who was to say I even cared about them or knew what I was talking about? I had to earn the backing they would eventually give me. Today that team of leaders is my strongest asset. When I have a new idea to implement, I don’t hesitate to take it to them and know that they will defend me, and follow even at times when they don’t agree, because they have learned to trust me. It didn’t happen from one day to another, and it wasn’t without some intentional effort. Here are some DOs and DON’TS of earning your place within an organization or a team:
DO: Get some wins!
If you want the team to listen to your ideas, you’ll need to show them that your ideas actually work. You need to show you can win some victories, preferably ones that benefit them, not only you. Do something to make their lives easier, serve them. Make a plan and carry it through. The problem with young leaders is that they seem flaky, and as if they have no experience or haven’t worked a day in their lives, so put a few notches under your belt.
DON’T: Be a know-it-all
People appreciate a leader (and a person in general) who can admit when they are wrong. People can NOT STAND a person who throws around their degrees or number of years in a field just to get their way. Be humble and flexible, if your idea is good it will eventually stand on it’s own, if it’s not, don’t worry too much about it. People will respect you more for being a team player who took someone else’s idea into account than for always being right.
DO: Connect with your team
Your team is not an ocean. They are not one big mass or body. They are individuals, and if you treat them as such, they will find it easier to respect you. If you don’t, they will find it easier to write you off. If you don’t know them, how can you know what is best for them? Find ways to connect to people one-on-one. Know their names, ask them about their families, remember their birthdays. You will find that knowing how to relate to them will also help you know how to approach bringing up ideas and strategies.
DON’T: Throw tantrums
You don’t want your team to write you off as a bratty, snot-nosed kid, so DO NOT act like one. There is no need for yelling, screaming or storming out of rooms. Old school leaders may have thought at one time that things like that are a display of authority, but they actually make you look immature and unable to control yourself. Do what you can to keep a level head. If an argument ensues, chose to postpone it to a time when you have cooled off, or use logic and reason to show why you are right, not your temper. Whatever you do- DO NOT tattle tale. Nothing shows immaturity like a young leader running to their boss to be rescued. It is better to accept defeat on a certain issue but remain calm, mature, and consistent. Eventually, that in itself will earn you high admiration.
At first, you may have to set out to earn those victories on your own, while your team hesitates to follow you or challenges your authority. You may struggle to connect with that one team member who refuses to recognize the effort your putting in to get to know them, or may accidentally fall into a tantrum or two. The important thing to remember is that you don't need to be perfect, as long as you are purposed. Put your mind to it and decide to lead, be consistent and you'll start to notice the difference.