I had a great discussion with a client today about some of the wonderful programs and training their firm is doing for junior-level professionals. They’re investing in young minds, not only for the benefit of the company, but also for the personal benefit of their employees. They see value in helping them improve and grow in all aspects of their lives, not just in their careers. It’s a smart move on many of levels.
I asked if they were also going to include a leadership class as part of the curriculum, mentioning as well that my husband and I talk daily to our elementary school-aged children about leadership. It’s part of their regular vocabulary, understanding…and motivation.
Sure, they’ve got a long way to go before they’ll have an organizational title of leadership, but we’ve made it clear that they can – and should – lead now. Every day. And, our kids understand it. And do it. And are excited by it.
So, if our young children can grasp it, embrace it and run with it, then it would make perfect sense that young professionals could most certainly do so as well.
I submit that companies should immediately and consistently affirm and grow leadership in their young professionals. It will make a difference.
Why? Three major reasons:
Beliefs and attitudes drive behaviors. If people start believing that they can lead; that they can indeed make a difference or have an impact, then they’ll work hard trying to do just that. They have to understand that it IS possible. They can lead from who they are. It’s a choice to be proactive – to see an opportunity to make a difference and to grab onto it and do something with it. But, it starts first with believing in the value of leadership and second, with the notion that they, themselves, can lead. Companies should reinforce this belief and encourage every professional to look for leadership opportunities and take action on them.
Start sooner, get results sooner. By starting young, things that may not be as intuitive can be learned faster, easier and without the challenges of changing long-time bad habits. Good leadership habits will more quickly become part of their norm and will become easier and more graceful earlier in their careers…and they’ll only continue to improve with time. An early investment could have profound results today and years down the road. Instead of beginning to invest in leadership with middle managers, they’ll already be well on their way. This should be helpful as succession plans are being developed as well. The up-front commitment will be impactful for years to come.
People change culture. As young professionals become young leaders, their collective attitudes and actions will shift the culture. Innovative and visionary thinking, proactive and results-oriented behaviors, and greater engagement and collaboration will become more normative. Companies need to be mindful, of course, to celebrate, encourage and reinforce these behaviors so they continue to grow, develop and become more contagious. By fostering and acknowledging these leadership behaviors, the incentives become clear, the norms change and the culture evolves into one of leadership at all levels.
As I listen to my own children, I hear them talk often about being a “leader.” They’re quick to own that label and to do what’s right, even when the majority may go in a different direction. As a mother, I find comfort in seeing this leadership confidence in them. As a leadership coach, I know it’s giving them a head start (a very intentional leaning in for my daughter, especially!)
I think back to when I was a young professional. If I could have owned that leadership label earlier in my career, would I have done anything differently? I’m certain of it. I’m also certain my company would have benefitted just as much as I would have.