Be Taken Seriously as a Young Business Leader
Follow these eight steps to prompt (older) employees, colleagues and business associates to respect and value your input and actions.
The millennial generation is considered one of the most promising to date when it comes to business ownership. According to the Millennial Generation Research Review, compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated by Generation Y may be creating a positive outlook for job creation.
Citing 2011 figures such as "Millennials launched almost 160,000 startups each month, and 29% of all entrepreneurs were 20 to 34 years old," the research report concluded the "entrepreneurial mind-set" of millennials could "reverse a declining trend of business startups."
Spurred on by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Andrew Mason of Groupon and Snapchat founder Evan Spiegel, more and more young people are starting their own businesses or being promoted into influential positions.
Being a leader can be tough even at the best of times, yet the added pressure that a young leader faces as a result of others equating youth with inexperience can make the experience even harder. Young leaders can take these eight steps and (older) employees, colleagues and business associates may be more likely to take them seriously:
1. Know the industry.
Young business leaders should do research and be sure to know their industry inside and out. Read up on the latest trends, connect with experts in the field and become immersed in the appropriate business sector. Figure out the following: Who are the key players and why have they become successful? What emerging technologies could serve as a springboard for the company's success?
Taking the time to develop an understanding of the industry at hand will show others this leader knows her stuff and means business. As Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, “The upside of painful knowledge is so much greater than the downside of blissful ignorance.” And she was right. Knowledge is power. Don't forget.
2. Lead from the front.
One of the most effective ways to demonstrate ability and prove a management role is deserved is to lead by example and work hard. Be the first person in the office in the morning and the last to leave at night. Take on a fair share of the workload and show everyone signs of being a team player. The most effective way to earn respect is to lead from the front and help others succeed.
3. Take advice.
While a young business leader may have already demonstrated skills in management, only a fool believes he or she knows it all, particularly when armed with limited experience. People are far more likely to take a manager seriously if he or she listens to and heeds advice.
A study conducted in June by Sage surveyed people in more than 11,000 small and medium-sized businesses in 17 countries and found 89 percent of those surveyed acknowledged that mentoring can help them succeed. Listening to people and heeding their advice could significantly boost the leader's chances of success. What’s more, people will respect this willingness to learn and openness to constructive criticism. Show signs of being a know-it-all, though, and risk alienating others and losing credibility as a professional.
4. Show conviction.
It’s important for a leader to have conviction in her decisions. If the young manager has done her homework, then her decision may well be the right one, even if it’s challenged by someone with more experience. Young leaders should be aware of their value in brining a fresh perspective to the table. That’s not to say they should avoid taking advice or admitting when a decision was incorrect. Just don’t back down immediately.
A leader with the confidence to put his head above the parapet is likely to impress others in the office and earn respect.
5. Remain calm and collected.
Part of being a successful leader is staying cool under pressure. The business world regularly offers up challenging and stressful situations and a leader's reaction is judged. Take a step back and a deep breath and put everything in perspective. Members of the team will feel reassured by a collected demeanor, which will in turn develop their trust and confidence in the leader.
6. Manage expectations.
Leadership is all about managing expectations. Share with employees what's expected of them and in return, listen to what they desire in a leader. By opening the lines of communication and being approachable, a leader can build a team with people who understand the direction the department is headed in and the end goals. If this leadership results in positive business outcomes, then respect and support will follow.
7. Consider personal appearance.
It may seem trivial but the way a leader presents himself to the outside world is critical. How the person dresses and carries himself says a lot about his personality. This doesn't mean always show up to work suited-and-booted but be sure to be dressed appropriately for any situation. Take a look in the mirror each morning and ask, Does my appearance reflect my desired business persona?
8. Develop a business persona.
Finally, hone the professional personality. A leader needs to figure out decide how she would like people to perceive her and work toward building a personality in line with that. To be considered firm but fair, hard working and meticulous, behave that way.
As Mark Zuckerberg said, “The question isn’t, ‘What do we want to know about people?’ It’s, ‘What do people want to tell about themselves?’” How a young business leader presents himself will influence others’ opinions. The leader is a product of past experiences, failures and successes. Become immersed in the right situations and tailor reactions appropriately to build the business persona desired.
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated to correctly summarize entrepreneurship research in the Millennial Generation Research Review.