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7 things every 20-something should learn about leadership

The best advice you can take, according to the experts who really know what their talking about...

A great leader is that rarest of creatures — at once able to command respect, whilst never losing touch with the business’ inner workings taking place at every level. And, whilst there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to effective leadership, the commonality between every great leader working today, is their ability to adapt to shifting environments, and empower the team around them to succeed together.

Now, with an exciting and seemingly unstoppable wave of start-ups coming to the fore in this frenetic world of entrepreneurship and technology — increasing numbers of discerningly young businessmen and women are finding themselves in positions of leadership historically reserved for folk with a few more decades’ experience behind them.

If you are fortunate enough to count yourself amongst this fresh-faced crew, then you’d be forgiven for feeling more than a little overwhelmed in the face of your newfound responsibility. But, never fear — we’ve done a little digging and there’s a lot of invaluable advice out there from those who really know what their talking about.

Read on to discover the (non age-dependant) keys to success.

Find a mentor

A remarkable 75% of executives say mentoring has been critical to their career development, according to a recent survey by the American Society for Training and Development.

When seeking out a more experienced leader to help you on your journey, it is invaluable to find a mentor whose journey is complementary to yours and who is personally invested in your success. Mentors should also be willing to be open and honest about their experiences so you can truly learn from them.

No matter where you are in your career, the right mentor can energise, encourage and propel you — as well as providing counsel when you need it.

Listen well

A trap that leaders of any age can all-too-easily stumble into, is misinterpreting good communication for talking more and giving more directions — when what most employees need in order to feel valued is to be heard.

According to Richard Branson, the best of leaders instinctively understand that communication is a two-way street. In his words, “being a good listener is absolutely critical to being a good leader; you have to listen to the people on the front line. Listening enables us to learn from each other, from the marketplace, and from the mistakes that must be made in order to get anywhere that is original and disruptive.”

Put your employees first (even before your customers)

Another key piece of advice from the Virgin CEO, Branson follows the maxim, “if you take care of your employees, your employees will take care of your customers, and your customers will take care of your shareholders.”

In an interview with Inc., Branson said the following: “If the person who works at your company is 100% proud of the job they’re doing, if you give them the tools to do a good job, if they are well looked after, then they’re going to be smiling and the customer will have a far more positive experience.”

This all starts and ends with having an employee-first mindset.

Accept your failures

Most of us can swiftly call to mind an oft-repeated maxim on the importance of failure, but there really is a lot of wisdom to be found in the old cliché that failure is intrinsic to success.

“There are two responses to failure,” says John Foy, attorney and founder of John Foy & Associates. “You can get bogged down or you can grow. What distinguishes a good entrepreneur from a mediocre one is which option they select. You can either get discouraged and contemplate giving up or embrace the failure and learn from it.”

Don’t crack under pressure

Beyond the ability to delegate tasks and inspire others to work hard, an effective leader can cope and thrive under pressure. Stressful situations are unavoidable in any line of work and leaders are the most likely to take the heat.

These circumstances are when effective leadership is most necessary to keep things on track — because employees are most likely to look to you for motivation. Assuming the leadership role means that you need to come prepped and padded for all the curve balls that may be thrown at you.

Stay humble

Writing for Inc., Marcel Schwantes says that being humble is a very important trait of a great leader. He writes, “humble leaders speak three magical words that will produce more peace of mind and respect than a week’s worth of executive coaching: ‘I was wrong.’ And three more: ‘You are right.'”

His sentiments are echoed by Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, who once advised that a leader’s response to learning that they were mistaken is of paramount importance. He said, “how you adapt and adjust to the things you get wrong is really important, how you respond to adversity is really important — so there’s no right way. I’m still learning.”

Spend your days doing, not planning

You know that old phrase “life happens while you’re busy making plans”? Well, it rings particularly true for life as a business entrepreneur. Keep in mind that the purpose of planning is not to have the most beautiful, elaborate, detailed plan —it is to move you forward.

To spend too long planning means delaying the inevitable: the point at which action either validates your plan or sends you back to the drawing board.

Looking for more business advice? Here’s how to retire at 30, according to the entrepreneurs who made it happen…

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