Six Steps to Leadership for Young Professionals

Six Steps to Leadership for Young Professionals

By Jason Kent, PE, Monster Contributing Writer

As a young professional, you may think you can’t lead or advance because of your youth or short tenure in your company. Think again. 

In fact, youth and short tenure can be assets. Young professionals may not bring years of experience to a company, but they bring energy, exuberance, a fresh education and knowledge of new technologies that others in the company may not have. They also bring a fresh perspective -- a new look at old problems.

As a young professional, you can still be a leader even if you’re not in a position of power. In fact, if you exercise your leadership skills as a young professional, your road to a more desirable position can be much shorter. Follow these six steps to cultivate and exercise your leadership skills without having positional power:

1. Do Good Work

It is a cliché, but it’s true -- lead by example. Do the best you can do, ask questions and try to exceed all expectations. Winners are seen as leaders.

2. Get a Mentor

A mentor is a trusted advisor with more experience or status who teaches you in a constructive partnership. You, as the protégé, learn from your mentor’s experience, while your mentor grows and benefits from your fresh perspective and knowledge. If your organization does not have a formal mentoring program, take the initiative to get one or more mentors on your own. You will stand out from the pack by doing so.

3. Take on an Initiative or Side Project

Many organizations have leadership opportunities on business development groups or committees. Leading one of these groups can increase your exposure to other leaders and managers in your organization. Professional associations typically have committees that also provide great opportunities for leadership, networking and self-marketing.

4. Speak or Write About Your Work

Nothing establishes you as a trusted expert on a subject faster than communicating about it in public. Seek out opportunities to speak at trade shows, conventions, technical symposia and meetings of professional organizations. In the office, give a “brown bag” presentation over lunch to your coworkers about your area of expertise. Offer to give this presentation to other offices as well. You can also show your expert status by writing articles for your industry trade journal, alumni magazine or company newsletter. If a difficult subject, such as a new or emerging technology, is important to and poorly understood by your group, do some research, write a white paper and share it with your coworkers. This extra effort can provide a lot of extra career mileage.

5. Stay Above the Fray

In any organization, it pays to be friendly and communicative with all your coworkers. But it is equally important to stay away from the gossip and backbiting that sometimes goes on in the workplace. Leaders need to be credible and honest. Nothing will undermine your leadership efforts more than being a source of office gossip or negative talk. If you are in a bad situation organizationally, don’t complain. The best thing you can do is step up your efforts to lead. Handling the situation in a focused and professional manner will cast you in the most positive light with management.

6. Ask for Advancement

This might be the simplest and most effective tip, but it is often the most overlooked. Once you decide what you want to do in your organization and what the next logical step for your career advancement should be, tell your immediate supervisor. Your supervisor’s success is directly and positively affected by your success, so in most cases your supervisor will help you be successful. If your supervisor is not receptive or helpful, it might be time to reassess your situation.

If you follow these six steps to leading without positional power, you may find your coworkers responding to you as a leader. But don’t forget these tips as you move up the corporate ladder. Pass them on to coworkers and other young professionals. Successful leaders, after all, are committed to the success of the people around them.

[Jason Kent is a professional water resources engineer and manager with a large engineering consulting firm in Portland, Oregon. In his 11-year career, Jason has tackled engineering problems such as dam removal, bridge scour, flood waves and stream restoration design, as well as management issues including hiring, training and marketing. He is also a public speaker on topics including engineering career development and volunteerism, and has contributed to multiple magazines. He can reached via email and on Twitter.]