What Does It Take To Be A Young Leader?

Aug 12, 2016 1 Min Read
young adult ponders whilst laying on the ground


How can youths be developed to take charge?

It can be tough being a young person these days.

Life, in many ways, is more convenient, sure. But there seems to be a lot of pressure to score a truckload of straight As and become a billionaire by the time you’re 30.

To be fair, being young has always been a tough gig. I bet even Socrates’ parents would often nag him, “Why can’t you be more like your grandfather? He never stood around all day, thinking.”

This might interest you: Shaping Young Leaders Through Role Models And Character-Building


Misunderstood creatures

The biggest issue has always been an apparent resistance to be taken seriously by the generations that have gone before you.

Many older people think they know more than young people about all the important stuff, while those with wiser heads know better.

Your parents know what career is best for you and which girlfriend or boyfriend is most suitable; some teachers might insist on one-way dialogue and remain uninterested about your ideas and what you have to contribute; and no one understands that, despite your age, you have lived a life and thus experienced problems (and solved them), known heartbreak (and got over it), and faced challenges (which you overcame).

It’s easy to see why young people come through early life and navigate their way through school and college, only to head out into the world with much less of an idea of their worth and potential than they should have.

A lack of respect from society, people not listening, always trying to fit in, concerns over future careers and economic stability, making sense of who you are, gaining some footing in morals and values, and dealing with expectations from every direction are just some of the issues that will combine to make your head spin as you try to figure out your place in the world.



Our future leaders

As such, the idea of a young person being a leader in any shape or form is scoffed at by a lot of older people.

Judging by the vortex of issues affecting young people, it could be argued that they have a point.

But then again, such an argument fails to take into consideration the resilience of young people, their creativity, their ability to innovate, and the enormous potential that lies within them despite some grand efforts by society to limit or suppress it altogether.

Malala Yousafzai wrote political blog posts from the age of 11, and campaigned for education rights for women in Pakistan.

In 2012, she survived a horrific attack after being shot by a gunman while travelling to school. Her efforts to campaign for education rights, along with her fearless spirit, won her global admiration. At age 17, she became the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate.

Young people can make excellent leaders if they have the fortune of being encouraged and nurtured in the right way, or are strong enough to possess an unyielding determination to make a difference regardless of their circumstances.


Parting thoughts

Whatever challenges you might face as a young person, nothing can stop you from being who you want to be and achieving whatever you desire—nor should it.

The only thing that can hold you back from becoming whoever you want to be is the voice inside you that tells you you’re not ready, or it’s too risky, or that you’re not good enough.

Life’s too short to listen to negative voices, whether they come from outside yourself or within.

If you’re able to ignite the potential within you and develop a belief that says, “I am good enough – I can do this,” then all that’s left to be done is for you to decide to become the best you were born to be.

P05_1308_CAPTION_The path to leadership requires a lot of learning, not just from books, but also from people and experiences.

5 steps to cultivate leadership skills

1. Hone your skillset before you enter employment

There are a number of volunteering opportunities out there that allow you to work on all the qualities required for leadership. Build your self-confidence by getting involved in projects, committees and organised events. This will place you in a variety of different situations where you have to manage relationships, challenges and outcomes.

Invest in yourself before you go into work.


2. Learn from the pros

I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve read, the speeches I’ve listened to, and the leaders I’ve observed. All of it has helped me to cultivate my communication skills.

The biggest mistake young people can make is to think that learning stops when college finishes. American billionaire Warren Buffett is 85 years old, worth over US$60bil, and he still reads for at least four hours every day.

Learning is a lifelong process—and an enjoyable one.


3. Always keep a curious mind

Keep learning about whatever interests you, but once a month, dip into something you’re completely unfamiliar with.

This might sound like a waste of time – why would you want to learn about carbon emissions when you’re all about becoming the next Martin Scorsese, right? Learning outside your interests will help to equip you with new skills and fresh ways of looking at whatever you want to achieve.

A curious mind helps to maintain your edge and stops you from becoming stale.

Read this: Be More Curious Than Afraid


4. Look to serve whenever you can

In Adam Grant’s book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, he explores how life unfolds for those who constantly give, those who take, and those who match (i.e. those who give but look for something in return).

The book is peppered with examples of how, when we give frequently with sincerity and with no expectations, we receive an abundance in return.

Cultivate a “servant” mindset and you’ll be surprised (contrary to belief) just how far it gets you.

Recommended for you: Can You Serve And Lead At The Same Time?


5. Communicate and connect

The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough. People who can establish rapport with others and make genuine connections are bound to go far in whatever field they happen to be in.

There’s a tonne of resources out there to help build your interpersonal skills, so be sure to make use of them. If watching YouTube tutorials is your thing, I’d recommend the “Charisma on Command” channel for starters.

These are two key areas vital for building strong and meaningful relationships.


Sandy was young once. He had hair on his head and felt unstoppable. Far too introverted to be a leader himself, he nevertheless learns all he can from the best and is always happy to help others take the leap towards greatness. To connect with Sandy, follow him @RealSClarke on Twitter. For more Starting Young articles, click here.

For special programmes that your organisation can arrange for young leaders in schools and universities, contact rupa.sivanoli@leaderonomics.com

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Sandy is a former Leaderonomics editor and is now a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. As editor of www.leaderonomics.com, he has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.

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