Millennials are making waves. As a generation, they are redefining what a successful career is, with a focus on flexible and fulfilling work, and millennials are not afraid to make financial sacrifices in order to stay true to these values. With this in mind, combined with the fact that many millennial men and women are unable to find desirable jobs upon entering the workforce, it’s no surprise that entrepreneurship appeals to many millennials.
But do these members of the workforce have what it takes to head companies and lead employee teams? Perhaps not, according to millennials themselves. One survey found that only 27 percent of millennial men and 21 percent of millennial women believe their leadership skills are “strong.” No wonder leadership development is a hot topic among millennials, especially young entrepreneurs.
The good news is that leadership can be learned. Here, we’ve compiled a list of practical skills millennials can learn and resources they can use to nurture leadership as they start up their businesses.
Develop the qualities great leaders already possess
Over communicate: A good leader knows that the key to success lies in the details. Don’t worry about being too tedious, as your team is looking to you for direction. Good communication skills are one of the most important if not the most important skills for a leader.
Study emotional intelligence: Studies have shown that people with emotional intelligence are happier in their lives, stronger leaders and quicker to advance in their careers.
Always be learning: Learn everything you can. Grow your skills and become smarter than the person above you. Knowledge will always push you further ahead. And, the more you know, the more you can teach, which is a quality of a great leader.
Be upbeat: Be energetic and enthusiastic. Positivity is contagious and creates ideal environments for effective collaboration.
Be modest. Don’t spend time trying to impress others. Let your value shine through your work.
Be ambitious: Ambition spawns creative ideas and generates innovation. Stretch your expectations and those of your team. Seek to do work that won’t just meet your goals, but will exceed them. As a leader, if you want to build up your teams, lead by example and build up ambition in your teams.
Be passionate: If you’re passionate about your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. Passion will push you out of your comfort zone and allow you to succeed.
Take pride in your work: Care about the quality of the work you produce, and always work to improve it. Before completing a project, think, “How can I make this even better?”
Do hard things: Nothing great is accomplished easily. A consistently hard work ethic will always be in demand. If you are known to execute on the hard things, you will go very far not just professionally, but in life.
Build up those around you: Did someone do something awesome? Tell them. When talking about co-workers who aren’t in front of you, say kind things about them. Often, your kind words get back to them. Encourage others to succeed. Offer to train those who are lacking in a certain talent. Let others take on more challenging roles and build their strengths. Great leaders know the importance of building up others.
Improve your confidence: Confidence in your own ability, combined with confidence in your team, will produce superior results. Confidence will also help to build trust with those in your work circle. And it’s true what they say, you can “fake it till you make it” with this one.
Identify solutions: Ideas are free and easy, but solutions are hard to come by and are valuable. So think of solutions.
Find a mentor: You’ve likely been told this before, and that’s because it works. A few good mentors can propel your leadership skills years faster than without them.
Be presentable: Success is not determined by what you wear, but looking put together will help your confidence, and your overall personal “brand.” Watch how you present yourself online, in emails, chats and work communication. Presentability goes a long way.
Be teachable: Make it easy for your teammates to work with you by taking feedback and applying it. It’s basically impossible not to respect a person who listens to feedback and actually makes a change.
Never place blame: By placing blame, you are effectively building walls. Instead of placing blame, identify your own actions that contributed to the situation. Identify what happened, not whose fault it was. And figure out a strategy to fix it. Blame is highly ineffective in leadership.
Be a team player: Speak up in meetings, and train others in the areas you excel in. Help those around you succeed and give others your undivided attention. Set a personal example of teamwork to build into the company culture.
Learn the art of motivation: A truly capable leader knows how to utilize motivation based on individual personalities. Some people are motivated by competitions, some by praise. Understanding people’s personality types and the art of motivation, in general, will make you a much better leader.
Positive affirmation: Look in the mirror every day and tell yourself “I am an excellent leader. I am confident in my leadership abilities. Today I will lead better than yesterday.” You are doing great, so remind yourself daily!
Be on time: Rarely do people notice the individuals who are consistently on time, but people almost always notice individuals who are consistently late. Being on time shows that you respect others’ time as much as your own. And great leaders know that building respect and trust between your team is critical.
Get out of your comfort zone: Do things that make you uncomfortable. Practice your public speaking skills. Or, try a new hobby that scares you. Pushing yourself is a great way to enhance your skills.
Don’t burn bridges: A bridge burnt can never be returned. Save your future self from the challenge and heartache that come from severed connections.
Make meetings intentional: When you hold meetings, set an intentional schedule. Everyone has work to do, and no one enjoys sitting in long meetings that seem to provide no value. Change up the way you hold your meetings so team-efficiency is optimal.
Learn to empathize: Chances are you have worked for a boss who was uptight or liked to micromanage. Chances are you also didn’t enjoy working under their leadership. Learn to empathize with employees who are going through a hard time. By being a genuine, empathetic leader, you will be more respected.
Try new things: Nothing is ever perfect. Get creative, try new things! As your leadership style evolves, so will you.
As with any of these skills, practice makes perfect. Developing leadership skills is no different. With practice, you will notice traits come more naturally to you.
Advice from other entrepreneurs
I asked several successful entrepreneurs to share their top leadership advice for millennials. First, I spoke with Tahnee Elliott, the CEO of T.C. Elli’s, an entrepreneur who has owned a boutique for over 19 years and who has employed more than 500 women under the age of 22.
Here’s how she believes millennials can grow into confident leaders:
- First, know your worth and trust your instinct: Intuition is worth a lot
- Embrace your fears: So many times when promoting young women, they make excuses for why they can’t do the job. Bottom line, they lack the confidence.”If I or anyone else believes in you, why not believe in yourself? Take the responsibility and rock it,” Elliott said. “Who knows? It might lead to something greater! Or spur an opportunity to be a mentor down the road.”
- Don’t allow Tall Poppy Syndrome to get in the way: Sometimes friends and family aren’t on board; they may not understand you or your goals. Instead of letting it get in the way, allow the objections to make you a more resilient leader
- Do not allow people to sway your thinking because you are a kind person: Kindness is a superpower
- Acknowledge your strengths and hire your weaknesses: Once your business is up and running, you won’t be able to do it all. Know when to hire help so you don’t become overwhelmed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint
- Be prepared: Know your audience and carry yourself with integrity; everyone from the janitor to C-suite deserves the same level of respect and acknowledgment.
- Become a better salesperson: Even if it’s scary
Next, I spoke with Saloni Doshi, Owner/COO of EcoEnclose, and she listed sales experience as the most important tool for an up-and-coming millennial entrepreneur.
“Take on a sales role, even if you aren’t interested in sales long-term. Becoming a truly excellent sales person builds so many tangible and intangible skills that are invaluable professionally, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs. You learn how to connect with people and build relationships out of thin air, develop organizational systems to manage your time and track your work, hold yourself accountable to and work towards ambitious goals, and to tell stories and speak eloquently,” Doshi said. “Finally, if you’re doing it well, you learn how to be a self-starter. Perhaps most importantly, sales teaches you how to listen to other people and understand how you can help them achieve their goals.”
I also spoke with Mark Davis, owner of e-commerce store, Custom Throwback Jerseys.
Here’s what he shared:
“Walk in the shoes of every one of your teammates. Try to understand their daily challenges and frustrations. This way, when things aren’t working well, you can approach them with respect and empathy, and help refine processes or find solutions for problem areas,” Davis said. “There’s nothing worse than a boss who has no idea what you do or what it’s like to have your job.”
Additional ways to grow your leadership abilities
TED Talks can teach you everything from how to be a better parent to quantum physics. The leadership section of TED is full of amazing, inspiring, actionable resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. And best of all, they are 20 minutes or less.
Some favorites include:
- “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek
- “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers
- “Tribal Leadership” by David Logan
Take a peek into the minds of some of the world’s greatest leaders and boost your entrepreneurial knowledge with titles like:
- “How to Make Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie: A timeless book that is as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1936. For millennials (really anyone!) hoping to improve their leadership skills, this book is an all-time must!
- “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t” by James Collins: Another timeless book that discusses why some companies cross into Amazon level success, and why some never make the transition. Readers will learn business strategy, leadership and much more. A timeless bestseller that millennial entrepreneurs should definitely add to their lists.
- “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek: Leadership starts with understanding why you are leading in the first place. Sinek outlines the process of doing just that. This bestselling book is witty, full of inspiration, and definitely worth picking up.
- “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown: Using years of research, Brown shows how vulnerability can transform the way you lead, the way you parent, and the way you build relationships.
Millennials can find free leadership courses on a variety of platforms: edX offers a great variety of free leadership courses, as well as Open and Harvard. If you have a paid account on Lynda or Udemy, you can also find a wide selection of leadership courses available there, as well.
Going to local industry-related functions is a great way to meet people in your industry. But another reason to go? It’s also a great way to observe people’s interaction styles and leadership abilities. Notice how the speakers present themselves. What can you take from it?
Go to a retreat
Going to a retreat can be a great way to learn from experts in industries around the world. Immerse yourself into workshops, classes and mingle! The Institute for Mindful Leadership offers great retreats, as does the Inner Work Company.
Work on yourself
Any work you do on yourself will help you with your ability to lead. Meditate. Try yoga. Find a spiritual sanctuary for yourself. Read self-help books. Exercise. All of these things will further your entrepreneurial mindset for the better.
It may seem overwhelming to dive into the leadership aspect of entrepreneurship. But with time, practice and continued growth, things you once found scary will come to you naturally and without a second thought.
Build up those around you. Create things. Be passionate. Execute. Empathize. Propel yourself forward. You’ve got this!
Have you found other strategies to enhance your leadership development? Let us hear them! Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Originally published March 6, 2019.