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9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

9 Things You Can Do To Be A Successful Leader in Your 20s

Before writing this piece I reached out to my network on Facebook and asked them what advice they would give someone in their 20s to help them become a successful leader. Here’s their advice:

Personally I used to always want to be someone else. As I get older I realize that you should never wish to be anyone different. Embrace your path as everyone has their own personal and professional struggles but it is all about how you react to them.  – Stephanie T.

Take a chance, and study the results. Never be satisfied with the status quo – often disguised as ‘best practices’. -Terri D.

Volunteer to take something on! A great deal of leadership is simply stepping up to the plate. – Laura M.

Get your masters ’cause a bachelors ain’t shit! – Casey Y.

Every problem no matter how big or small can be overcome. Be nice, be honest, be passionate. – John C.

Participate in as much professional development as you can. – Angie B.

The path is going to change, be OK with it. Every experience, good or bad, is going to lead you to something greater. – Shawnna S.

This topic is of special interest to me as I feel your 20s will be the most important decade of your life. But honestly, I’m not as concerned with how successful you are or will be in your 20s as I am for what your happiness and quality of life will be in your 30s, 40s, and beyond.

In your 20s, you are making decisions, taking on commitments, and assuming responsibilities that will positively or negatively impact you for many years, if not the rest of your life, whether it’s college loan debt, buying a car or house, or selecting your husband or wife. Your 20s provide you a short period of time where ‘the world’ allows you to try different things, make mistakes, and reinvent yourself. The closer you get to 30, the less understanding and forgiving ‘the world’ becomes.  If don’t have your “stuff” together by 30, ‘the world’ may start to lose confidence in you and wonder if and when you will figure it out.  The real tragedy is when you start to lose confidence in yourself.

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You’ve spent the majority of your life receiving well intended instructions and guidance that kept you safe and prepared you for college and a good job. Congratulations if you’ve accomplished this!  However, the rules that got you here are not the same rules that will lead you to a life of meaning, balance, success, and fulfillment, personal and professionally.

I’ve been obsessively studying personal, professional, and leadership development for the past 13 years; since I was 23. In 2001, some professional adversity forced me to take a step back and reevaluate the way I was doing things. I was tired of making mistakes and came to the conclusion that I either wasn’t taught something or I wasn’t listening. Right then and there I made the commitment understand characteristics of success. I put myself on a mission to understand the difference between people who were successful and fulfilled and those who seemed to struggle.

Little did I know at the time, I was studying leadership!

13 years later, here are 9 things you can do to be a successful leader in your 20’s!

1. Know yourself

What are your values?  What are you passionate about? If you can’t answer these two questions, I would hit the pause button for a moment. Your values and passions should be your compass and the driving forces behind every major decision you make. Imagine living your life doing things that aren’t important to you, nor do they excite you. That doesn’t sound fun, does it? Take a look around and you’ll realize there are a lot of people, young and old in that situation. The awesome thing about life is that our lives can change as soon as our attitude does. Connecting to your values and passions is a great first step in living a meaningful life. Go get it!

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2. Know your vision

Your vision is what you want your world to become. Once you connect with your values and passions you can start to look at the world around you and ask: What does the world offer that aligns with my values and passions? What does the world offer you to contribute in areas that are meaningful to you, as well what opportunities can you take advantage of? Through some self-discovery and education, I reconnected to my values and passions right after I turned 24. All I knew at that time is I wanted to be in a role of influence and helping people overcome challenges and achieve their goals. When I really looked at what opportunities the world offered that aligned with my values and passion, I knew that by the time I turned 30 I would be teaching, training, coaching, counselling, and/or speaking. Boom!  My “by 30 Vision” was created!

3. Create your plan

Once you know what is truly important to you (values) and you know what really excites you (passions) and you have an idea what you want out of the world (Vision), it’s time to make it happen. To make it happen, you need a plan. To fulfill your vision, what do you need to do and what other resources will you need? When I created my “by 30 Vision”, I had associates degree in Visual Communications and a year and half of professional experience as a graphic designer. I did not have the education or the professional experience that was going to help me fulfill my vision of becoming a teacher, trainer, coach, counselor, and/or speaker?  To achieve my vision, my plan included continuing to self-study all I could about people’s behavior and motivations. I knew I needed to go back to school and finish my undergraduate degree in a major that aligned with my vision. Knowing it was going to be a number of years until I would get my chance, I took sales jobs that helped me sharpen my communication and presentation skills.  I knew what was important to me. I knew what excited me. I knew where I wanted to go.  Because of this, creating my plan and sticking to it was a piece of cake.

4. Surround yourself with the right people

There are a few quotes I love that relate to this point. “It’s hard to soar with the eagles when you hoot with the owls” and “We are an average of the five people we surround ourselves with”. Who are you surrounding yourself with and do they contribute or take a way from you achieving your vision? This is a big one, folks! You need to have people in your life that understand what you are trying to do. People who encourage, support, and will challenge you if needed. If you’re lucky, you have those people close to you like parents or friends. If you don’t have those people around you, you need to find them. Over the past 13 years I’ve sought out and leaned on mentors, coaches, psychologists, teachers, professionals, and like-minded friends. The nice thing about having self-awareness, focus, and ambition in your 20s is that there are so few of you that do and when you have it, other people notice and they want to help.  Don’t be afraid to seek out support and help.  But, when you to, you better show up and follow through!

5. Get education and experience

Some of you are going to realize that outside of your passion for something, you really have very little understanding or experience with it. That’s OK, but if this is the case, you need to figure out how to close that gap to learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to put yourself in a position to achieve your vision. You do not want to be that person who talks about what they want and how they want life to be different, but are not willing to do anything to get it.  Before you know it, you’ll be 45 playing the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. I knew the only way my vision was going to become a reality is if I continued to self-study, got my degree, and gained skills that aligned with my vision. There is another quote I like and that’s “the only place that success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

6. Get involved

Up to this point, everything you’ve read has been about personal leadership, or in other words, leading yourself. If you want to lead others, you better be walking your talk. If you ask my five-year-old son what leaders do, he will tell you that leaders make people better.  For me, leadership is about understanding what’s important (values), knowing big picture goals (vision), taking the right action (plan), and making everyone better in the process of getting there. Get involved in causes or groups or clubs that are important and excite you so you can exercise your interests and passions around other people. You will learn more about leadership by working with others toward a common goal that you ever will in a book. The book stuff is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the difference between reading a play book and running a play live and feeling what it’s like to score or get knocked on your butt. Others will notice your desire to get involved and take action and you’ll earn their respect. You will build trust because you want to make the people around you better.

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7. Find ways to give value

Relationships are non-stop exchanges of value and you’re either giving value or you’re taking it. Give more value than you take!  To give value you must understand what is meaningful to the people you are working with and situations you are in. We all want to be around people we can count on and trust and when you are focused on giving more value than you receive, you are showing everyone that it’s not all about you and that you are paying attention to their needs. When giving value to others, a good place to start is to think about what is important to them and what they are passionate about.  Do you see a theme here?

8. Find ways to lead

If you are getting involved, taking action, and providing value, guess what? You are already leading! It’s probable that the people around you see that as well. You could stop there, but I encourage you to look for more formal leadership opportunities. If you’re involved in a non-profit or part of a young professional group, get on their board where you will have greater influence, responsibility, and visibility. The experience you will get and the connections you make will benefit the rest of your life. I waited until I was 30 before I got involved in our young professional group. Within four months I applied to be on the board and the next two years I served as VP of Professional Development. The following two years I served on the board of Young Variety, a children’s charity. Today, I don’t formally sit on any board, but I am active in providing value where I can to the CEO of Man-Up Iowa, an organization teaches life skills and leadership development to at-risk teenage boys.

9. Make people around you better

Leadership is not about power, it’s about people. When you make people better, you become powerful. I talk a lot about the concept of “quality of life” with my clients. First, to take ownership over their quality of life. I would encourage you to do the same. You deserve a great quality of life. Second, to think about how you impact the quality of life of other people. Because you do impact the quality of life of other people. If you approach the world that you want to make the people around you better, you will and because of that you will be a leader and other people will see you as a leader.

If you want to be a leader, you must first lead yourself. It’s a choice to be made, it doesn’t just happen. Don’t ignore what’s important to you and what excites you about the world. If you don’t know what’s important or what you’re passionate about, figure it out. Dream about what’s possible and don’t be afraid to make the changes necessary to make your dreams reality. Get involved, take action, and make people better. Inspire and encourage others to do the same!

Lead!

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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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