Start leading when you are young

Published in The Nashville Business Journal

Many of the best managers I know entered the world of leadership at a relatively young age. Becoming a leader in middle age may make it more difficult to build skills while managing the day-to-day. However, building your leadership reputation early on, when responsibilities outside of work don’t add extra pressure, can get you way ahead of the game.

When I was in my mid-20s, I managed about 100 people operating the checkouts in a large discount store. It was a tremendous learning opportunity at a young age, and while I made a lot of mistakes, I also matured in a hurry.

Here are some ways to take advantage of leadership opportunities:

  • Volunteer for leadership roles while in school.
  • Tell your boss you’re interested in a leadership role or are seeking leadership experiences.
  • Push yourself into leadership roles by stepping up for tough assignments.
  • Seek special tasks that will help you learn about different aspects of your organization and industry.
  • Seek opportunities to build relationships and demonstrate your talents in front of senior executives, such as helping with the tough effort of opening a new retail store.

It’s also beneficial to create a leadership learning agenda. Choose a variety of leadership books and magazines, then schedule your reading time. Identify and attend industry events that make sense for your career development. Network with anyone and everyone you think could help you become a better leader.

The skills to be successful in business are built over many years and come from myriad learning opportunities. Leadership can be learned by anyone with desire and drive. Jump in now — there’s no advantage to waiting.

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