How to Thrive in a Leadership Role as a Twentysomething

Lead the Wolfpack
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Your steps are slow as you head to the desk down the hall from you. You deepen your breaths and set your jaw. This is something that has to be done. It’s part of your job. He’s at least two years older than you, which makes this all the more difficult, but this conversation has to happen. You’re the manager of this department and his work reflects you. You have to take action.

It can be incredibly intimidating to be in a leadership role as a twentysomething. But that doesn’t make you any less capable of doing the job. If you find yourself in a management position right out of college, embrace it! We’ve got five tips for you on how to thrive as a twentysomething leader.

  • Practice your listening skills

Yes, leaders have to take charge and make decisions, but a BIG part of that is being able to listen to what your team and supervisors are saying. And I mean really listen. In order for those decisions to produce successful results, they need to stem from the feedback you’re getting. There’s no way that you can know all of the details about what is going on with different teams. It’s important to take into account what different people are saying, sift through and organize that information, then apply it to the big picture to come up with a solution to a problem or a game plan.

Not to mention the fact that people like to feel heard and are more inclined to work for someone who wants to take their opinions into account.

Need some help with your listening skills? Check out this post all about becoming a better listener.

  • Focus on how you phrase things

Brittany Williams is a recent graduate who quickly moved into a management role at her company. One of the biggest lessons she learned from that experience was how important communication is. The same phrase, said in different ways, can come out completely differently.

Think about it. Which sentence is more likely going to elicit a positive and productive response?

“Get this done by the end of the day” or “Hey, this is a really important part of project X so I really need it done today. Can you make sure to prioritize it? Thank you!”

Leaders need to be conscious of the way they’re saying things. You want your team to respond to your messages in a positive way and actually want to do what you’re asking of them.

  • Learn how to say no

In his first job after college, a friend of mine was given the responsibility of managing an entire branch. He really loved working with people and making connections. But after working there a little while, he was faced with a situation that he wasn’t happy with.

Not only did he have to let someone go, but that person then made a request that he didn’t feel comfortable agreeing to. He hadn’t ever had to refuse someone before—usually when his team worked through things, a “no” sounded something more like, “Let’s do this instead.” This time, though, it was going to have to be a flat-out “no.”

The night before he had to answer her request, he was anxious about speaking with her. But, as someone in a leadership role, he knew that he had to be honest and straightforward. So the next day, he told her that her request could not be met. Though it was uncomfortable in the moment, by saying “no” that one time, he avoided many future problems.

It can definitely be hard to say no, especially if you think the person you’re saying it to will get angry or upset. But, as CEO of AfterCollege Roberto Angulo points out, that anger won’t affect you forever. You can read more of his advice about dealing with anger when you’re in a leadership role here.

So, even though it can feel pretty uncomfortable, knowing when to say “no” and having the ability to actually say it are both important parts of being in a leadership role.

  • Plan

After becoming a logistics manager right after graduating from Sacramento State University, Philip De Coy learned that one of the most important parts of the job was having a plan. Early on he discovered that without a plan, you often try to do too much. This often results in a lot of half-finished projects or work that’s not done to the standard you’d like.

If you are strategic about what you’re trying to accomplish, choose one or a few things to focus on, and make a plan, you’ll be much more successful. Even if that plan doesn’t pan out the way you’d hoped, you can look back at the situation, find exactly what part of that plan failed, and then apply that knowledge to the next project.

  • Believe in yourself

As the youngest or next-to-youngest person in the office, you might have a hard time getting used to the fact that you’re managing people who are many years your senior. But there’s a reason you are in that role. You have the ability to take charge and have a point of view that your superiors were looking for. As a twentysomething, you may not be giving yourself enough credit in the workplace (especially when it comes to anything tech-related).

So believe in yourself. If you approach your job with confidence, others will have confidence in you and you’ll do the job well. People can’t believe in you or trust you as a leader if you don’t trust yourself.

Homework time! There are ways that you can prepare for a leadership role while still in college. Seek out extra responsibilities—join clubs and ask to manage events or fundraisers. Actively participate in group projects. Seek out discussion-based classes to work on your communication skills.

What do you think? Are you (or have you been) a twentysomething in a leadership role? What advice do you have for others about effectively managing others as a young leader?

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