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What Young Leaders Need

When young people take on a leadership role for the first time there is much to learn, but they have to perform by delivering success in order to keep their job. For an organization of any size to put their faith in a young person and ask them to start leading a group shows trust. With that trust, however, has to come some support too. Without it, the most talented of individuals can struggle with the team they lead thereby delivering sub-optimal performance. Gone are the days of giving promising young people experience of leadership regardless of the consequences, they now have to earn their keep.

The support each young leader needs will differ from one to another but there are a number of aspects that ought to be considered. Some of these can be incorporated into a package tailored to individual needs.

Positive Role Models

We all have our own ideas of what is good and bad leadership. When a young person is put in a leadership position for the first time, their own life experiences will be far more restricted than those of a seasoned leader. They will need help in identifying suitable role models for how leadership fits within the organization. Don’t let them ‘work it out for themselves’ because the role models they might unconsciously select may not fit with the culture of the organization at all. All it takes is a brief conversation to start off the thinking.


Anyone who starts a new role, at whatever stage of their career, needs some help to get things moving. This is especially so for young leaders who may be heading a group of people, many of who are older and more experienced than them. One way to achieve this is to ensure there is someone within that group that they can rely on for support, often an experienced colleague, but someone who can be trusted to be impartial with their advice.


Identifying a suitable mentor, someone either within the organization in a more senior position or perhaps within a professional body can be invaluable. Providing the mentor can empathize with the new young leader, having been in similar roles themselves, this can develop into a powerful and long-term relationship that is good for both parties and the organization itself.


Akin to mentoring, providing a coach who is able to help the young leader on a one-to-one basis during their introduction to leadership will work as long as the coach is not seen as part of any wider performance management system. This is often why coaches are brought in from outside although there will always be an element of reporting back to senior managers and/or HR. The coaching relationship will need to concentrate on leadership and people management aspects and avoid being drawn into any specific business matters as this may interfere with any mentoring. While in theory there are distinct boundaries between mentoring and coaching, in practice this can be harder to achieve especially when coaches are brought in who have an understanding and experience of the business concerned.

Clear Sponsorship

It must be obvious to all concerned from the outset that the young leader has the overt support of their senior managers and others within the organization. If such senior people have faith in the individual it helps that person’s initial interactions with team members and peers. Praising achievements in public and in private is essential in building the confidence of the young leader and those around them. There is always an element of risk putting anyone into a new position and this is increased when that person is new to the role. Once the decision is made though, senior managers need to accept their responsibility in making it work and that includes accepting that things may not always go according to plan.

Everyone needs support when starting a new job whatever it is. For a young person to be but in a leadership position can be extremely stressful but it is a sign of trust on behalf on the organization. To help ensure the investment pays off it makes absolute sense to provide an appropriate package of support to ensure they swim and don’t sink.

Copyright © 2011 Paul Slater