With new generations entering the workplace around this time of year, it got me thinking. Truth be told, I was actually thinking about my own kids. In a world post #MeToo, #LeanIn and #BanBossy (amongst other campaigns), the focus on opening up leadership programmes to a broader, more diverse and inclusive audience is very much apparent. Flexible working is progressively being championed in the workplace and wellbeing / mental health initiatives are increasingly prominent. At the time of writing, there are over 530m ‘Leadership’ articles listed on Google, and over 170m on ‘Parenting’. Can’t we therefore expect that the youth of today will grow into the perfect leaders of tomorrow?

“I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way…”

We actively encourage our children to be the best versions of themselves: “Just do your best”, we say. One of our daughters has a visual impairment. In her short life, we have already witnessed incredible medical and technological advancements.  As humble bystanders, we feel excited about the progress made in terms of disability awareness and inclusion. The future is bright and we don’t want anything, certainly not her disability, to hold her back. In spite of this context, it does occur to me that simply asking any young person to do their best is in reality selling them short . Does that truly prepare them for the various challenges and obstacles they will need to navigate in order to succeed – whatever their chosen path or their ability or background? Imagine how much more confident and capable we would feel if leadership skills were actively honed from an early age, if the secrets to success were regularly talked about at the dinner table, if the guesswork was taken out of it from the word go.

Working in a huge corporate firm as a graduate was a minefield for me in those early days. In a world where business acronyms were ten to the dozen and everyone seemed to talk in code, nobody said it how it was, I was supposed to just “work it out”. I would like to think I got there in the end, and that I’ve made a success of my career, but would I perhaps have either gotten “it” faster or enjoyed it more in the process had I known then what I know now?!

For those entering the workforce, or firms welcoming a new intake of hungry ambitious graduates, I have identified a list of 12 lessons that can help shape fundamental leadership skills early on. Of course they may also serve as a helpful nudge for anyone else. I plan to continuously share these messages with my kids as they grow up. I will reveal the first 4 here with you today:

  1. Anyone can be a leader. Leaders can be made, regardless of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, religion, belief or age. Some people may very well be born with natural leadership skills but in all cases, self-awareness and mindfulness of others, asking the right questions and looking at the big picture can be learned, given the right support, discipline and a willingness to learn. Don’t focus on the badge, think more about the skills you may need to develop to get there.
  2. Grit & Determination will get you anywhere you want to go, more than academic qualifications and talent. The one trait that time and time again identified as a key attribute for successful people is perseverance. Successful people don’t actually have more luck than others, they’re simply better at keeping going. Don’t be lazy or downtrodden, sometimes you need to ride the wave if things feel tough – or disembark altogether and find something new that floats your boat. Cultivate the passion and it will find a way to take you all the way, even if it is to a destination you weren’t originally expecting to get to.
  3. You can’t buy experience. As Oscar Wilde once said, “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing”. As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed graduate, I don’t think any of my colleagues were quite prepared for my burning ambition. I had sought multiple opportunities as a student to set myself out from the pack. I travelled extensively, lived and worked in a number of countries and spoke several languages. But when I arrived off the boat, I realised yes I had skills a-plenty but skills do not equal experience. And experience is really what you need to make the right business decisions. In those early years, get your head down and work hard, take it all in and always make sure you are learning. It will not just pay you back with kudos amongst your colleagues but it will give you a huge raft of experience that money (and a round the world trip) cannot buy.
  4. Be creative, even if you’re not creative. I often think I am not very creative. I do not have a musical or artistic bone in my body even though I am an avid fan of music, culture and the arts. However, I can get creative about solving problems and have often been praised for my ability to take a spaghetti junction of complexity and straighten it out in simple terms for others. Have ideas, be innovative and use your imagination always. Find out creative ways to help others.

So there we go, the first 4 lessons that can help develop the leaders of tomorrow. Stay tuned for the next blog in the series when we will discuss 4 more lessons that will help make the climb up the ladder seem smoother – and possibly even more enjoyable!

– Caroline