You’ve done it. You’ve finally graduated. Now it’s time to head out and make your mark on the real world.
I know the focus of your next few months will be on getting a good job and really starting your career. However, although it may seem premature, I’d like to encourage you to start thinking about your leadership aspirations.
In case you didn’t know, leadership is a pretty big deal in organizations today. Companies are spending millions of dollars developing their current and future leaders.
What does this mean for you?
Simply put, it’s never too early to start thinking about a leadership path. There are going to be many opportunities for you to take on leadership roles, and become someone that can get things done and drive the business forward. If you start thinking about this now, you won’t miss those opportunities when they arise.
How should new graduates adopt a leadership mindset? Here are a few ideas from my book, The Leadership Contract:
1) Understand that leadership has nothing to do with a title. Many times new graduates make the mistake of thinking you need to have the title before you can be a leader. That’s not true. Every day you will find opportunities where you can step up. The other trap is to refuse a leadership role because you think it will involve more work. Yes, there is a lot of extra work and effort required when you are a leader. But there is also greater opportunity, and greater personal rewards.
2) Set the bar high. As a leader, you will be held to a higher standard of behavior. Take the experience of Tariq, a leader in a transportation company specializing in distribution and warehousing that I profiled in my book. After taking a new team lead role, he instantly realized his behavior had to change. He quickly realized he couldn’t be seen as a complainer or whiner any longer. This realization helped Tariq excel as a leader.
3) Crave the hard work of leadership. It’s important to build personal resilience and resolve by deliberately stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone. Develop an ability to manage conflict, provide feedback and hold people accountable. I can tell you from personal experience and the experience of hundreds of leaders I’ve worked with that it’s best to learn these skills early. If you don’t, it will come back to haunt you later.
4) Build a community of support. Early in my career, I struggled to find like-minded people in my organization. So, I gathered a few colleagues and friends and set up a network on my own. We would get together about four to six times a year to talk about leadership and our careers. I found these sessions helped me cope with the challenges I was facing with my own organization.
As you consider your own potential to lead, never lose sight of this reality: Your organization is going to need a constant supply of strong leaders for the future.
If you commit early to learning leadership skills, and commit to the hard work of mastering them, the future is yours for the taking.
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