Lead with the Heart of a Twenty-Something

When we are young and just starting out in the world, our perspective is, of course, different than what it is later in life. Change is the inevitable reality of all of life, and our thinking, ideas, and ideologies evolve as the years roll by. Most of those changes are good and necessary, etched by lessons taught through valuable experiences.

But, there are elements of a young heart and mind that are worth holding on to, especially when we’re focused on creating thriving organizations that contribute something of value in the world.

Here are 4 ways to lead with the heart of a 20-something:

1. Retain a commitment to meaningful work.

Speaking in generalities, young people are an idealistic bunch. As the years go by, our perspective of the world expands to accommodate new knowledge and experiences. This process has a way of buffing our idealism, smoothing its sharp corners and shaping it into something less extreme. I don’t think this is a bad thing.The danger is in letting it get rubbed out completely.

Talk with any group of young leaders and you’ll notice how focused they are on having a reason why for doing what they do. If they are going to invest time and energy into something, it’s vital that they have a firm grasp on the purpose behind it. They see little reason to do things simply because. They want their work to matter.

Later in life, it’s too easy to get consumed with all the things we “have”to do and lose sight of “why” we’re doing it all in the first place. Entire organizations show up to work every day without feeling connected to the purpose behind the work. This isn’t good for twenty-somethings, forty-somethings, or eighty-somethings. The organizations that manage to keep the big “why” at the center of what they do are the ones shaping the world and making an impact.

2. Believe that you can have it all. 

I think the idea of “balance” was created by an overwhelmed 40-something. Stressed, stretched too thin, and not feeling effective in any area of life, the idea of figuring out how to “balance” it all can suddenly seem like the golden ticket.

But, it’s a lie.Too much is too much. The real solution is identifying where the greatest value can be created and spending an unbalanced amount of time there.

Again, speaking in generalities, young professionals aren’t all that concerned about balance because there is less “stuff” in their lives. As we move through life, we tend to collect things. Sometimes these “things” are in the form of tasks we believe we should do and maintain. Struggling with balance might mean that there are too many “shoulds” on that list. When we find ourselves here, it might serve us well to remember that we CAN have it all if “all” includes only the things we truly value.

3. A drive to grow, develop, and learn.

As leaders, knowledge atrophy is disastrous. We simply cannot be effective if we stop learning and growing. Young ambitious leaders are starving for knowledge. They acquire new skills at a remarkable rate. They are curious about the world and not held back by old ways of thinking or habits about the way things have “always” been done.

As we accumulate knowledge and skills, it can be tempting to get apathetic about learning new things. Settling in as the “expert”, we can neglect to nurture the drive towards discovering the unknown. The funny thing is… The world is still rapidly changing, even if we’re not paying attention. Technologies, customer demands, economic and social environments are ever evolving beasts that never stop demanding rapid learning, the willingness to adapt, and innovate.

4. The need to be heard – to speak up, offering insights, concerns and ideas.

Expressing one’s voice is important to healthy, sustainable enterprises. We need the brazenness of the young alongside the wisdom of the old and every perspective in between. With the challenge of rapid changes, the insights, thoughts, perspectives and ideas from multiple sources and all levels is vital.

In the book, Dear CEO, Chengwei Liu, an associate professor of strategy and behavioral science at Warwick Business School, pushes the importance of this perspective by asserting that Ideas with unanimous support should raise a red flag.”He argues that unanimous support is too good to be true and is likely to be an indicator of politicking and compromise – two things many young leaders have not yet learned how to do.

These four ways of thinking are not, of course, literally tied to any specific age and this entire article is speaking in generalities. However, grouping ideas into generalities is sometimes useful, especially when it prompts self-reflection. The point is to recognize the value in these perspectives and make the conscious choice to not lose sight of their implications.

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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