Author Christoph Niewwerth, Board Exec, Hays Germany
Reaching a leadership position at such a young age is a great accolade and one which you should be immensely proud of. You are now in a more influential position than many of your peers and are continuing to rise up the ranks within your company. Nevertheless, there will be times when you feel completely out of your depth, and that’s natural. Believe me, we’ve all been there.
You may find yourself wondering if you are well placed to weigh in on major discussions, given that you have fewer years’ experience than your counterparts. You might be afraid to ask for help or guidance, as you think this will just prove to those around you that are too young for this role. You may also question whether people will listen to you or take you seriously because of your age.
If this sounds like you, then I urge you to understand that it can, in fact, be beneficial to experience self-doubt as a young leader. After all, if this self-doubt is honed into self-awareness, the ability to acknowledge your flaws, and motivation to overcome these flaws, you will find yourself constantly growing and becoming a better leader. The trick is to tackle these doubts head on, with a problem-solving and proactive attitude. So how can you do this?
Know your skills and attributes
Before you do anything else, know and believe in your unique value. You must have some pretty strong skills and attributes to be appointed to a leadership position at such a young age. What were these skills, and how can you be sure to bring these to your new leadership role every day?
Realise what you can bring to the table as a young leader
As a young leader, there are things you can offer which your older, more experienced counterparts cannot. For example, a recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review found that the lack of experience found in younger leaders often equates to a lack of cynicism. Therefore, younger leaders are more likely to maintain an optimistic outlook and welcome change and innovation. When you take this into consideration, the main cause of your self-doubt is actually one of the attributes which make you invaluable as a leader.
In addition, you can offer up a fresh, outside point of view. Firstly, this is because, as a young leader, you are less bound by the same long-standing unquestioned norms and inherited practices as your counterparts. Secondly, it wasn’t that long ago since you were interacting with the more junior people within your organisation. These people are typically the employees with more customer facing roles and are therefore able to offer a more customer-centric, insightful perspective. Considering your recent exposure to these people, you can channel this perspective, overcome the disconnect between junior and senior staff, and contribute some valuable insights.
Whilst you should appreciate which skills and perspectives you can add as a young leader, stay conscious of the fact that one of the great things about young leaders, is that they are typically more committed to constant improvement. As such, follow the below steps.
Honestly identify what your skills gaps are
There may be certain gaps in your knowledge, which are getting in the way of you being fully confident in your leadership abilities. Be honest with yourself and make a plan to bridge these gaps. Don’t be scared to look to whomever you report into for support, be it in the form of some refresher training or going on a course.
It is also important that you be patient with yourself. You were put in this position on the premise of your current leadership skills but also on your potential. Therefore nobody expects you to know everything straight away. What they do expect, is for you to continuously work towards bridging these gaps, ensuring that you are constantly improving. This is something all good leaders will do, regardless of their age and experience. As my colleague Dirk outlines in one of his articles, nobody is too senior to learn something new.
In short, take control of the self-doubt surrounding your knowledge gaps, by finding practical ways to bridge them and by being patient with yourself, accepting the fact that this will take time.
Find a mentor
Another good way to tackle your self-doubts is to find an established leader who was once in your shoes and can provide you with some guidance and reassurance for when you are doubting yourself.
Is there anyone you particularly look up to, whether it is a globally renowned business leader or somebody within your organisation? How could you learn from these people? For example, some organisations will offer mentoring programmes, whereby you can frequently have one to ones with your mentor and discuss any situations which you are struggling to navigate. Many well-known leaders will also publish LinkedIn Influencer blogs and books, sharing the struggles that they experienced during their early days as a leader, and how they overcame them.
Seek counsel from somebody who was once where you are, realise that they had the same or similar anxieties. Take advantage of the fact that they are now here to help you with your self-doubts.
Trust your gut
Just because you are following the above steps in order to continuously grow, that doesn’t mean you should lead with any less self-belief than those around you. Yes, you are young, but that doesn’t mean the decisions you make are wrong by default. As I mentioned before, you clearly already have some strong leadership skills at your disposal, or else you wouldn’t have been appointed to your position. You can also offer a unique perspective and attitude which your counterparts may not possess.
Use this knowledge as reassurance in trusting your gut and believing in what you are saying or doing when leading others. At times, you may be wrong, you may make mistakes and people may disagree with you. Learning from these experiences is what shapes the more fully fledged leaders whom you look up to.
In sum, the key to tackling those self-doubts as a young leader is to understand that you were placed in your position based on your unique skills, insights and perspectives, but also your potential to develop whilst in the role. With this in mind, be patient, committed to self-improvement, and confident when leading others knowing that mistakes and disagreements are what will mould you into a stronger, better-established leader.
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