You probably know Simon Sinek as a best-selling author and accomplished speaker. But what you probably don’t know is that he struggled early on in his career to develop the confidence he’s so known for today. Like many of us, Simon struggled early in his career with confidence and was deeply uncomfortable admitting his vulnerabilities. He’d fake it, and then feel stressed and lonely and anxious about it. It wasn’t until he was able to free himself from the burden of this uber-confident public persona that he could feel truly free to experiment and grow into the leader he is today.
I recently interviewed Simon about the early challenges he faced on his leadership journey, how he overcame these challenges, and the advice he has for young people interested in developing their own leadership potential.
Here are his top five tips on leadership for young people.
1. Don’t confuse a leadership position with being a leader.
These are two different things. Yes, for most young professionals, it’s hard to immediately assume a top leadership position. But you can be a leader in any group you’re a part of, and at any level in your career. “Leadership,” according to Sinek, “has nothing to do with rank,” and “achieving a leadership position does not necessarily make you a leader.”
2. Be a student of leadership.
Again, this isn’t something reserved for the high and mighty. Anyone can be a student of leadership. You just need access to excellent material–the top business books of the day; periodicals and websites with engaging, practical materials; and inspiring talks on the TED platform and others. Studying leadership is a sensible initial step that anyone can–and should–take on their leadership journey.
3. Be a giver.
Following in Adam Grant’s footsteps, Sinek asserts how critical it is to be a giver: to make the choice to see others around you rise and to help them do so. And that can be at any stage in your career. Don’t see the world as “zero-sum,” where what someone else achieves is at your expense. See the synergies and potential for mutual benefits in helping to advance and support others’ careers.
4. Start practicing early.
Take on that leadership role at your religious organization or in your extra-curricular activities. And at work, volunteer to take the lead on assignments that come to you. Leadership–like anything else–requires practice, both to hone your style and expertise and also to develop and grow into a style that ultimately fits who you are and who you want to become.
5. Be a good follower.
Don’t forget that being a good follower can help you become a good leader. Good followers have a strong work ethic; are honest and trustworthy and responsible. They make a leader’s job easier by helping to solve problems and by being a valuable and trustworthy confidant. And the reality is that these very same skills help you grow into a leader as well.
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