by Josh Beaird, Partner, CPA at The Whitlock Co.

The current business environment has many challenges, as global events impact firms, businesses, and employees in Missouri. One of these challenges has been called The Great Resignation, with a leading driver being the retirement of Baby Boomers, in some cases earlier than planned.

This has led to a leadership void in many organizations and a chance for those earlier in their careers to fill a need. To harness this opportunity, it is important to develop a leadership skill set and be prepared for leadership opportunities when they arise.

To start on your journey, there are three key actions to start taking now.

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

The most important tool for any young professional is communication.

Communication takes many forms and has changed rapidly over the past couple of years as businesses were forced into digital environments, whether they wanted to or not. This has changed our preferences, styles, and expectations of what good communication is.

For a young professional, it’s important to remember that your preferred mode of communication may not match that of your superiors or clients. Most correspondence is now text-based, and sending off an email or chat may seem like the easiest option, but that’s not always the case. We communicate in three ways: body language, tone, and words. Text includes only one of these three.

When you need to initiate a conversation with someone, think through a few questions such as, could this be a sensitive issue for the receiver? Will I have follow-up questions? Could my message be misinterpreted?

If the response to any of these is yes, it’s best to set up a phone call or video chat. Also, you need to be aware of your communication style. Tools such as the DISC personality profile create an awareness of how you communicate and provide a framework to decipher how others prefer to communicate. For example, this allows you to know if someone likes to engage in small talk or get straight to the point, or if they want a big-picture idea compared to working through the details. You can then prep for that big meeting with your manager or client with confidence.

2. Take on stretch projects

A great way to develop leadership is taking on projects that stretch you early in your career.

We all notice things that could be done better or more efficiently, and others probably notice them, too. However, the issue has likely never been fixed because no one has taken ownership of the problem. In
many cases, your superior is probably aware of the issue but does not have the time or energy to address it. These types of problems are great for young professionals to take on and prove their value to
the organization.

Stretch projects also provide an opportunity to work with others in your organization who you may not interact with on a regular basis. They allow you to make connections that deepen trust and widen your network.

3. Seek leadership outside of your career

You likely have hobbies and interests outside of work that could provide leadership training opportunities.

These may be related to your job, such as professional associations. Other areas may be charitable foundations, religious organizations, or common interest clubs. Most of those organizations have volunteer board and officer positions to be filled. These types of roles give you an opportunity to learn from others, put a vision into practice, and balance competing ideas. Furthermore, many organizations actively pursue the involvement of young professionals to have a diversity of viewpoints. Seek out passion project opportunities that are enjoyable and build your leadership skills at the same time.

Good luck on your leadership journey!

These are just a few of the things you can do to build your leadership skill set.

There are many other ways to develop leadership skills, and a good mentor or coach can assist. A good leader needs vision and clear communication, so be sure you are invested in whatever leadership role you accept.

If you are not all-in, people who follow you will know, and it will undermine your credibility. Also, avoid jumping from opportunity to opportunity without finishing the job. Taking on leadership roles should not be solely to build your résumé. At the same time, be aware of the capability of others and know when it’s time to pass the torch.

Finally, be patient. Every leader fails at some point on something, and that is typically where you grow the most. Pick up some wisdom from each experience and be ready for the next opportunity.


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