Dear fellow millennials: are you ready to lead?
We are quickly becoming the largest generation in the workforce. As baby boomers continue to exit the workforce, companies are looking to us to fill the gaps. This means we will move into leadership roles sooner than we expect.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel ready.
However, I am feeling the expectation to step into a role with more responsibilities very soon—probably within the next year. In this new role, I’ll have to establish relationships with senior leaders and executives of huge multinational companies. At only 30 years old, this seems daunting—I feel I lack the knowledge, confidence and assertiveness I need to go head-to-head with these important, intimidating people. I’m constantly wondering: What can I do to feel ready to take on this challenge?
It’s not that I don’t have the experience. Like many of you, I bring a high level of technical skill to the table: I’m university-educated, I’ve worked in the field for almost ten years, and I know my business. I feel that I lack the “soft skills” that make a true leader.
What skills should I build to present a confident, trustworthy presence that can inspire, motivate and influence others?
To help us find the way, I’ve asked Wavelength’s President, Jody Bruner, to share more about her experience at my age and her journey to where she is now.
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in Learning and Development?
Learning and Development found me. I got the idea of teaching people in business how to write clearly and persuasively, and I quickly discovered the industry.
Q: Tell me about your career when you were my age. What were you doing when you were 30?
I was a late bloomer. When I was 30, I was back at school part-time, using further education to counter the boredom of being a stay-at-home mom. I ended up completing an MA in Fine Arts, and half of a second MA in English. I worked part time at the university for three years as an essay writing tutor, where I coached students and presented mini-workshops. I found I loved when my students could raise their grades by learning how to write smarter and faster. I figured business people would appreciate the same skills, so I wrote my first business writing course, created a brochure, and started making cold calls. By then, I was 38, and starting my career.
Q: Where did you want to end up?
I always thought I would have my own business. This made sense to me for two reasons: I was surrounded by people who had businesses—it was the only model I really knew. Second, I felt confident in my ability to deliver a great product and figure out the rest. The only hitch was finding an idea that would work!
Q: What were your strengths at that point?
At that time, I guess I was fueled by determination. I knew I had an important message and that I needed to share it. I faced many challenges and enjoyed figuring out solutions. I thrived on that.
Q: What were you afraid of?
I was afraid of everything! But if you’re determined to grow, fear is your friend. Pick your fears carefully, since they come big and small and they’re each scary in different ways. I’ve always sought out opportunities that stretch me outside my comfort zone. With each success, I gained new skills and could tolerate scarier things. Keep stretching and over the years you’ll feel your confidence grow. If you avoid your fears, you won’t grow, and you may feel discontented or unfulfilled.
Q: You started your own company, Brunerbiz, in 1996. You then amalgamated your company with another successful communication skills company (IWCC) in 2015 to create Wavelength. What skills do you feel helped you to become a successful leader?
Acquiring IWCC was a big step for me because it presented many challenges. I was very comfortable buying the business, since I understood it. But amalgamating was complex, we rebranded, modernized and unified two cultures. It was fun and I learned a lot.
One important lesson was learning to respect my limits and gaps. Some limits and gaps can’t be changed, so I turn to experts for technical advice and surround myself with a team that supplies the things I’m not good at providing. Don’t think you have to do it all!
Q: How did you develop those skills?
To get where you want to go, I would list my gaps and figure out how to reduce or eliminate each one. Some are easy to fix, and others are impossible. Find people who provide the skills you will always lack and develop the skills you feel you can build. It’s a combination of knowing your limits and becoming your best self.
Jody shared some powerful revelations and helpful lessons in her answers. It’s comforting to know that even senior leaders felt afraid and unsure at our age. It’s also reassuring to hear that even though we do need to continue learning, we don’t have to know everything about everything!
From here, I’m going to pinpoint my fears and then push myself outside my comfort zone to overcome them. I’m also going to assess what my limits and gaps are, figure out which ones I want to change, and develop an action plan to enhance my skills. By focusing on these two areas, I know that my confidence will grow.
I hope these tips help you identify your path to leadership and become a trustworthy, persuasive presence in your field. If we take steps now to develop our skills, we’ll be ready to step up as leaders in the very-near future. Good luck!