Young leaders, take note of these three key qualities

Leadership is not easy, but adhering to these fundamentals will set you on a path to greatness

Jun 22, 2019 @ 6:00 am

By Matt Cosgriff

It's debatable whether a perfect definition of leadership exists. But one thing is not debatable. Leadership is hard.

What's more, the challenges of being a leader can be amplified for young people who have limited experience to draw on when facing tough decisions (although I'd argue that can also be an advantage at times).

The important thing for young people, however, is to craft their own style and framework for how they will lead over time.

Each leader's style will be — and should be — customized to their individual personality, strengths and even weaknesses. There are, however, some basic attributes all leaders must exhibit to be successful. Here is a simple framework for young leaders to build on.

Have conviction in something greater than yourself

If you don't stand for something, it's tough to get others to follow.

Our favorite blue-shirted and flip-flopped duo (Michael Kitces and Alan Moore) stand for the fundamental belief that young people deserve financial planning, too.

Joe Duran and the United Capital crew stand for the idea that an adviser can help people live richly. We, at BerganKDV, stand for the belief that we can positively impact people's lives through the work we're so passionate about.

The industry is filled with great people who stand for something. As a young leader, find your something and stand for it. You'll be amazed at who follows and the impact it can have on clients, colleagues and your community.

Be intensely humble

The second attribute of successful leaders, and one that is even more critical for young leaders, is to be intensely humble. As previously noted, conviction is critical to leading successfully; however, left unchecked, it can become a leader's biggest weakness; blind conviction can be disastrous.

As young leaders, we must recognize that even the best leaders make bad decisions. In fact, Schwab's CEO estimated in a recent Harvard Business Review article, that the best leaders only make the right decision 55-60% of the time.

The takeaway?

Get used to being wrong frequently. The words "I don't know" and "I was wrong" can be powerful in building trust. What's critical is not that young leaders are necessarily right all the time, but that we're willing to change as new information becomes available that challenges our decisions — and our convictions.

We must remember above all else, that leadership is about service, not taking credit. Humility helps keep this in check.

Lead with empathy

The days of leading through fear, intimidation and an iron fist are thankfully coming to end in the workplace (hopefully for good). Leaders are not dictators and shouldn't lead like ones. Instead, young leaders must seek to understand challenges that clients and colleagues face to craft solutions.

Seek to understand what you don't know. Seek to understand clients. Seek to understand your colleagues and your direct reports. Most work conflict arises due to a lack of understanding or communication.

Young leaders must be investigators to understand the root causes of disruption in our business or the reasons for underperformance of a direct report. It boils down to empathy. It is a powerful skill to be able to put oneself into another's shoes.

Ultimately, there's no magic equation to successful leadership, although there are some basic tenants that successful leaders can build on and focus their development efforts around to become more effective at leading clients and colleagues into the coming decades.

Take the time to listen rather than to talk and to lead in the way you like to be led, and you will find that you are on the path to becoming a great leader.

Matt Cosgriff is wealth management solutions leader at BerganKDV and a 2019 40 Under 40 award winner.


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