How young is a ‘Young Leader’ really?

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Is youth defined by age and only age?

I started my career at the age of 29 after a break from work to take care of my family. Within eight years of my career, I was a Senior Manager in one of the Tier 1 companies in India, leading the European auto market. One can focus on my age at that time, 36, which is just a number, or on the fact that I was leading a major sector in a mere eight years. If I had thought about my age and curled inside the shell of being “too old”, been sensitive about reporting to people younger than me, and worried about not being able to grow in the organisation, I would not have been in the position that I am in, today.

What does one mean by “young leader”?

My search in Google for “young leaders” mostly ended in topics like “how to effectively lead the older generation”, “how can young leaders be successful”, and “.. ways to help young leaders succeed”. All of them mostly revolved around the age of a leader.

It has been the case for a very long time now that everyone tends to correlate the term “young leader” with a person being aged somewhere around 25 to 35. Following that logic, it would be really sad for the scores of female leaders who take a break in their career and join back the professional journey, who may never be “young leaders”. 

One thing that we witness in leaders is the number of unique scenarios that they lead in. Since I started my career late, I have had times when reporting to leaders, both men & women, much younger than me. In the 20+ years of my journey, I have also led many programs and portfolios having team members as old as 63 years and as young as 21 and fresh out of college.

This gives me the idea that young leaders are not really measured by age, and that the ability to lead successfully is about a lot more than just age. An organization should ensure that all their leaders are molded to be young leaders to lead their company’s growth.

That brings us to the next question: what does it take to be a young leader?

Change yourselves continuously, no matter what age you are. Some of the traits that I feel are important for anyone to establish themselves as a young leader are:

  • Remove the barrier from your mind that you are no longer young
  • Believe in yourself and your capabilities
  • Stay relevant and curious: continue to hone skills from business, technical and leadership perspectives
  • Stay young in your mind through positive thinking, consistent exercise, practicing yoga and meditation
  • Learn to strike a balance between the old and new ways of doing things
  • Build relations and earn trust from your team
  • Ability to have a dynamic communication style: proper English and formal connects as well as colloquial language and social media connects, online as well as offline mode
  • Truly listen: hear out everyone, create an open, innovative culture where everyone’s ideas are heard and welcome
  • Ensure career growth for your team beyond yourselves; come up with innovative ideas for appreciation like badging. 


In the digital world, as we head towards the “new normal”, the term “young leader” is blurrier than ever. Virtual workspaces make it challenging to differentiate young people from old. All leaders should be coached to manage and lead remote diverse teams in this “new normal” era in an inclusive and supportive virtual working environment for all. An organization should also work to eliminate hierarchy as much as possible, building a flat organisation to foster a non-discriminating and welcome working environment for all.

Conclusion/Summary

“Young leaders” are no more defined by their age, especially in this “new normal” world. They are the ones who can effectively communicate, adapt to changing times and ever-changing ways of working, be as curious as a child, understand and tailor one’s mindset to bridge cultural gaps within teams and create a successful and inclusive working environment.

It’s the ability of a leader to be able to lead any team, not just based on age but on many other demographics while continuing to be young in mind, young in creativity, and young in thoughts. That is what makes a leader an evergreen “young leader.” Age is nothing more than a number; grey hair doesn’t matter. We need to permeate the minds of our corporate culture and change perceptions and response to failure. 

You are never too old to lead or start something new and never too young to take on a new challenge. I would urge you to continue to explore and learn to bring enormous values and unique skills.

These are my initial thoughts, welcome to any additional inputs from you

Vijayalakshmi Venkataraman

About

Practice Head with a unique blend of Business Transformation capability, redefining Customer Experience Journey and Global Technology Delivery Management. Extensive experience leading Digital strategy, Agile Transformations, Client Relationship Building, creating innovative Solutions, Rapid prototyping, Business Development, and Product Eng. capabilities. Leading globally distributed team and proficient in building a culture of innovation, motivating and leading high-performing Management team.

More on Vijayalakshmi Venkataraman.

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