9 Ways to Maximize Your Leadership in Your 20s

“You don’t need to sprint through this season. Use it to prepare yourself for the person you want to become.”

Netflix and digital video recorders changed my TV experience. Since they came on the scene, wasting time watching commercials is a thing of the past. Digital recording has impacted the way I watch sports, as well. Fast-forward allows me to watch a four-hour football game in an hour, tops.

Speed is something we all value. I wonder if we don’t value it too much at times?

One of my favorite groups of people to be around and lead is millennials. Their energy, potential and ability to challenge to my perspective helps me stay sharp.

With all of the positives I see in this generation, there is one thing I am constantly encouraging them to do: slow down! I notice a desire to fast-forward through this season of their lives in order to jump to what they envision as their end goal.

If you’re in your 20s, you don’t need to sprint through this season. Use it to prepare yourself for the person you want to become. You have greatness inside of you and these years are the marinade that will maximize that greatness.

Here are a handful of ways you can maximize your leadership while in your 20s.

1. Build a large network.

Work on connecting with as many people as you can. Focus on your generation and the generation before you. Once you are ready to start calling on those connections, they will be moving into seats of authority. It’s good to have your number in their phone before they are in a role with the power to make decisions.

2. Adopt a few values of the generation currently in charge.

Go to the generation ahead of you—40 and 50 year olds—and learn their values. Ingrain a few of them into your DNA. Weave them into your own value system. This will help you earn respect. You will become more well-rounded as a leader. Eventually, you will stand out from those in your generation who refuse to listen to those who are older than them.

3. Become a master communicator.

You are a leader. Leaders sell ideas, compel people and create movement. All those things require the ability to communicate. Study public speaking, learn to lead a meeting and discover how to read a room. Before you find yourself in a situation where you need to convince a group of people to invest in you, prepare yourself to make the pitch. Passion, but itself, isn’t enough; you have to communicate your passion in engaging ways.

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4. Start something.

The greatest teacher is experience. Use these years to flex your entrepreneurial muscles. Launch a blog site, small business or non-profit. The thing you start likely won’t be the thing you do forever. However, you will teach yourself how to grow an audience, take risks and make decisions. While I hope you succeed, starting something new may also teach you how to fail. Learning to fail without falling apart will give you the stamina to stick it out until you succeed.

5. Develop thick skin.

Leading at high levels means not everyone will agree with or support your decisions. Prepare yourself for that now by inviting hard feedback. Have a few trusted people in your life who tell you brutal truths. Self-evaluation not only creates self-awareness but also squeezes situational drama out of your life. You need to be stead to get ahead. Thick skin gives those around you the “drama-free guarantee.” I will take a mid-level leader over a super-star is the super-star comes with drama.

6. Develop healthy habits.

Don’t slouch during these critical years. Discipline yourself today to create habits that will help you tomorrow. Waiting until you are in your 30s to get healthy or create a budget puts you behind the curve. Binging on Netflix is a great way to pass the time, but these are years you’ll never get back. Use them to establish habits that will guide your future.

7. Execute better than the competition.

Your ability to do will determine your freedom to lead. The reality is that you will probably not be a vice president of anything for the first several years of your career. Entry-level roles are expected to get things done. Skyrocket yourself above others by getting things done with speed and excellence. The ability to execute reduces the time you have to wait for a seat at the table. Executing well makes others value your voice, not just tolerate it.

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8. Save a few thousand dollars.

Dave Ramsey says that everyone needs at least $1,000 in an emergency fund. I agree; but you don’t need to stop there. Start a savings account for “self-investment.” Accrue as much cash as you can. Why? Because one day you may need to bet on yourself. You are the greatest asset you have. You are a part of the most entrepreneurial generation alive. Cash will come in handy when you are creating that app or launching that business. You may need to work for free at a company you love for a few months to prove yourself. Plan ahead and be ready for this.

9. Study leadership.

You may not be in a leadership role yet, but you need to prepare like you are a CEO. The secret to accelerating your leadership growth is having the right relationships. Connect with seasoned leaders and focus on gleaning three things from them. First, learn how they think. Ask “Why?” quite often. Next, study how they spend their time and who they spend time with. Look for unique trends and disciplines built into their calendar. Finally, seek their wisdom above their knowledge. Your generation is insanely smart and quick, but what you need is wisdom. Wisdom seasons intellect with maturity.

Some of my favorite leaders are in their 20s. Soak up all that you can during these years. Resist the urge to search for a fast-forward button or to meander your way to the future. Honor your potential. Lead well.

Kevin Lloyd is the executive pastor at Stevens Creek Church in Augusta, Georgia. This article was originally posted on Lloyd’s blog, LeadBravely.org.