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Prepare Yourself, School Didn’t Do It - Leading in Your Twenties Series

Nobody is more responsible for your growth as a leader than you.

If you are in your twenties, I have news for you. You did not get what you needed in high school and college if you are planning to be a leader. On top of that, most companies will not invest in developing you as a leader until you are already in a leadership position.

What should that tell you? It's up to you to get ready to lead!

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of 12 blogs written directly to the Twenty-Somethings. This is about you and your future. As you read these blogs, please share them with other people who want ideas on how to lead now and how to develop the Twenty-Something Leaders of our future.

Lack of Preparation in School

How many people had a mandatory class on leadership in high school or college? I see very few hands raised.

If you were a business major you might have had a course called "Organizational Leadership". Those courses cover a lot of great leadership theories. But theoretical leadership covered in one semester will not make you a leader.

You probably learned more important lessons about frontline leadership trying to get classmates to fulfill their commitments in group projects or getting them to even show up at meetings!

If you believe getting an MBA will prepare you to be a leader, you will be sorely disappointed. MBA's teach you a lot about financial and resource management. You will also get a lot out of the marketing and probability and statistics. But, none of that prepares you to lead people.

When I got my MBA I soon realized why they are called a Masters in Business Administration not a Masters in Business Leadership.

If you have graduated already, school laid the foundation for you to prepare you for your first job. Now your company must train you in the skills and competencies to excel in your chosen industry. That is 100% legitimate and understandable.

Before you get promoted, you must master the job you are currently being paid to do. But once you excel at that first role, then what? The problem is once you do that, you have to compete for a promotion to leadership. Are you ready?

Most people are not ready for their first leadership role in business. In fact, most people are promoted to leadership first and trained to lead later. Sometimes that training comes months or years after that person has entered that role and made multiple mistakes.

What Needs to Be Your Focus?

After 20 plus years mentoring and training leaders as a corporate world insider and now as an outside consultant, I believe the biggest issues leaders must conquer are character issues.

  • The Courage to speak out and act when necessary.

  • The Humility to accept feedback, listen, and grow.

  • The Integrity to do the right thing even if it could cost them personally.

  • The Selflessness to put the needs of others first.

  • The sense of Duty to do what needs to be done even if it is uncomfortable to do.

  • The Positivity to maintain a positive attitude in all circumstances.

Think about it. If the phrases above described your current leader, you'd be pretty happy working for that person wouldn't you?

Now imagine if that's how the first team you get to lead describes you!

If you are in your twenties and want to lead now or in the future, don't wait for someone else to step forward and offer to train you or mentor you. If you are serious and you want to be a leader sooner rather than later - prepare yourself.

Invest in Yourself: If you want to understand how to grow into the leader you want to be, invest your time, your effort, and yes, your cash. Read books or listen to podcasts on leadership. Pay your own way to a leadership seminar that is in your area. Always be looking for ways to grow and learn about developing your character and leading others.

Find a Mentor: Don't wait for someone else to assign you a mentor. Look for someone whom you admire. This is a leader who epitomizes what you like in a leader, or who lives by the character statements above. Then ask someone to coach you and help you become a better leader. Meet with them regularly and ask them to challenge you.

Practice, Practice, Practice: As we discussed in Topic 2 of this series, Don’t Wait to Be Told to Lead, you must go out and lead where you are. Take ownership of projects and lead. Find a new hire to mentor and lead. Volunteer somewhere and lead. The more practice you get leading, the better prepared you will be to lead when you have the title of leader.

Here is the bottom line: Nobody is more responsible for your growth as a leader than you. If you realize this, you will be ahead of the game!

We are going to do everything we can to provide you with insights through this blog series and other resources we are developing. Our next blog will lay the foundation for the rest of the series.

There are opportunities for the motivated few who not only want to have the title of leader, but also want to lead well. The question is will you be ready?


  • What leadership challenges do people in their twenties face?

  • Who is a leader you want to emulate?


Here is a quick assessment that will take you 5 minutes to figure it out. Nobody will ever see your results but you.

Warning: If you are not going to be honest with yourself this is a worthless assessment.

To take the assessment use the QR code above or go to

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