A couple of weeks ago, my phone rang. Because the number wasn’t familiar, I let it go to voicemail. It turned out that the call was from Big Brothers Big Sisters. I was listed as a reference for a couple, some of my closest friends, who had signed up to volunteer. I was really proud of them. Most of us talk about improving our communities, but few of us follow through.
However, as a leader, giving back is essential. Besides helping to make your community stronger and healthier, giving back will sharpen soft skills like communication, give you the chance to connect with like-minded individuals, and boost your self-esteem. But mentoring doesn’t just have to be limited to the community: There’s an entire generation of future leaders craving someone to share the skills, knowledge, and expertise that will make them successful.
With that in mind, here are five easy ways you can give back to the next generation of leaders.
1. Find out what’s most valuable to them.
Actively listening to others is perhaps the most important leadership skill you can possess. You can use that skill to find out what’s most valuable to future leaders. After all, each person is unique and has her own specific wants and needs. Knowing this allows you to customize how you’ll give back to specific people.
For some, it might be working with a mentor who can offer constructive criticism, encouragement, and networking opportunities. Others may want opportunities they haven’t yet experienced, like attending a conference where they can learn about emerging trends. It could be something as seemingly trivial as advocating for them, pointing them to educational resources, or sharing transparent and honest feedback.
2. Make them feel empowered.
Handing off responsibility to someone else for the first time can be frightening. But, by learning to let go of the reins a bit to grant others autonomy, you’re showing future leaders that you trust them enough to take the ball and run with it. Also, your team wants to be unleashed. Your teammates want to put their skills to use, push their limitations, share their ideas, and make an impact on your organization.
It also gives you an opportunity to see their strengths and weaknesses in action. That, in turn, gives you opportunities to share constructive feedback with them so they can continue to grow.
Obviously, you need to set boundaries and guidelines. But give future leaders an opportunity to lead a meeting, take on a new responsibility, or manage their own small team. You both may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
3. Find time in your schedule to be of assistance.
As a business owner with several other roles in my life, I don’t have a whole lot of free time. But one thing I’ve been working on recently is to stop saying “I don’t have time.”
To be honest, we can all find a couple of minutes throughout the day to help someone else — and that includes future leaders. For example, you could email them book suggestions or a link to a piece of educational content. You could set aside 10 minutes to answer a question or solve a problem. You could simply make a point to have lunch with them one Friday a month to check in and exchange ideas.
Even when you have a packed schedule, review it to see where there are any blank spaces where you could make time to develop someone with leadership potential. To make this even easier, share your calendar, allowing her to pick a time slot when you’re available.
This not only will assist her in developing her leadership skills, but it also shows that you have a genuine interest in her and are willing to make time. Better yet, it teaches developing leaders to take ownership of their own growth.
4. Raise their visibility.
If there anything better than being acknowledged for your hard work? Even if you don’t want to be in the spotlight, it’s still wonderful when someone gives you a shout-out. It’s also a great way to raise someone else’s profile.
As someone in a visible position, use your credibility to make future leaders more trusted, both inside and outside your organization. Give them credit for the work they’ve done in a meeting or company newsletter. Introduce or refer them to key stakeholders. Ask if they’d like to write articles for your company’s blog or be a brand advocate at an upcoming industry event. Some may even be ready to speak on your company’s behalf at conferences.
Not only do these experiences get burgeoning leaders’ names out, but they also provide a way for them to strengthen skills such as writing, speaking, or networking. You can not only open the door for the opportunity itself, but you can also provide feedback on blog posts or speeches.
5. Encourage them to pay it forward.
Finally, encourage them to give back to others, too. Ask if there’s a nonprofit organization they’re passionate about. Suggest that they take the lead in organizing a day for the entire team to volunteer for the organization. Again, it’s making the community better while helping the future leader work on her leadership skills. (As we all know, you can never have enough experience wrangling others and building enthusiasm.)
Another option is recommending that they mentor other employees or people who could benefit from their skill sets. They may not realize it yet, but they have something to offer others, and this is a great way to help them uncover this. For example, an excellent coder could teach her fellow colleagues or schoolchildren how to code.
If you want to ensure that future leaders succeed, you need to prioritize giving back to them. Start by finding out what they truly value and making them feel empowered. By offering your time and raising their visibility, they’ll grow into natural leadership roles. Not only will this help them, but it will also create a long-lasting relationship between you and the generation to follow.
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