Big news, guys. This month marked my first ever work anniversary. There was blood, sweat, and more tears than I’d care to admit, but here I am, one year after signing onto my role as Intelligent.ly’s Content & Community Specialist. For most seasoned professionals, this is no magnificent feat, but my fellow Millennials (and Kermit the Frog) know that it’s not easy being green.
If television has taught me anything, it’s that most 23-year old Communication Studies majors are doomed for years of frustration and debt before having a job they love. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. In hindsight, before joining Intelligent.ly, I was naive to the monumental importance of leadership. The simple truth is leadership can’t be taught in college; it’s learned from experience – and many of us don’t get direct access to learn from strong leaders early on in our careers.
After 31 Exchange sessions, 2 EMERGE workshops, and an endless supply of leadership inspiration from the Boston community, I’m by no means a guru. But I have learned a thing or two about what makes organizations and teams successful from 500 people across 50 startups:
Know yourself: This is Day 1 of Exchange, and it’s critical for us youngsters. In a sea of resumes, self-awareness can be the thing that sets you apart from the pack (Whitney Johnson calls this the “competitive advantage”). Knowing your strengths and your weaknesses will allow you to find areas you can really shine, and generate baselines for meaningful growth. It also helps to know how you like to be communicated with, and what truly motivates you.
And, know your team: We spend so much time working that our teams become like our families. To keep frustrations low and productivity high, it’s important to know what each member loves, makes them tick, and how they learn best. So many lapses in productivity are caused by miscommunication. Ask each member what they need from you, in terms of communication. You can use this blueprint to share each other’s quirks!
Conflict is good: Startup life can be emotionally taxing, and conflict is inevitable. Create an open environment with your team by being vulnerable, sharing your challenges, and consequently creating trust to ensure healthy conflict. This means everyone’s perspective is valued and team members are open to growth.
Ask for help: Spoiler alert: at 23, I still don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay. No one expects you to. Give yourself a break, and lean on others for advice and best practices. Our program, participants and guest speakers alike talk about the importance of having a meaningful network. At Exchange, we have participating managers ask their peers for advice. Create your own web of trusted individuals you can ask for help, and learn from them.
Lack of experience ≠ lack of leadership: This one was an eye-opener for me. I spent months diminishing my own opinions, firmly believing that those with more experience knew better. I’m still working on it, but I’m slowly learning that you can be a leader…even if you were born in the ‘90s. You were hired for a reason, and your opinion matters, if nothing else to provide a new perspective.
Create your own path: What I love about my role at Intelligent.ly is that it’s not set in stone. I’m young; I don’t know what I want yet. I have no 5-year plan. And startups are the perfect place for that. My role (and yours) can become whatever you want it to be, if you prove you’re worthy of the reward.