Four Things That Happen When a Young Professional Takes the Lead

Woman leading three colleagues on a cliff

There’s something special about having a young professional at the helm of a project, team or organization. As a member of the Cleveland chapter of Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN), I’ve seen firsthand the value of providing substantial leadership opportunities to emerging professionals.

However, all too often young professionals are relegated to leading a social media project or developing a bake sale fundraising strategy and aren’t given the opportunity to flex their true leadership muscles. As a result, many young professionals don’t feel prepared or confident to take the lead when a the moment strikes.

In either case, these are missed opportunities. Here are four fascinating things that happen when a young professional (YP) summons the courage or is offered the chance to be a leader:

1. A renewed sense of purpose

YPs have deep passion for their work (especially in the nonprofit sector) that creates a deep sense of responsibility when leading. “When young professionals are empowered, they are deeply responsible for the authority given to them,” Forbes contributor Glenn Llopis wrote. At YNPN Cleveland, we leverage this by creating job descriptions for all volunteers. By setting expectations and then stepping back, YPs take the lead with a sense of purpose and a loyalty to the work for which they are responsible.

2. Everyone moves outside of their comfort zone

When the status quo is maintained, creativity plummets. When YPs lead, everyone is forced to move out of their comfort zone. The result? An unparalleled opportunity for innovation, change and growth. “If your team’s strategy can be summed up by the English wartime slogan, 'Keep Calm and Carry On,' you need some new approaches to tackle their resistance,” Liane Davey wrote in Harvard Business Review. A YP leader will shake up the environment just enough to invigorate a project with energy or take a team to new heights.

3. Old and new blend beautifully

Thoreau said, “The newest is but the oldest made visible to our senses.” I couldn’t agree more. YPs are comfortable with change because we grew up with it. While we embrace technology, we still rely on the leaders who have first-hand experience to guide us. When a YP leads, oftentimes a new mentorship opportunity is created. “Working with a mentor can be invaluable for a young professional. A mentor can help a novice employee learn about and adapt to a company's culture,” The Wall Street Journal reported.

4. Success is only briefly satisfying

As a board member of YNPN Cleveland, I can recall many meetings that followed a successful large-scale event. The discussion would acknowledge our accomplishments but quickly shift to what we could do better next time. “This new generation works diligently in hopes of learning as much as possible and moving on to the next challenging project,” said HubSpot CEO & Founder Brian Halligan. As leaders, YPs aren’t motivated by success, but by the experiences and learning they are sure to gain along the way.

To keep digging into the topic of how to keep young professionals engaged in your mission, join us for our next webinar on July 16 at 1:00pm ET, “Millennial Engagement: It Ain’t Rocket Science.” Sign up here

Jake Sinatra

JAKE SINATRA is manager of special projects at Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), the public funder for arts and culture in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Jake manages CAC's investments in individual artists and grassroots neighborhood projects in arts and culture, social media and organization-wide projects and events.