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Are we giving our future leaders the chance to lead?

Austin Hake

Consultant

austinhake@hka.com

Joining the workforce can be daunting for young people.

We have often graduated from college or university, having learned valuable lessons about life and work. We have spent time listening to lectures, participating in seminars, collaborating on group assignments, and presenting our work to our peers and tutors.  

But for most of us, we haven’t had a ‘proper job’ – we are not used to the norms and behaviours of an office environment, nor have we presented in a boardroom to people in positions of authority. We haven’t attended large meetings or felt the fear of having to speak up and make our opinions known in a room full of people who are so much more knowledgeable and experienced than us.

Reflecting on my first few years in the workforce, I can think of many moments I should have spoken up about. I should have shared the idea that I know, with hindsight (and a few years under my belt), would have been valuable. I can also reflect on moments where I have been discounted or devalued because of my age – assumed to have nothing to contribute or excluded from activities. This hindsight, together with now being in an environment where I can encourage, and am encouraged, to enable these outcomes for those around me, has forced me to delve a little bit deeper into how organisations and individuals can enable the best outcomes in people, from the very beginning of their careers.

So how do our workforces look now?

Workplaces are becoming more diverse. Organisations are, rightly so, focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion far more than in previous years, and part of the focus on diversity (and one that is often neglected or forgotten) should include young people in all aspects of our practice.

When researching the representation of young people in Australia’s workforce, the age brackets with meaningfully analysed data are segmented into three groups; 15-24, 25-54 and 55-64. 25-54 represents 84.4% of the Australian workforce, showing just how much we need to delve deeper into the statistics to gain any proper insights. With some additional analysis of ATO statistics1, it can be determined that 25 to 34-year-olds account for roughly 24% of the Australian workforce, a large number which gets even larger when you consider the context of a 9-year gap in ages across that bracket.

What can organisations and individuals do better?

To improve our workforce, it is integral that organisations overcome this underrepresentation and make it known to juniors that they can speak up or press unmute in a room full of more senior and experienced people. But what exactly can be done to encourage ideas and let young people start leading? The answer is more complicated than creating no-judgment zones, and there are some actions for everyone – including you!

Overcoming our fear of being wrong

The fear of being wrong often lurks at the forefront of our hesitance to speak up, especially when we are in a new environment without the years of experience to match our colleagues. This fear is clinically diagnosed as Atelophobia2. Creating a culture of encouragement can go a long way in overcoming everyone’s innate Atelophobia:

  • Set an example by specifically asking for input from juniors rather than “Does anyone want to jump in?”.
  • Mentoring and coaching can reinforce knowledge and validate opinions and psychological safety.
  • Surround the young people in your organisation with support and encouragement. Everything can be seen as a learning opportunity with the right leadership approach.

Conscious actions like these encourage two-way communication and give older team members a chance to hear new and different perspectives. The insights of the young will also likely be new and unfiltered by the norms and practices of your industry or organisation.

Give us the opportunity to lead

Learning by doing is a powerful tool that teachers often employ in the classroom, and it’s something that everyone should be more willing to do in the workforce. Encourage your young leaders to chair meetings, facilitate workshops, lead projects, and take ownership of business collateral.

Anything that you, as a leader, are doing on your own is something juniors can be involved in – you get help, and we get experience and exposure. When we come to you with an idea, don’t take ownership of it by default or delegate said ownership to someone more senior; let us run with it! With the right support, it will expand our capabilities and bring innovation and positive change to your organisation or team.

Challenge and inspire us

Setting challenges for the young and hungry is the pathway to inspiration. Challenges will incite confidence, motivation, and determination in young employees, and it will allow them to show you (and themselves) what they’re made of.

Leadership is full of challenges, so building resilience early can give juniors a great edge in the long run. Give us a task we haven’t done before, push us a little further than we think we can go; just make sure we know we have a lifeline.

Reinforce!

Praise is always important, so recognise when we succeed. Providing employees with positive reinforcement and praise literally increases dopamine levels, promoting employee engagement and satisfaction3. Employee recognition is directly linked to increased staff retention and more impressive organisational results, so giving juniors opportunities isn’t just good for them; it’s good for you too. This praise compounds, so keep it up.

To help nurture and grow the leaders of tomorrow, your efforts are integral to everything you do as a business and, most importantly, be consistent!

To all the young leaders out there with high hopes for the future, I encourage you to be loud and proud.

Never forget how much we have to offer and how much our voice matters. Find teams and organisations that recognise your knowledge, potential and perspective and show them what you can do.

References

  1. ATO, (2023). Older Australians, Employment and Work
  2. Merck Manual (Consumer Version) (2023). Specific Phobic Disorders
  3. Robison, J. (2006). In Praise of Praising Your Employees Frequent recognition is a surefire — and affordable — way to boost employee engagement

About Austin Hake

Austin Hake is a highly goal driven professional in HKA’s Project Advisory stream in Australia. He has built a promising career across the infrastructure sector, primarily in Project Management, Commercial Management and Risk Management. Austin is an advocate for strong but empathetic leadership that enables the effective management of complex projects. . 

This publication presents the views, thoughts or opinions of the author and not necessarily those of HKA. Whilst we take every care to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time of publication, the content is not intended to deal with all aspects of the subject referred to, should not be relied upon and does not constitute advice of any kind. This publication is protected by copyright © 2024 HKA Global Ltd.

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