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Managerial roles: How young is too young to lead?

Is 18 too young to lead a country?

18-year-old climate activist Luke Wijohn is about to jostle with 39-year-old Jacinda Ardhern – currently, the world’s sixth youngest serving state leader – for Prime Ministership of New Zealand. His main aim is to bring a new perspective and push the green agenda. But does he have the experience to do so? How much does experience matter, anyway, when it comes to world leader… or managerial roles?

How do we develop young people into leaders?

Reversing the narrative on being too young to lead
Other young leaders like Greta Thunberg have also had their fair share of criticism. Why are so many people prone to criticise, get angry at and attack young people who take a stance? Or be dismissively indifferent?

Research Gate’s article on Nigeria’s Not-too-Young-to-Run bill (2016) suggests that voter’s preference for older candidates stems from gerontocratic social orientation. It introduces the idea of Age Dominance Orientation – the degree to which people subscribe to ‘a system of age-based social hierarchy’.

This comes from the idea of gerontocracy (leadership and management roles are reserved for older people in the population), which was favoured in Greece, with Plato stating, ‘It is for the elder man to rule and for the younger man to submit’. The US currently has its oldest president in history, so has this mind-set really changed?  The ‘Greta Effect’ suggests it might have.

The Greta Effect

Part of the argument for an older candidate is firstly the person’s assumed experience and secondly, their propensity toward conservatism. But is conservatism really what these complex times call for?

Thunberg cuts through the clutter with a fresh perspective that asks her elders “How dare you?” She also speaks to other young people in a time when youth empowering policies are lacking worldwide.

She rallied millions of students from around the world to join her in one of the biggest climate marches to date. She’s also never claimed to be an experienced expert. Her plea is for people to listen to the scientists.

The ‘Greta effect’ is growing. The activist has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. She’s a catalyst for a significant increase in companies and individuals seeking ways to offset carbon emissions. And she was Time’s Person of the Year in 2019.

She’s making leaders everywhere sit up and take sustainability seriously. She demonstrates the possible beginnings of a global shift, which is seeing other young leaders come to the fore…

More young leaders take podium positions
On 8 December 2019, 34-year-old Sanna Marin was sworn in as Prime Minister of Finland and thus became the world’s youngest serving state leader. Just a month later, 33-year-old Sebastian Kurz ‘usurped her’ when he became Chancellor of Austria. 34-year-old Oleksiy Honcharuk, Prime Minister of Ukraine, was also sworn in in 2019.

Young people globally are challenging the old guard and taking up space. Research has shown again and again that millennials and Gen Z want to stand for something. They’re looking for ways to channel this need – and for individuals and companies that empathise with and encourage it. 

So, what next? How can we ensure younger leaders are set up for success from the start?

With more and more young people using their voices to speak to fellow youths, evoke change and rally mass movements, now is the best time to empower under 35-year-olds to enhance their natural leadership skills. To give young leaders the best chance of building their knowledge base, personal mastery and soft skills, it’s crucial to provide sustained access to the right kind of training and development.

Harvard Business Review’s (HBR) 2019 paper on educating the next generation of leaders suggests personalised learning platforms will play a big part in this – especially the personalised learning cloud (PLC). Describing PLC as ‘a 21st century form of on-the-job learning’, HBR calls it a flexible solution that empowers people to immediately access the skills they need, in the context in which these will be used. Importantly, learning is contextualised (relevant to what’s happening in the world right now) and socialised (with strong collaborative problem-solving components).

At USB-ED, we are extremely aware of the demands of the digital age and have designed our custom courses to cater to key capability gaps. Our management training model is practical and relevant, with real-world case studies that empower leaders to firstly master self and then to successfully lead others.

It’s time to get behind young leaders, have an open-mind and enable them to earn respect based on merit, not age and experience. We need to give them every opportunity to learn so they can become the best leaders they can be. And that’s where the right tools for leadership development are pivotal.

Conclusion: Enrol in one of USB-ED’s selection of leadership courses such as the New Managers’ Development Programme to enhance your personal mastery skills and take your ability to lead to the next level. It’s the best way to prepare for a managerial role.

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