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Never Too Young to Lead

45 pairs of eyes stared directly at me.

An audience sat waiting for words to leave my mouth and for me to begin facilitating my first leadership development session ever. I looked over their expectant faces, every one of them at least ten years older than me, and wondered, “Can I really do this?”

During my last two years serving as a Project Coordinator for Milestone Leadership, experiences similar to what I just described frequently occur. Each scenario requires something different from me and my team. Because we work with a variety of companies representing different industries, learning on the job is key to providing programs uniquely personalized to fit customer needs. Thankfully, my role allows me to learn from great leaders in daily customer interactions. I also continuously learn from the Milestone Leadership team.

Something that particularly impressed upon me early in my role with Milestone was said by one of our leadership facilitators, “The precision of our words matters. Any vague or imprecise wording jeopardizes the goal of our communication and participants can lose the point.” I now think about the precision of my words each time I speak in front of a group. It serves as a valuable reminder to choose my words carefully.

My time at Milestone has provided insight into the realities of being a leader.

I have come to recognize that a leader’s position does not mean they automatically have influence over their direct reports or other people. In fact, positional influence—or positional power—is weaker than influence gained without authority. Simply by listening to leaders, I see that I have the ability to influence others without positional authority.

Before I started working at Milestone, I was not entirely sure of what a leader does. I now realize the tremendous responsibility leaders have, not only for their people, but for their company’s or organization’s culture as a whole. When I listen to what leaders have to say during our programs, I write down ideas, concepts, and even quotes to reflect on for later. I add anything noteworthy to my own leadership style. By watching and listening to all of these amazing people, I have become better equipped to perform as a leader worth following, especially when I have many eyes watching me.

Looking out over the 45 pairs of eyes, I took a deep breath.

I remembered to make my words precise. I remembered I could influence these people no matter what age difference or positional power might exist, and I began to speak.

Jon Schulz, Milestone Leadership Project Coordinator, has served as a Soderquist Fellow as he pursues a Master of Science in Design Thinking and Innovation from John Brown University. An avid traveler, Jon is passionate about leadership and seeing companies and people improve their leadership abilities to better their own lives and the lives of others.

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