Modern Leadership Lessons for Millennials

05/03/2017 10:50 am ET Updated May 03, 2017
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As Generation Y rises into the workforce, young professionals are seeking to establish themselves as leaders with all the skills attributed to successful individuals in their field. As founder and president of the leading cross-cultural business Protocol and Etiquette Worldwide, I’ve guided numerous newly-hired professionals in their growth as global leaders both internationally and in the office. Although certain aspects of the modern work environment, such as social media use and degrees of formality, have changed, these lessons are timeless tips for anyone seeking to become a professional leader.

1. Keep Your Cool: A cordial debate can be a healthy way to discuss various points of view and new ideas, but a hostile shouting match is something to avoid at all costs. For those just starting out in their field, a reputation as a hot-head can haunt you for years to come. If a conversation with a coworker or a superior takes a turn for the worse, handle the situation with patience and grace before it gets out of hand. Let them know that while you may not see eye to eye, you do respect their viewpoint and are glad they shared theirs, and hope they will respect yours as well. If it becomes clear that you or your interlocutor are too upset to proceed calmly, politely end the conversation and offer a sincere handshake. Learning to moderate tense discussions is a crucial professional skill to learn sooner than later.

2. Keep Your Humor Clean: A light-hearted joke can brighten the business atmosphere, but refrain from any remarks that may be interpreted as raunchy, bawdy, offensive, degrading or tasteless. Word gets around quickly, and people with a reputation for irreflective speech will have to answer for it. Employees can demonstrate both their professionalism and sense of humor by keeping their jokes clean and conversations free of inappropriate or offensive remarks.

Just as important is what is laughed at. If colleagues feel free to make a dirty or offensive jokes, refrain from joining in or laughing at the remark. Set a standard for what kind of humor is tolerated, and stick to it even when others don’t.

3. Show respect: Unfortunately, common courtesies have fallen by the wayside, and it’s easy to follow the lead of those who sidestep modern manners. Demonstrate courtesy and respect regardless of the job title, whether they’re the CEO or custodial staff, and your efforts will not go unnoticed. As a young professional representing a generation labeled as flippant and disingenuous, strive to demonstrate that manners still matter. Hold the door for those entering after you, keep the elevator open for people in a rush, and offer a helping hand whenever you can. These simple steps will show class and respect that some modern professionals lack.

4. Take charge with tact: For those just starting out, taking the lead on a new project or on a team means balancing humility, confidence, and creativity. Don’t be afraid to present new ideas, and be ready to support them with examples, statistics, or research, depending on the nature of the initiative. Welcome questions and answer them as clearly and comprehensively as possible, and be sure to listen to the input and ideas of other employees. Making yourself approachable as well as open to others’ suggestions is key to succeeding in a leadership role.

Whether you’ve just scored your first internship or recently hired into the corporate world, eyes are on you to demonstrate class and confidence. Remember these four leadership lessons throughout your career, and you’ll develop the crucial skills to be an effective, well-respected leader.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her best-selling book Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its second printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. Sharon is the winner of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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