The other day we received a call from my eight-year-old son’s school to keep him ready for a short interaction the next day towards his school’s junior council. We prepped him a bit and arranged for his solo online interaction in a separate quiet room. By then, the curiosity bug had bitten us and we shamelessly eavesdropped. He was quizzed about his school, his achievements, how he spends time at home these days etc. Wow! He was actually giving an interview and your guess is as good as mine that this related to a position of responsibility in his school.
Initially I wondered if the age of eight was sufficient for shouldering a responsibility. Pondering over, I realized that in today’s times, when organisations are willing to promote deserving candidates based on capabilities and relevant experience, age does not seem to be a barrier anymore. The young leader, someone who holds a key decision-making position with about 8-10 years of professional experience, has the following distinctive advantages:
- An Early Start – Psychologists from the University of Basel and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development report that in simple decision situations, older adults perform just as well as younger adults. However, aging may affect decision performance in more complex decision situations. When one reaches a leadership position early in life, age is on one’s side. The young leader sees the world with a totally different perspective as she or he has the exuberance of youth to tide over tensions and keep nerves in control when faced with adversity. Anyone can vouch that behavioural patterns change with age. And so, does health and various other related perspectives.
- Leadership Learning Curve – Just like anyone who does something new for the first time, a leader also has a gestation period to learn the ropes. To draw a very rustic analogy - did you ever become an expert driver on day one itself? No matter how much you’ve sat in a car either beside the driver or in other seats, it takes a few days to get accustomed to a four-wheeler’s feel in the driver’s seat. Likewise, every day on the job adds to a leader’s learning curve. The more time that a leader has, the stronger is going to be the learning curve as well as its utilization. Using the same example, someone who learns to drive in her twenties will have the opportunity to gain more experiences till a specific age than someone who learns later in her thirties.
- Flexibility To Make Mistakes – The ability to take decisions and get the desired result is critical to any business. If a decision boomerangs, this is not to be taken as a personal setback. Very often, I have come across situations when the more matured experts become leaders, they grow nervous on such wrong turns and lose the ability to take decisions. Fearing loss of credibility, they grow dependent on advice of others and often are unable to exercise independent judgement in making future choices. A young leader can afford to make mistakes and is usually forgiven considering that she is new to the leadership learning curve.
- Leadership Fitness – Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the world’s best batsman ever, captained India between 1996 to 2000 but he felt his batting was being affected due to the pressure of leadership. Clearly, everyone is not always fit to be a leader. Some are more skillful as individual contributors or in managing a team. Leadership is a totally different ball game and requires a skillset which can be natural and inborn or honed. If a mismatch occurs early on there is an opportunity for the individual to make an honourable exit and go back to their original forte.
- Better Mentor To Budding Professionals – According to a study titled ‘Mentor Age and Youth Developmental Outcomes in School-Based Mentoring Programs’ conducted by NaYoung Hwang, University of California Irvine, mentors whose ages are close to those of mentees have more positive impacts on their mentees. I found this somewhat true when I was a young professional. My first boss was about 8 years senior to me and remains my most impactful mentor till date. This resonates with Mike Bergelson, founder of the mentor-matching site Everwise, who found that for best results, you should look for mentors about three to eight years older than you. Mentors in that slightly older range have recently surmounted the obstacles their younger mentees are facing.
Coming back to the junior council responsibility, we all tend to think that this is too early and puts pressure on young minds. But what’s the harm if someone gets an opportunity to lead at a younger age? None, I would think – if nothing else, it will add an experience to a child’s career.
Views are personal..