This is a guest post by Lu Zhang.
At 16 years old, Greta Thunberg already knows how big ideas can capture the world’s attention.
The Swedish climate activist led an international protest that united children and adults from 150 countries in a large-scale, coordinated strike from school. Thunberg’s mission? To channel frustrations from the planet’s youth over climate change while drawing attention to the political inaction of global officials.
In short order, Thunberg — who began skipping school on Fridays last August to protest outside the Swedish parliament — has become an influential young global leader in the movement to address climate concerns. The September 2019 strike, which paved the way for more than 4,600 protests around the world, marked a milestone achievement for Thunberg and her legions of supporters. It also served as an example for how the ideas of young people can enact change on a global level.
Right now, we’re at a point where the innovation, technology, and ideas developed today will determine how we live in the future. With all the expected changes to come, it’s important for younger generations to stand up now in order to resolve tomorrow’s issues.
In a similar vein, this new generation of leader — one who is bold and compassionate, with an unwavering moral compass — is precisely what companies of tomorrow are looking for when building successful teams. The ideal candidate? An individual who has already started growing as a leader, long before anyone at a corporation or organization told her to.
Thinking About Tomorrow
To identify the next wave of global leaders, it will be important to think in broad terms: They’ll be tech-oriented and multicultural; they’ll be in tune with trends and ideas on a global scale; and they’ll be versatile across a variety of vocations. I have a unique perspective here.
I was born and raised as a minority in Inner Mongolia before coming to the United States to study material science and engineering as a graduate student at Stanford University. I was lucky enough to start my own company, invest in lots of great technology, and acquire an understanding of how the tools developed in Silicon Valley can lead to global innovation in different, developing markets.
With my background and knowledge, it’s important for me to help other young people understand how they can join the next generation of global leadership. My time spent as a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum has proven instructive in this regard. The forum allowed young leaders in various industries and sectors around the world to come together, exchange ideas, and encourage each other. In this way, I gained a fresh perspective on the different backgrounds tomorrow’s leaders will possess.
Additionally, having the confidence to take action, along with the determination to make an impact, are two key qualities for emerging leaders to keep in mind. It’s crucial for leaders to be very clear about what they want to do and, ultimately, make it happen. And to find the best leaders, those from older generations will have to avoid making decisions based on stereotypes.
As I started my company, I faced all sorts of built-in challenges: I was a 21-year-old, female minority in Silicon Valley. People had every reason to say no to me. But I refused to take that for an answer. To position themselves for tomorrow, young people should consider the following tips to better navigate the challenges they’ll face as they ascend into leadership roles:
Don’t let emotion drive you.
As a young entrepreneur, I came to meet a range of potential investors. One of them was especially dismissive of me, and I’ll never forget it.
He was quick to question my age, and when I told him I was 21, he defiantly told me, “I’ve been in this industry for more than 20 years, so I’m not listening to you!” But I didn’t argue with him or push back — I never want anger to be a determining factor in any decision. Instead, I explained my company, product, and attributes only I could offer.
He listened and seemed to appreciate my straightforward approach. Ultimately, he became one of my business partners and started telling others not to view me as “just a young woman,” but as an up-and-coming business leader. It’s hard to argue with facts, and when you build a case around evidence, people will take you seriously.
Try to spend time with valuable people.
To understand new perspectives, attach yourself to a diverse group of people. That way, you can create a small think tank among smart and worldly associates to develop new ideas and concepts from myriad targets.
Mentors can also provide value to your life. It’s not necessary to have one, but mentors are especially helpful when you need guidance. Whether you view these people as mentors, confidants, or trusted peers, it’s important to gain insightful perspectives from those in different industries. Build this small community for yourself, and think of it as an ecosystem that you can grow.
Have a clear long-term plan.
Too many people waste their time wondering, “What’s wrong, what’s right, and which way do I need to choose?” This wastes precious time and energy you can’t get back. No matter where you start, you’ll be able to find your way.
With a clear long-term plan, you won’t feel beholden to short-term checkpoints. As long as you can find ways to contribute to your goal, you’ll reach the desired destination. Personally, whenever I take a different opportunity in the short term, I’m always determined to see it through — it can contribute to my personal growth and help me reach my long-term goals.
For young people aiming to become part of the next wave of global leaders, act now to make sure your voice is heard. And for company heads: If next-level leadership is what you seek, take time to listen to these young people. Diversity and multiculturalism will be two of the most important drivers of tomorrow’s innovations.
About the Guest Post Author:
Lu Zhang is the founder and managing partner of Fusion Fund, a company dedicated to promoting early stage venture capital for entrepreneurs. She is also an elite member of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was nominated as a World Economic Forum Davos 2018 Young Global Leader.