Leading in Your Twenties – Don’t Wait to Be Told to Lead

This is about you and your future. This series is the beginning of a quest.
Written by Dave Anderson on Jan 04, 2018
Leading in Your Twenties – Don’t Wait to Be Told to Lead

“How do I get promoted to leadership?” seemed to be the top question people in their twenties asked me during my years leading in the corporate world. My reply was always, “Start leading now!” The fact is, too many talented people in their twenties wait for someone to tell them to lead.

This is the second in a series of blogs written directly to the Twenty-Somethings. This is about you and your future. This series is the beginning of a quest. 

It is my quest is to help get you ready to lead today, tomorrow, and for decades to come. I will post a new blog weekly. Right now I have a series of 10 blogs planned. As you read these blogs, please share them with other people who want ideas on how to lead now and how to develop the Twenty-Something Leaders of our future.

The Interview Question

When I was looking to promote someone into a leadership role, I always wanted to hear about when they led in their past. If someone couldn’t tell me a story about when they had led in past, why should I think they were ready to lead in the future?

Frequently, those who led in their past would begin their answers with “One time my manager asked me to…” These were often good examples of leadership. But my follow-up question stumped some people.

“Great! Now, tell me about a time you stepped forward to lead without someone asking you to do it.”

That was the key in my mind. Was this person a willing leader? Did this person have the initiative to step up when it was needed? If not, why?

Leading in Your Twenties – Don’t Wait to Be Told to Lead

The key to preparing for the title of leader is to lead when you don’t have the title. Leaders lead. They do not wait until someone else bestows a title on them.

The opportunities to lead are bountiful in college. Some are obvious like fraternity or sorority leadership positions. Others are less obvious.

  • Tutoring struggling students.
  • Mentoring local high school or middle school kids.
  • Volunteering for school, ministry, and non-profit organizations.

Warning! Be careful just signing up for these organizations and putting them on your resume. Someone once put Alzheimer’s Association on their resume. When I asked what they did, it turned out they ran a 5K once. They didn’t lead anything or really serve in any way. It also let me know something about their Integrity.

Once you are out of school and in the workplace there are even more opportunities than people have in their college years.

  • Volunteer to lead a project team.
  • Mentor new hires without being asked.
  • Don’t just find problems, deliver solutions.

The Bottom Line:

You will earn more opportunities to lead if you lead at every opportunity. Those who wait to lead, are often always waiting. The time to be a leader is now.

Most people know this deep down inside. But, something keeps them from stepping forward. If you want to be a leader, you can’t be like most people. You need to be that unique twenty-something that is willing to lead.

When no one has to tell you to lead, you will be amazed how often people are going to ask you to lead, because they already see you as a leader. 


Why do so many people in their twenties wait to be told to lead? Is it fear or something else?


By Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is coauthor of Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).

Photo courtesy of author