Inspiring young leaders

Alice Weil

Alice Weil

Features Editor at The Executive Magazine

Joseph Valente, winner of The Apprentice 2015 writes for The Executive Magazine on what it means to be a young leader and how entrepreneurs can inspire future generations.

By far, young people make up the largest segment of aspiring entrepreneurs who come to me for advice. I want to be a CEO. I want to become a managing director. I want to own my own business.

Why do they come to me? Well, for starters, I like to believe that I give them more credit than the average adult. I have the seen the potential in our young leaders, and I find it to be astounding.

Joseph Valente, 2015 winner of The Apprentice and founder of ImpraGas

When you’re a kid, everything seems possible. You’re willing to take risks, and you’re not concerned with whom you’re going to bother, or who’s going to be offended by your success. You don’t fear failure because in your mind, if you want it bad enough, it’s going to happen. You don’t worry about the size of the investment, and you have no concept of time (you think forever is yours for the taking).

And then you grow up. You start to think twice—to question your own competency and the likelihood of your dreams ever coming true. You begin to abandon your passion in favour of what’s ‘necessary.’ You lose your sense of limitless self-belief. And probably worst of all, you begin to fear risk—and spend most of your time in the comfort zone you’ve created for yourself.

There’s magic in youth, and the irony of it all is that we don’t really appreciate that magic until it no longer comes naturally.

So, there are two things at stake here: Young people need to start realising what a fantastic position they’re in, right now, for experiencing success as leaders. And adults associated with them must not only work to regain the self-belief they enjoyed in their own youth, but encourage today’s youth to take advantage of that mindset.

Here’s what I say to aspiring young leaders who come to me for advice:

  • Chase the Vision, not the Money.  Earning lots of money is never a good reason to chase business success. Right now, it might feel like a great reason to get out of bed early; but trust me, after the long hours wear away at you and your relationships begin to suffer, the money won’t come close to being enough.
  • Know WHY.  Money is not a long-term motivator, so what is? You’ve got to have a really good reason for wanting to be an entrepreneur, and that reason must be rooted in something you care deeply about. What do you want to change? What do you want to improve?
  • Follow your Passion. Along those same lines, you’ve got to choose something that will make you smile as you drift off to sleep at night, and something that will cause you to wake up before the alarm every morning. What’s the thing you think about all the time? What’s the thing you would do for free, if you could? What do you love? That’s your passion, and it’s what will fuel your success.
  • Create Something.  Being creative isn’t about inventing; it’s about innovating. That could mean finding a new way to answer an age-old question, or a new-age method for solving a problem that’s been around since the dawn of time. New problems are cropping up all the time, too. Be the first to address one of them and you’re an innovator.
  • Learn to Love Hard Work.  You know your WHY, or the product you wish to see. However, what if you were to love the process, too? The HOW? Do this right, for all the right reasons, and you’ll come to love the work as much as you love the product of that work. This is the surest and most long-lasting path to wealth.
  • An Excuse is Always the Wrong Answer.  Do you think anyone is going to care about the nature of the excuses you’re making? Or do you think they’re more likely to find someone who never makes excuses? No excuse is a good one, and if you hold yourself to that standard, you’ll never feel compelled to make one again.
  • Work for Free.  Yes, I said that. When you offer to work for your dream company for free for a set period of time, you create a scenario in which you’re destined to get what you want. You will be seen as invaluable, whilst getting your foot in the door and making it utterly impossible for them to avoid hiring you (as long as you deliver superior work).

Established business leaders have a duty to look out for future generations. After all, we’re creating these ideal business environments—who are we going to hand them over to? Not to mention, when there are motivated, competent young people in the workforce, we all win. Here’s what I suggest for you:

  • Encourage Open Thought about University Study.  A four-year school isn’t right for everyone. Inspire young people to follow their own personal learning styles…and their hearts.
  • Offer Apprenticeships.  When you take on motivated, eager apprentices, you’re not only teaching mentees in your own way, you’re introducing more qualified, skilled workers into your industry. Add to that Chancellor Hammond’s commitment to supplying up to £80M to businesses for kick-starting the government’s apprenticeship initiative, and the decision is simple.
  • Reward ‘No Excuses’ Attitudes.  Give young people who hold themselves to a higher standard your mentorship and more opportunities to advance.
  • Find your Own Inner Child.  This could be the most unconventional business advice you’ve ever received; it could also be the most valuable. Remind yourself of the fearlessness and the self-belief you had when you were younger. Then, remind yourself that you’re even craftier now, with better decision-making skills and a strong network of support around you. Take some risks. Think like that feisty kid again. And then mentor someone who reminds you of your younger self.

The most promising young leaders are those who have the desire to close their eyes and dream…and the courage to open their eyes and clearly see what’s required to make it happen.

Let’s work to stay inspired, and to inspire those who will come after us. The future of business—and life as we know it—depends on it.

Joseph Valente is the 2015 winner of The Apprentice, founder of ImpraGas and received the prestigious accolade of being named one of Forbes top 30 Under 30 in the Industry Category. His book, Expelled from the Classroom to Billionaire Boardroom became an instant bestseller and is available to buy no on Amazon.

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