Finding a mentor and networking are among the most important paths to developing leadership skills.

Authenticity and emotional intelligence are two of the most important qualities of a leader, along with the four C’s — collaboration, confidence, compassion for others, and creativity, according to Allison Zach, director of marketing, communications, and events for ICAN.

“A good leader has a great level of self-awareness of their strengths,” she said. “In conjunction with that is honoring the authenticity of those on their team. Especially important for young professionals [YPs] is confidence — growing that strength, defining your leadership, and confidently showing up to work each day and how you meaningfully contribute and collaborate with other members of your team.”

Rebecca Atkins, chair of Greater Omaha Chamber YP Council said a good leader should listen actively.

“[A leader is] someone who embraces diversity and learns about their constituents to better lead them, someone, who can speak up and advocate for their constituents when necessary, and someone who is accessible but not overbearing,” she said.

A good way to develop leadership skills is finding opportunities to be part of projects in your work culture that may be outside of your day-to-day responsibilities.

“By working with colleagues outside of your department you’re meeting more people across the organization and developing new skills,” Zach said. “That really increases your visibility as someone who is able to take on additional responsibilities, is really committed to contributing to the organization, and is seeking opportunities to prove yourself as a high-potential leader of the organization.”

This includes participating in community affairs endeavors in which the organization is involved and representing the company at various working events, serving on community boards or volunteer groups, or serving on committees for nonprofits. Also get involved in the firm’s employee resource groups or YP groups, many of which come with learning opportunities.

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Leadership Development

“Ask your manager for leadership development opportunities, such as attending a conference, a leadership program, coaching, or ask if your firm has a mentor or sponsorship program,” Zach said.

“You truly never know where one connection might lead and who you may need to lean on for assistance in the future,” Atkins said. “A LinkedIn study showed that having at least one connection at a company makes you six times more likely to get a job there and having a formal referral from that connection makes you nine times more likely to get the job.”

One of the best ways for YPs to network is at the annual YP Summit that the Greater Omaha Chamber and the YP Council hosts in March.

“There are also various smaller YP events put on throughout the year on a variety of topics that include some time dedicated to networking,” Atkins said. “LinkedIn is a great way to network virtually.”

ICAN offers several programs throughout the year targeted at helping to develop high-potential leaders, including the organization’s annual one-day conference. The organization also has coaching services to help YPs advance in their careers.

Identify a Mentor

“A severely underutilized resource, in my opinion, are mentors,” Atkins said. “Identify someone in your network or at your workplace who you look up to and aspire to be like and ask them to mentor you. It can be extremely helpful to have someone to answer your questions, guide you, and be a reference for you when needed.”

Zach advised YPs to have the confidence to ask their managers about career growth opportunities.

“Be really clear about your goals, [and] dedicate yourself and your time,” she said.
“YPs bring a unique and fresh perspective to the table that brings value to any company or boardroom,” Atkins said. “Own it, be confident, and stay curious.”