The First Step to Leadership? Learn to Follow

College kids and recent baccalaureates receive the same advice (with variations): Follow your passion! Get involved! Join a club / nonprofit board!

It’s fine advice, but let’s make it better. For first-year students and recent graduates: it’s more important to join a student organization or a nonprofit board that’s high functioning than one that reflects your passion.

The “passion paradigm” still reigns in some circles, but in this case it has the capacity to work against the top objective of future leaders: learning how to lead.

Leaders and aspiring leaders gather on stage at the conclusion of the 2nd Annual State of the Young Professional Community in Cleveland (September 12, 2019). A production of Engage! Cleveland.

Of course, let’s not discount the social benefits of getting involved (or any other benefits.) Still, for those of you who want to make an impact as a leader, find a leader worth following. Study their actions and the way they interact with others. Talk to them outside of meetings. Find out what they’re reading and what informs their key decisions.

Build relationships with other members of the group, too, since successful authentic relationships enable quality leaders.

And, once you’re able to emulate your mentor in your own manner, lead the way.