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Top 7 leadership lessons for twenty-somethings

Turning 40 last year certainly put me into deep reflection mode. I realized that it has been some time since I have thought about who I was becoming, where I was, and the work I was doing. I have been in the work of leadership development in Asia for nearly 5 years now, and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t start making crucial decisions in my 20s. So allow me to share 7 mini leadership lessons for young ones who are not yet 30 and are probably still finding their place in the world.

  1. Think about that one thing you can do well to make a difference in the world. Whatever it may be, your commitment will definitely make a difference. In my case, I think I do a good job of building relationships and leveraging them to create opportunities for youth and adults to exercise leadership. Over the past four years, I have been travelling to over 80 cities in 32 countries to run these programs. That’s over 2.5 million miles of travel
  2.  Start and run your own for-profit. The earlier you get to do this, the better. There is probably no better way to pick up comprehensive and competitive life skills — from creating something new and unique, to marketing and strategizing, to managing balance sheets, to employee and customer relations. If you just don’t have the guts to do so, then work for a for-profit like you own it.
  3. Start and run your own non-profit. When you run your own non-profit you gain a deeper and better understanding of our society, as we often are quite far removed from reality. Aside from this, you directly address challenges and issues that impact people’s lives, especially the marginalized and underprivileged.
  4. Get 5 things done before going to work. When you do this, you get a sense of accomplishment even before stepping into your office. For me, I set a morning goal of reading two newspapers, having a quiet time of prayer and reflection, playing tennis or some other sport, eating a healthy breakfast, and having a small chat over coffee or a phone call with my loved ones. Doing all these just help you start your day right.
  5. Make a list of 200 must-read books. Books are considered lifetime teachers. My academic advisors used to share their own lists of must-read books with their students. I have my own as well. Reading, reflecting, and sharing one’s thoughts are possibly some of the most noble ways to use your time and energy. Personally, I set a goal of reading 400 books throughout my four years in college. While I only reached 350, the practice of reading I picked up has since become a part of my lifestyle.
  6. Make friends with people from at least 20 countries. Today, the world seems to be getting smaller and borders are getting blurred. Global cultural literacy is a crucial attribute for the 21st century. There will certainly be many opportunities open to you if you have a better understanding of how people in other countries think, what they value, and how they make decisions.
  7. Learn to give and to forgive. I have suffered quite a bit from finding it difficult to let go of feelings of resentment against those who have done me wrong. But my father, a big-time mentor of mine, advised me “to engrave the good things others have done to you on stone, and to keep the unpleasant ones on water.” In other words, keep the good memories and discard the bad.

Over-all, our twenties is a time for finding our purpose, a time of great generosity and courage. I am thrilled to share these nuggets I have reflected on and encourage younger ones to work towards making the world a better place with all their idealism, energy, and talents. Of course, growing in leadership is not a one- time thing but rather a non-stop one. The call to be the best version of ourselves requires us to be accountable for what we do and how we spend every single moment of our day.

By Samuel Hungsoo Kim

Samuel is the Co-founder and President of the Center for Asia Leadership Initiatives (CALI), which annually runs 50 leadership programs based on the Adaptive Leadership framework first taught at the Harvard Kennedy School, in 32 Asian countries.