What Does It Take To Be a Great Young Leader?

Having recently been appointed to evaluate and select Young Business Leader of the Year in Copenhagen 2012, I have reflected a great deal on what I believe it takes to be a great leader.

Naturally a great leader should have a track record of success in business, but that goes more or less without saying and the candidates I will be evaluating wouldn’t be candidates if they hadn’t. Secondly I believe a great leaders skill-set should include, but not be limited to, ability to create lasting change, personal drive and passion, responsible behavior, highly collaborative, able to mobilize and motivate employees, pays attention to personal development, can keep her head cool and make tough decisions when needed and shows a genuine human side to management and life.

Expecting one person to poses all the skills listed above is a tall order – especially at a very young age. I therefore find it an equally important skill, if not more important, to know your own strengths and weaknesses and to be able to create a leadership team around you that can compensate for your weakest areas. A team that allows you to learn from them and develop in the process, but also let’s you focus on utilizing your own strengths to develop the organization you are leading.

These are some of the skills I’ll be looking for when I’m going to judge who deserves the title of Young Business Leader of the Year 2012. What would you be looking for in a young business leader? I would love to hear your thought on what we should look for in the leaders of tomorrow.


  • Wally Bock

    September 25, 2012 at 12:27

    You say, rightly, that “a great leader should have a track record of success in business.” I think that to spot a great leader you should analyze that success and not try to work up lists of characteristics or traits. For me, performance is reality and it has four components.

    What situation did the leader confront?
    How well did they do at accomplishing the mission?
    How did they get their results?
    Are the organization and team members sustainably better because of the leader’s actions?


    • Martin

      September 25, 2012 at 19:41

      Thanks Wally – I agree that success is the most important measure in spotting a great leader and I will use your input when we interview the candidates. Especially your last point on sustainability is interesting and what I meant by “ability to create lasting change”.

      I do however think that you can benefit from looking at secondary qualities as well when evaluating a very young leader. They will not have the track record of their older colleagues and secondary skills can therefore help to paint a more complete picture… they are however still secondary.


  • Brian Søgaard

    September 25, 2012 at 14:16

    Interesting reflections on an interesting subject, Martin.
    I think what makes a good leader great is the ability to achieve just a bit more than expected in just a little less time than expected, and doing this being a role model to his team and loyal to his managers at the same time.
    In other words: It’s no challenge to achieve results if you have no limits. It’s no challenge to follow a schedule if the task is not clearly specified. it’s no challenge to be a role model for some, if you don’t need to be loyal to others – or loyal to few if you don’t care about your integrity in general.
    The great leader, young or not, manage to do all this while smiling. The great leader manage to get support for the necessary but unpopular decisions, share his successes and learn from his failures (or ‘weaknesses’ as you say). The great leader does not work hard but smart, achieving great results by motivating others to perform and develop themselves alongside. Leadership is about positive change and long-termed value creation for the whole organization.
    Doing this when being young (< 40) requires your mind to be more mature than your age and CV prescribes. That’s the hard part. Besides strategic results, leadership is about emotion, responsibility, integrity, and charisma. Thus, I don’t think you can measure leadership success in the lines on a CV. Thus, I hope you and the rest of the jury will select the Young Business Leader of the Year in Copenhagen 2012 by a personal evaluation.


    • Martin

      September 25, 2012 at 19:28

      Thanks Brian for some interesting thoughts on the topic.

      I can assure you that I’ll not judge the candidates for Young Business Leader of the Year by a personal evaluation and not from lines on a CV. All the candidates will be interviewed by us and I’ll value their personal input highly.


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