Five Leadership Skills Early Career Professionals Should Develop First

Woman holding a large puzzle piece trying to put it on a wall

As Boomers continue to retire, human resource professionals frantically try to strengthen their leadership pipelines by developing younger employees into high-potentials. Likewise, many early career professionals ask such questions as “How can I get ahead?” “When is my next raise and promotion?” It seems like one thing all the generations agree on is that today’s early career professionals need to be developed into tomorrow’s outstanding leaders. 

But are younger employees ready? Do they have what it takes? Those who are ready to step into leadership have the ability to connect authentically with others, communicate dynamically, and leverage relationships to influence outcomes. They have leadership presence. 

As younger employees climb the career ladder, they should focus on developing these five core presence skills that will both help them in their current jobs and build towards leadership readiness:


Everyone assumes they are great listeners, but the reality is, most fall short. Most people formulate responses in their minds while others are speaking—neglecting to listen to anything anyone is saying at all! Everyone talks over others to be heard, thinking that’s how they can be seen and get ahead. 

One of the cornerstones of reaching out and building great relationships is being a good listener. Listening allows people to connect with others in order to understand their point of view. A skilled leader won’t make quick judgments and close-off the listening process because they heard something they didn’t agree with; rather, they will listen even more closely to understand, develop empathy, and create an authentic connection with others.  

Tailoring Communication by thinking “What’s in it for Them?”

Many early career professionals focus communication around themselves because they worry that others are judging their knowledge or competence: “This is all the work I did” or “This is what I think is important.” The irony is, when a person is always thinking about themselves, they probably aren’t a) listening or b) thinking about what the other person might want to know and their efficacy suffers.

Great leaders know how to communicate powerfully—both verbally and via any written correspondence—so that their audience is receptive to their message. Thinking about what is important to the person in front of them and then tailoring messages appropriately is an essential leadership skill and a precursor to strategic organizational thinking.


It seems as though the world is in constant flux and change. Technology evolves every day, people find new and better ways of completing a task, and old tried and true traditions are replaced. It is natural to have visceral reactions to these shifts: increased heart rate, an impulse to rush, thoughts and feelings of overwhelm. Great leaders understand how to combat stress and stay focused through mindfulness exercises such as breathing or physical activity which allows them to stay mentally present and ready to make adjustments.  

A person who is able to be flexible and agile to these changes—roll with the punches as they say—will stand out as a leader who can be counted on, no matter what the world throws at them. 

Honesty about what they don’t know

Great leaders know who they are–and what they aren’t. They are comfortable in their own skin. They admit when they don’t have an answer and are transparent and honest with their personal challenges at the workplace. Leaders will admit when they have fallen short of expectations and rally the team to strive for better results next time. 

Early career professionals on the other hand, are often weary of admitting they don’t have an answer. Instead of asking questions, they often miss opportunities to contribute great ideas because they were too afraid to speak up. Managers can create an environment of openness by helping young professionals navigate politics around when they should stop conversation for clarification, and when they should save questions for later.


When Anthony Hopkins played Hannibal Lector, reporters often asked him “How could you play such a horrible person? How could you live what that for so long?”

He replied “Very simple. I don’t think of Hannibal as horrible. Because if I thought of him as horrible, I couldn’t play him.”

Leaders try to understand the reason behind other people’s actions, even when they don’t agree with them.  By walking in other people’s shoes, leaders gain important perspective that help them make decisions.  And the more empathy a leader has, the stronger his or her relationships will be. 

Early career professionals can start building skill around empathy by taking the time to get to know their coworkers. Having lunch or coffee with someone from another function and asking about their family, passions and frustrations will give them insight into how to deal with conflicts down the road.


It will take time to develop these skills. But if you keep these skills top of mind, you will not only see their positive effects, but your team will too.


About the Author
Stephanie St. Martin

Stephanie St. Martin

Stephanie St. Martin is a marketing content manager for The Ariel Group, with responsibilities that revolve around creating content that helps those in need of training solutions find The Ariel Group and its products.

She started her career as an adjunct philosophy professor at Bristol Community College, but then decided to join and learned the importance of branding, content marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), social media, and began to write in a blog-style format.

After getting an education in digital marketing from, Stephanie returned to her alma mater, Boston College, for a brand new role: BC Alumni Social Media Manager. There, she developed a unique voice for the alumni social media accounts, exponentially building a vibrant social media community on various networks along the way. She then continued on to d50 media, a marketing agency outside of Boston, and helped to create both social media and content strategies for clients.

Stephanie graduated with a BA in Communications and Perspectives (Philosophy Honors Sequence) from Boston College in 2007, and later went on to earn a MA in Philosophy. A published author, you can find her work in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series. In her spare time, she enjoys going to baseball games (and keeping score!), playing trivia, and continuing her quest at visiting all 50 state capitol buildings. The current count: 25.