From Young Professional to Respected Leader

May 1, 2017, Department, by Richard Fink II, CPRE

2017 May Future Leaders Young Professional 410

It’s your first time being hired or promoted to a manager-level position, and you could not be more excited. All of the time spent completing a degree and building a résumé has finally paid off. Now is the chance to share new ideas and fresh perspectives with the world, but are others truly ready to accept direction from a young professional?

Age-related skepticism and discrimination are among the greatest challenges a young park and recreation leader will face. Research on the links between age and organizational leadership indicates that one of the primary reasons younger managers are rejected by subordinates is because of a perceived lack of expertise and judgment. According to a Harvard Business Review study, employees who are hired or promoted to managerial positions at a young age tend to be viewed by colleagues as unreliable, inexperienced and insensitive. While this can be deflating to the ambitious Millennial, the same study also recognizes that talented young leaders are more than capable of stepping into key roles.

There are several important characteristics that can help a young park and recreation manager achieve respect in the workplace, and a thorough understanding of these traits is essential to professional growth:

Keep the ego in check:
Many young leaders feel a sense of entitlement after being hired or promoted to a high-level position. While an advanced degree and a larger paycheck should most certainly inspire self-confidence, it should not result in arrogance. Young leisure professionals must remember that they do not know everything about every situation, or more importantly, do not know more than everyone else. In order to achieve the respect of one’s peers, it’s imperative to remain humble and teachable throughout the early stages of one’s career.

Advocate for yourself:
Young park professionals find it challenging to speak up for themselves. Perhaps because of a lack of self-confidence or an awareness of rank in the workplace, most new managers fail to articulate their needs to their employer. It is important to remember that a job contract is a two-way agreement. The employee provides a service to the organization and, in exchange, receives a variety of benefits. Whether it’s additional assistance with a project, a training opportunity or support with a family issue, the only way to gain support is to assert yourself and simply ask questions.

Learn to say no:
These days, park and recreation professionals are expected to do more work in less time, while producing greater results with fewer resources. Young leaders tend to agree to these demands because they want to be a team player and prove their worth. Learning when to say no is essential to career growth and can allow new managers to focus on their core goals. Take time to assess requests before committing to additional tasks. If a project does not contribute toward fundamental work responsibilities, provide honest feedback and offer alternative solutions to help resolve the situation.

Find a great mentor:
A mentor can have tremendous impact on self-confidence and career progression. Not only do great advisers provide long-term guidance and accountability, but they also hold a young professional accountable in ways that a supervisor cannot. When seeking the appropriate mentor, it’s important to look for someone who has significant experience in parks and recreation, as well as the ability to challenge you. NRPA offers a mentorship network through its Young Professionals Fellowship program, which is offered annually to four outstanding individuals under the age of 35. Many leaders in the field have benefited from this opportunity, and the application process only involves a short essay.

Have a goal and know how to get there:
Setting realistic and challenging goals is crucial to professional success. By having a stated objective, young managers can gain direction for their work while also receiving reminders on what still needs to be accomplished. If the end goal is to become a park and rec director, take a look at available executive opportunities and see what skills the jobs require that you currently do not possess. Knowing that you need five more years of experience and accreditation as a certified park and recreation professional can help frame a work plan for the foreseeable future. As the process of working toward a goal unfolds, young leaders will find that achievement of small milestones along the way provides motivation and greater contentment.

Being a “young” leader in parks and recreation is challenging. Ageism, an experienced workforce and increased competition make opportunities for growth very difficult. Despite these roadblocks, success as a young manager is very achievable. Learning how to carry oneself in the workplace, identifying development opportunities and asking for assistance are essential to evolution as a park and recreation professional. Community demographics and constituents’ needs are rapidly changing across the country, and more municipalities will rely on talented Millennials to direct their leisure services. It’s up to you as a young professional to decide whether you will be one of the field’s next great leaders.

Richard Fink II, CPRE, is the Superintendent of Parks & Grounds for the City of Greenbelt, Maryland.