top of page

10 Strategies for Excelling as a Young Executive

Being young and hungry is probably what helped get you where you are. Being self-motivated and highly intelligent have been your tools for educational and early career success. But, when you jump into your first executive-level leadership role, particularly in an entrepreneurial environment, you’re putting your drive, motivation, and intelligence to the test like never before. You’re faced with both massive challenges and, to counter, massive opportunities. If you don’t have clarity, a sense of professional strategy, and you only depend on your historical motivation and smarts, there’s a good chance you are going to feel the burn - but not necessarily the growth - that comes with your new role.

So, here are 10 strategies to consider as you grow into your early executive position:

1. Build Expertise: Learn the Business

At this point, no one cares what your GPA was or what honors you got in school. What they care about is how you are contributing to and leading the business today. An MBA or other credential may give you some sense of having business expertise but that is not the same in having expertise in your business. Go the extra mile to learn the market. Tap into trade journals. Find influential voices and read their blogs and listen to their podcasts. Your ability to understand not only the business but the market and the customer trends will instill confidence in those around you and give you opportunities to have influence on important strategic and operational decisions beyond your experience.

2. Build Trust: Learn the People

High achievers typically spend a lot of time around other high achievers. Specifically, they spend time around other high achievers who achieve in the same areas and ways they do. But, when you join a company, you get to work with people with often wildly different backgrounds and experiences. Your C-Suite has a breadth and depth that not only gives them wisdom but also gave them scars. So, learning where they are coming from and developing empathy can help you navigate how to work with them and to manage up. You also have people below you in the organization - and maybe at multiple layers. You need to do the same for them. You need to learn what their experiences have been and what makes them tick. You need to understand what motivates them and how that may be quite different from what motivates you. You need to understand what success means to them, what growth means, and what they value in their job or want to change. If you will have these conversations, if you will just ask and then listen, you will learn what it means to lead your people well.

3. Lead Learning: Ask Lots of Questions

Often, young executives come into a new role with confidence and skill but lacking a bit of humility. They are ready to take on the world but in the process, stop listening to it. Take that motivation and passion and apply it to your continued learning. No one expects you to know how to be an executive perfectly (and there really isn’t such a thing) when you’ve never done it before. Show not only that you are willing to learn but you are as hungry to learn as you are to excel – because they go hand-in-hand for a young executive.

4. Improve Rapidly: Ask for Feedback

Building on the above, ask for feedback. Build that network within your company and beyond who you can go to for honest insights and an honest answer, formally and informally. Don’t assume a lack of feedback means you are doing a good job. Alternately, don’t assume it means you are doing a bad job. Proactively seek feedback. We call that “pull” feedback as opposed to waiting on “push” feedback. And, as part of this, be willing to ask for help when you need it. Don’t make the mistake that asking for help highlights weakness or incompetence or anything like that. It may be painful sometimes to ask for help, but it’s a lot less painful than hiding your weakness, failing to deliver, and having something explode.

5. Clarify: Understand What’s in Your Realm of Independence

When you do a little bit of everything and each day is a little different and each hour seems to bring a new decision and maybe even a new fire to put out, it’s critical that you understand what’s in the realm of your control and what decisions you can and should make versus those that require others. This is really about sizing your locus of control and making sure you and your boss and colleagues see it roughly as the same size. If you think your locus of control is smaller than they do, you underperform by design. If you think it is bigger than they do, you run the risk of “getting out over your skis” as the saying goes and you’ll eventually fall on your face.

6. Focus: Align Your Priorities

When work is dynamic and ever-changing and the list of to-do’s is always more than what you feel you can get done, you have to make sure you have enough context to prioritize. Prioritizing inherently means you are going to do one thing at the expense of the other not getting done – at least for now. So, there is a cost. But, the cost of not being able to prioritize effectively is far greater. It’s all about aligning and communicating expectations with your boss and colleagues.

7. Be Proactive: Try to Answer Before They Ask

Now, you will never do this 100% of the time for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that you aren’t a mind reader. But, you can start to pick up patterns of what your boss and your colleagues want and need and when. Send that report before they ask. Send that monthly or quarterly update a day before they said they need it. Provide them an update on your goals before they call for the goals meeting. This is really about a mindset and understanding that if others have asked you for something, they’ve spent energy. They may have even developed stress wondering where it was. They certainly have spent time. Any chance you have to forego any of these expenditures will come back to you in spades as trust, gratitude, and expanded responsibility.

8. No Surprises: Keep Them in the Loop

This isn’t just about big decisions or customer issues or reporting or any obvious places we need to communicate. Keeping leadership informed on those things is table stakes. Think ahead. If you have a conversation with a vendor as part of your work, think about whether or not another executive might talk to them too. You don’t want wires to get crossed and you want that vendor to sense your team is working and communicating like a well-oiled machine. So, send a brief update that says “I talked with X about Y today and this is where we left it. I just wanted you to know in case you talk to them too.” Or, it could be something like: “I just wanted you to know I asked X to take a look at the recent market data. So, we already we have that moving.” In this example, you are not only “answering before they ask” but also making sure your boss or others don’t also ask someone which results in confusion and duplicative effort.

9. Edit: Know When Less is More

Clearly, I’ve talked a lot here about communication and asking questions and being proactive. But, you also need to learn what you should edit. Bombarding your boss or executive team with details they don’t need can breach trust. It suggests you aren’t totally confident in what you are doing and also don’t have an understanding of what is most important to them – and it’s not your noise. So, learn your people and their roles and your interdependencies so that you can know what they need to know, what they might like to know, and what they definitely don’t need you to bother them with.

10. Overachieve: Exceed Your Goals

Now, if you are a young executive reading this, you are already used to overachieving. So, I’m wrapping this up with a bit of a softball for you. That said, in ambiguous situations, in early-stage companies, in new markets, in new roles, you are not only executing but you are setting the standard for what good looks like. Your goals are likely based on some historical perspective of this. Your professional growth will depend on how you execute beyond your goals. Young companies - and generally good companies - tend to promote when you are already doing work that is above your current role. They don’t promote prospectively. See if you can squeeze two years of experience and learning out of every year by nailing your goals and then redefining them.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page