How can company leaders develop new ones? Tips they can give recent grads

Company leaders who are welcoming recent college graduates to their organization see themselves in the young faces walking in the door. Like these new graduates, C-suite executives and department managers once made the challenging transition to the corporate world, taking their first professional job with a combination of optimism, excitement and nervousness.

When they were much younger, some of today’s leaders had the good fortune of being mentored or at least encouraged by higher-ups. Others weren’t so fortunate and felt like they had to go it alone. Perhaps their bosses were too busy.

Whatever the case, those at the forefront of companies today have a great opportunity. As much as business leaders have on their to-do list, they need to make time for new members of their team in order to help them grow and, by extension, positively influence their company’s future. Investing time to nurture, encourage and boost the confidence of these new graduates entering the workforce is one of the most impactful tasks leaders can undertake.

Many of these graduates aspire to become corporate leaders, and in reality I believe an enormous set of obstacles they’ve recently overcome has given them a running start on that career path. These young professionals already are leaders.

How’s that?

The class of 2022, like the classes of 2020 and 2021, endured a trying experience that prior classes did not have to deal with — the COVID-19 pandemic. Staying on track to graduate required management skills, discipline, great effort and resolve — all qualities that leaders of successful companies must have to compete and succeed.

Now these talented and bright-eyed graduates are looking up to seasoned leaders to help show them the way — to make them better leaders than they already are, and to position them to lead companies in various capacities one day in an ever-changing fast-paced market. Here are some things company leadership groups should do to lift, educate and inspire recent graduates and smooth their transition to the corporate world.

  • Emphasize resilience.The pandemic experience they went through in college helps in this context. Adversity comes at us in many ways professionally and personally, and the sooner one learns to deal with it and develop a resilient toughness, the better chance they will survive and grow in the company. It’s easy for a young person trying to find their way in the corporate setting to get derailed when things don’t go their way.
  • Focus on adaptability.In today’s rapidly-changing business world, adaptability is a must. Leaders should talk to their recent graduates about developing a constant-growth mindset, always keeping an eye on how to use skills in another context. Encourage them to be open-minded about their future; the position they seek three years from now may be eliminated, and where they end up may be a much better position than the one they originally had in mind. Ingrain in them the ability to recognize that all challenges in terms of changing or expanding roles are opportunities for learning and growth.
  • Tell them it’s all about communication. Everyone looks to the leader. A leader knows that everything they say, and how they say it, is important. That’s great insight to give a young person as they’re just starting to communicate with people at various levels of the organization. And it’s not only one’s voice, but their body language and non-verbal cues that send a message. It’s essential to have good awareness about the signals you are giving out. A genuine smile, making good eye contact, and speaking in an unhurried manner can build confidence.
  • Make it more about relationships than about money. Many of us want to get big raises and/or climb the corporate ladder. But too often young people just starting out equate corporate leadership with dollar signs, and there’s so much more to it than that. Leaders can teach them early how to build relationships – both inside the company and with clients – and how that is the most important and satisfying part of a successful leader’s journey. To be good at your job, and to one day be a great leader, a positive attitude is instrumental, and the respect of people is central to being passionate about your company.
  • Show them how to bring value. Taking the relationships point a step further, leaders should stress to young grads that bringing value to others means making it more about the people you are helping and less about you. Focus on how the company’s mission can positively impact others before you think of how it can advance your career. That kind of prioritized thinking – putting one’s heart in the right place – can reduce insecurities and pressure.

 These new graduates have amazing opportunities ahead of them, and leaders — perhaps remembering people who made a difference in their own lives long ago — have a tremendous opportunity to help these wide-eyed young folks make a strong transition, and launch them toward their potential.

About Barbara Bell
Barbara Bell (, author of  “Flight Lessons: Navigating Through Life’s Turbulence and Learning to Fly High,” was one of the first women to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. Now she works to empower the next generation of female leaders. In 1992, Bell and fellow aviators went to Capitol Hill to help successfully repeal the combat exclusions laws, opening up combat aircraft and ships to women in the military. Bell holds a BS dsegree in systems engineering from the United States Naval Academy, an MS in astronautical engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School, an MA in theology from Marylhurst University and a doctorate in education from Vanderbilt University. Currently she is an adjunct professor of leadership at Vanderbilt, where she is developing the next generation of leaders for our world.