Skip to main content
Back to Leadership & Organization Blog

6 pieces of wisdom to help young leaders thrive in uncertain times

A few considerations that help with life’s biggest decisions, but also with its mundane, daily difficulties.
Kevin Kian

Kayvan Kian is an entrepreneur, teacher, and management consultant at McKinsey & Company in Amsterdam. He is the founder of the Young Leaders Forum, and has given guest lectures at Harvard Business School, HEC, Sciences Po, and other schools.

In a world that feels increasingly uncertain, young people entering the workforce are often struggling to find their path, experiencing a mix of anxiety, enthusiasm, anticipation and high expectations. Many young people today also feel impatient and are asking: How can I lead, grow, thrive and make a difference? It’s a difficult question to answer, and I have certainly been through and observed many of the emotions they are experiencing.

When I was a project leader at a non-profit, I first noticed the distress affecting young people entering the workforce. My volunteers were engaged on a tough societal problem of national scale and experienced a crisis of confidence in both their individual and collective abilities to address an issue of such magnitude. What started as a high-energy, idealistic group was at risk of turning into a collection of overwhelmed individuals.

What is the ‘why’ that could help you bear (almost) any ‘how’?

But because everyone on the team assumed their insecurities were unique, it took a while to realize these concerns were shared by all. Eventually, we began to discuss these challenges, creating a language around strengths, weaknesses and meaning that helped them—and the project—succeed. In the end, not a single team member left, and over time, I realized that similar situations are present throughout the non-profit, public and private sectors.

They are also present throughout history, and we can observe consistent patterns—from ancient Stoic philosophy to “The Sound of Music”—that have shown to help young leaders grow stronger and better able to overcome life’s daily stressors. In fact, many of these ways of thinking have been collected and tested over the course of seven years by working with thousands of clients in their 20s and 30s around the world, in a program I founded called the “Young Leaders Forum.”

The following are considerations to think about that not only help for the big decisions in life (e.g., career choice, where to live, how to contribute to society) but also (and mainly) for the mundane difficulties of everyday life:

In & Out of Control: At any given moment in time, there are an infinite number of things outside of your control. There are also things within your control. How good are you at making a distinction between the two? Where are you investing all your attention, time, heart and energy?

Positive & Negative: How well do you know your ‘favorite things,’ and how much of these experiences do you leave to chance? When something upsetting happens, how often do you perform a reality check regarding the subject, scope and time? Independent of what is happening around you, how much do you let gratitude play a role in your life?

Strengths & Weaknesses: How well do you know what gives you energy and what you are good at? How can you distinguish those skills from the ones that you’re good at but somehow drain your energy? How can you use your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses?

You & Others: How do you convey your genuine care to those around you? When others are in a challenging situation, do you dismiss their emotions, or do you empathize? Do you respond with a solution or make the topic of conversation about yourself? And is that out of habit or out of choice?

Why & How: What is the ‘why’ that could help you bear (almost) any ‘how’? At any given moment in time, can you see what you’re contributing to? In the face of day-to-day challenges, which virtues are you practicing (courage, kindness, patience, tolerance, wisdom)?

Start & Finish: When do you feel you’ve made a step of significance in your life? How high or low have you chosen to put that bar? How do you celebrate these steps once you’ve reached them?

In the end, you can decide based on your own will, creativity, life experience and unique strengths what you want to focus on. The hope is that by asking yourself the right question at the right time, you will have a sense of choice, in any given moment, in any situation.

For more thoughts, exercises and ideas, please see my book, “What is Water? How Young Leaders Can Thrive in an Uncertain World.”

Connect with our Organization Practice