Paying It Forward: How Leaders Can Deploy Wise Interventions

Meaghan Sullivan

In preparing the next generation for leadership, it’s often the little things that matter the most. Business Meeting --- Image by © Rachel Frank/CorbisResearch in motivation science from Stanford University shows us that precise, wise interventions improve outcomes across a broad range of interactions.

“Paying it forward” is one of the defining characteristics of great leadership, but it must be done with intelligence and precision. Here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned about paying it forward in creating effective leaders for the future.

1. Choose carefully who deserves a big break.

Vision, initiative, dedication: These are good indications of a future leader, but dig a little deeper. Take a hard look at dissatisfied team members. Is their energy simply misdirected? Are they straining at the edges of their limitations? Offer these employees some autonomy on a big project and find out what they can make of it. The greatest leaders often need guidance to reach their true potential.

2. Be the sort of mentor that an emerging leader needs.

When you believe that someone shows great potential lying just below the surface, you have a serious choice to make. Are you willing to put in the time and energy it will take to be the mentor they need? You will have to stretch yourself to bring out their unique strengths. It’s clear why leaders don’t choose mentors very often. To be an effective mentor, you must be 100 percent on board with it.

3. Bring all the right pieces into alignment.

Great leaders will naturally get lots of requests for mentoring. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can make a significant contribution by communicating your insights to others who could be excellent mentors. Paying it forward can involve syncing up future leaders with the people who can take them to the next stage of their careers. This grows your network as well as your influence in powerful and unexpected ways.

4. Make a difference on a grander scale.

The latest advances in technology have been a real boon to this generation of leaders. Travel is easier, communication networks now stretch across the globe, and language barriers are falling. This is how it must have felt when the printing press made books available to the wider public. We are at an exciting time in history when you can inspire leaders through conference keynotes, professional blogs, social media channels, and speaking broadly to organizations that deal with career and professional development. These tools can have a great impact on future leaders when they spark inspiration and conversation. Establish the tenets of your own personal brand and start sharing your insights, leadership style, and philosophy with those who need to hear it.

5. Be the kind of leader you want to see in the world

Even without committing to a one-to-one mentor relationship, you can still inspire potential leaders by setting the tone at your workplace. Dedication, commitment, and going one step beyond are all choices you can make every day. Get out in the community and speak to students about what leadership means. Give them insight into how you work, how you reached your position, and what success looks like. Spark their imaginations and sow the seeds of leadership while there is still plenty of time for it to bloom and grow.

If you want to make a lasting impact on the world, now is the time to pay it forward to the younger generation of leaders with careful, wise interventions. They will never forget who helped them get to wherever they’re going.

Looking for more ways to develop future leaders? See 6 Managing Skills That Companies Take for Granted.


Meaghan Sullivan

About Meaghan Sullivan

Meaghan Sullivan is the vice president of Global Channel Marketing at SAP. In this role, she is tasked with accelerating global indirect revenue through channel marketing practices with a focus on VARs and Distributors. Sullivan focuses on Partner-Lead Demand Generation activities to provide SAP partners with innovative programs, campaigns and resources that enable them to more efficiently market their SAP solutions and services.