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From School to CEO

Whether you’re running your own company or reached supervisor status early on in your career, it can be challenging to be the boss when you’re convinced everyone thinks you’re just a kid. But a new generation of tech-savvy rising stars is changing the landscape of leadership. From large firms to small businesses, offices are tossing tradition aside to make room for ambitious young professionals to take the reigns. So how can it be done? Although they may still look young enough to have just passed their driver’s tests, these entrepreneurs built hugely successful companies before turning 30.

Founded in 2009 by Harvard classmates Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss, Rent the Runway is like Netflix for fashionistas. Their whopping one million members can rent a designer (have-to-have-but-could-never-afford) dress or accessories for four to eight days. This fast-growing company caters to every woman’s most common problem… a closet full of clothes, yet nothing to wear. And now they’re basking in the glow of a recent $15 million dollar investment.

Co-founded by former model Lauren Bush, FEED Projects’ bags, bears, T-shirts and accessories are the most stylish way to make a statement. A portion of the profits from this wildly popular eco-friendly collection are donated to fight hunger around the globe.

And without these go-getter guys, you couldn’t buy lunch for just a buck, or get 50% off a package of Yoga classes. LivingSocial founders Tim O’Shaughnessy and Eddie Frederick’s daily deals are projected to bring in revenue reaching $1 billion in 2011.

Feeling inspired? Lindsey Pollak, a next generation career and workplace expert shares five tips for continued success when you’re a young boss:

1. Surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs. One of the hardest tasks as a boss is hiring the right people. It can be hard to delegate or give up control — especially when you’re building a business you started — but having a great team is essential. If this doesn’t come naturally to you, develop your competency at interviewing well and delegating effectively by reading books on the topic or finding mentors to guide you (see tip #5).

2. Own your authority. If you’re a young boss, you may have a tendency to put yourself down or use self-effacing humor to win over your staff (“I know I’m just a kid, but…”). Your employees will respect you more if you are authentic, confident and comfortable in your role as a leader.

3. Show equal respect to everyone on your team. When you ask employees across ages, industries, job functions and salaries what they want from their bosses, the word “respect” comes up over and over again. Do your best to respect all of the members of your team equally and not play favorites with the people who are most like you. For instance, respect that an older employee may do a task differently than you expected, but the results may be just as good. And be sure to spend face time with your staff instead of relying on technology for all communications. A little eye contact goes a long way.

4. Make time to detox. As the boss it can be tempting to work longer and harder than everyone else at all times. This may be what got you to your leadership position in the first place, but it’s a quick way to burn out now that you’re here. Really good leaders make time to relax and rejuvenate in whatever way works for them (power naps, the occasional long weekend, a massage, playing video games, yoga, whatever). Remember that leadership is a marathon and not a sprint.

5. Find leadership mentors. One of the best ways to become a great boss is to learn from the best. Tap your networks (personal, professional, online and offline) to find a few mentors who can provide some tips and offer advice when you face questions or challenges. You might even want to join a formal group such as the Young Entrepreneurship Council or the Young Presidents Organization.

For more career advice, check out Lindsey’s website or follow her on Twitter:

Jessica Solloway is a Washington, DC based writer and producer. From wedding planning to work, dating to dieting (and everything in between), she enjoys writing about women’s lifestyle topics. Jessica received her degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Check out her blog, The Savvy Mrs.