Hindsight is a wonderful thing if you can get it early enough!! I was fortunate to have many leadership experiences from an early age, not all of them went well. I was appointed Managing Director of a major master franchise company at age 27 and continued in key strategic entrepreneurial roles for many years, running several companies. I was a keen learner when I was thrown into responsibility and learnt a lot from making both good and bad decisions. Here’s what I learnt early on that helped and I wished I had engrained into me much sooner.
It Is All Personal, Not Business
My first sales manager was a great mentor and made this point very clearly to me and I have never forgotten it. Contrary to Hollywood screenwriters and every movie Michael Douglas has ever been in, business is personal. Telling yourself anything different may be a necessary rationalisation to help you sleep at night, but the sooner you admit it, the quicker you can learn to lead. Every decision you make, suppliers, employees, business partners, has another person on the other end of that decision that impacts them directly.
Knowing that business is personal should not stop you from doing what is right for the business and the hardest decisions I have had to make have been about the staff I have employed. The faster you can get used to personal, the quicker you can learn how to properly react to your business decisions and garner the respect of those you have dealings with.
Your Business Network Will Be Largely Influenced by The Relationships in Your 20s
In your 20′s, you will have access to some of the greatest people who will eventually become life long friends. You cannot predict who these are going to be. You will have a bigger network of friends and personal acquaintances at this age as you aren’t saddled with bigger responsibilities of life (kids and their schedules, ageing parents, etc.). You have free time to socialise! Meanwhile, your business network is in its infancy.
Over time, your business network should grow, as you see your personal relationships grow smaller in numbers (fewer, but – hopefully – more meaningful relationships). Knowing this is coming can help you select your core friends and help you effectively grow your business network.
Think Marathon, Not Sprint
Your world will get smaller and smaller as you grow in it. You will encounter the same situations, the same people over and over. After a while, you won’t even bother saying “deja vu” any more. Especially if you work in the same industry for many years. So make sure you have the long-term goal in mind, even at the cost of sacrificing short-term gains. But, thinking of this as a long-term race, instead of your short-term goal this week, will help you make smarter decisions. Great leaders are keenly aware of the long term repercussions and what tomorrow will bring as they weigh their decisions today.
Don’t Get Distracted
We spend a lot of time wondering what is happening over there in the organisation. “What are they doing over there? What is that group doing? At best this is wasted energy, and at worst a real distraction that keeps you from being productive. We so often get sidetracked into issues that really are not a priority for us. Don’t get bogged down in detail, opinions and what others are doing.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean be an island and it doesn’t mean you don’t work with other people, but if you see yourself wondering what someone else is doing and it isn’t something you can directly incorporate into making you better, it is wasted energy – pure and simple. Only benchmark yourself with others, if it is of benefit to your own learning and development,
Find A Mentor
Always have someone as your coach, your confidant, and your advisor. This can be formal or informal, but you need someone to bounce things off at stages of your life. This person may change and you may add mentors over time. Remember, even when you are old, there is always someone better at something than you are. Find them. In case you were asking, “why would they help me?”, well it is because they get the better end of the deal. I see that now that I am fortunate enough to now spend most of my time being a mentor to others.
Learn To Deal With Authority From Others
“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates
Everybody has someone who has power over him or her – no one is immune. For you proud, independent thinkers – this one will be a challenge. Get used to doing things you don’t want to, don’t like doing, or aren’t in your comfort zone. Yes, you can quit or complain or stage work-to-rule to demonstrate your opposition. But let’s be clear, you’ll leave one job and walk into another only to find just the same challenges.
Oh, by the way, starting your own company and being your own boss doesn’t get you out of this – you have investors, banks, partners, and customers who own you. So, get used to it, accept it, and grow your career so these times are fewer and farther in between.
Leadership Starts Before The Job Title Comes
“Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” Jack Welch
Don’t wait for the title to imply your leadership before you lead. Leadership is about helping the business succeed and helping those around you make that happen. Leadership is also about trust and those around you knowing you can be relied upon and that you are genuinely motivated for the business. These people always genuinely stood out to me in my companies. Too many young employees and managers feel like “When I get that title, I can really make a difference.” You should be thinking about how you can show leadership on your first day. Start to get to know people and what they are doing or working on, their background, and what makes them tick. Your influence starts with your orientation, make sure it’s correct. Good leaders don’t wait for titles.
What Is More Important Is How You Handle Mistakes
“A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” ~John Maxwell
Over time, you are going to make some huge blunders. I know I have mad my share of mistakes. When failure eventually happens, how you handle it will define you. Do you rise to the occasion and accept responsibility or do you fall in a pit, never to be heard of again? Do you blame everyone else, or do you face it head-on, smile, and say, “ooops, how can I learn from that and what’s next?” How you handle it sends a clear signal of your character to both friends and your business network. Leadership is as much about defeat as it is about success.
Change is inevitable. New organisation structure, buyout, new boss, new role, a constant conveyor belt coming in and out of your work life. Similar to “Do Not Get Distracted”… when you see some big change coming your way that you think is going to cause major disruption in your life, often we react too quickly and in the wrong way. In the end, these turn out to be minor inconveniences – opportunities at best.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” Douglas MacArthur