Dear First-Time Leader:
Congratulations! You’ve just been given a fantastic opportunity. But before you dive in, I’d like to pass along a little sage advice.
I remember my first day as a leader, 35 years ago.
I was not long out of college and I thought what I had learned in the classroom and my first few years in the working world would be enough. In school, my professors tried to teach me as much as they could about business and leadership, and in turn, I tried to absorb as much as I could.
And in my early work life, I watched closely what my supervisors were doing and saying and tried to pick up pointers from them. So when I got my big opportunity, I thought I had just about every tool I needed to go out into the big old world, make my mark, and lead like I’d been doing it for years.
Well, turns out, I was (very) wrong. I had only begun to scratch the surface of what leadership was all about.
So I can tell you, without any hesitation – you have so much more to learn! There are so many things that you can’t find in any school textbooks, case studies, business simulations, best-selling leadership books, podcasts, and any other outside source in your pre-leadership world that will make the difference on whether you achieve your professional dreams.
First and foremost, please, above all else, never lose your desire to learn. Keep an intellectual curiosity that can never be satisfied.
Next, make stress your friend. Let me give you a quick example – in school, we all had deadlines for tests and term papers and such, right? Well, in business and especially when leading, there are DEADLINES. It’s a different kind of pressure, and when I felt it for the first time in the working world, it was overwhelming.
But over time, you learn to handle it, use it, and leverage it, to the point that pressure becomes your friend, not your enemy. Because it’s where the most brilliant ideas and innovations come from.
And then, do a LOT of what I call “people learning“. What I mean by that is we spend a lot of time when we learn about business in general, and in our first jobs, looking at it from the outside the fishbowl, so to speak. Once we dive INSIDE the fishbowl as a leader, there are all kinds of complex and different humans that have hearts, minds and souls that need to be attention. How we interact with them, listen to them, teach them, coach them, inspire them, hire them and perhaps even fire them is a whole set of skills that can only be honed and perfected by the wisdom gained from experience.
This isn’t going to be easy – you’ll lose more sleep from people problems than anything else. But take the time to watch and learn from those who do it well. Find a mentor that can help you and provide valuable insights. Listen more than talk.
By becoming a “people person” you’ll pick up another valuable thing: influence. A job title doesn’t mean much unless you learn how to build and channel influence.
You might learn the hard way, like I did many years ago, that simply barking out orders backed up by a process manual does not guarantee that those orders will be done well, or even carried out at all.
They need to trust you. They need to believe in you. They need to know you care about them and their welfare – that’s all influence.
It’s an intangible that can’t be ignored – learn how to build it as soon as you can, and it will serve you well.
And here’s the last learning I’ll pass along before I wish you all the best in your leadership journey. Most of our early education and work experiences try to teach us how to succeed. Out in the business and leadership world, you need to learn how to fail.
That’s right, learn how to fail. Because the fact is, you WILL fail. You will hit brick walls. You will crash and burn. What will separate you from the rest of the pack is how you deal with these failures, and what you take away from them.
Because when you learn how to fail, you learn not to fear it – at least not enough to hold you back. Because (and here’s one last bit of learning), a little fear is actually a good thing.
So there you go, 35 years of real world wisdom for you. And remember – learn, learn, and learn.
Good luck, and lead well!