Leadership Tips: Starting Your Career – Part I

By November 22, 2017 March 25th, 2024 Articles on Leadership

Last Updated on March 25, 2024 by Dave Schoenbeck

As an executive, business coach, and entrepreneur, I have spent my long career influencing and leading teams of incredibly talented business people. I have learned many painful lessons from my multiple mistakes and stumbles and have been blessed with fantastic successes.

A businessman stands in a green field with a sunset behind him. Leadership Tips: Starting Your Career

I’ve written two articles summarizing what I’ve learned and what I know to be true for those starting their careers.

Please consider these ideas as you test and refine your leadership style.    

To achieve great results, you have to do the little things well.

We all want to throw the Hail Mary pass instead of being responsible for repetitious blocking and tackling. Creating glamorous, high-profile strategies is more fun than the boring details. However, better execution always trumps strategy. General George Patton said:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

I have seen this hundreds of times, and the best way to leverage results is to work on repeatable, high-quality processes and remain unrelentingly focused on implementation.

You must own your development.

Most people starting their career believe their company and boss will fully invest in their development. The truth is… that’s often not the case. You need to identify what you need to learn and encourage your boss to help you develop a specific written plan that you can implement.

We must always be willing to invest in ourselves by reading, attending conferences, taking classes, etc.

Malcolm Gladwell taught us about the 10,000-hour rule. Essentially, it states that it will take you 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be world-class in any field. Mr. Gladwell was right: It takes lots of trial and repetition to develop your management style fully.

Learn how to handle conflict now.  

When starting your career, it can be tempting to avoid confrontations, disagreements, and difficult corrective conversations. Managers and leaders must be ready to engage with the right style and words without thinking at a moment’s notice. It would be best to practice beforehand.

Embrace the 5 functions of management.

As a leader, here’s what you’re paid to do:

  1. Plan

  2. Organize

  3. Staff

  4. Direct

  5. Control

Your leadership skills will determine how far you will progress. Could you be sure you understand the difference?

Learn how your company makes money.

As you’re starting your career, you must understand the value proposition, the operating statement, the balance sheet, and the cash-flow statement, regardless of your job in the business.

I marvel at how many business people don’t understand how their job creates value in their company. The productivity increase would be incredible if we could get every employee to see the bigger picture.

Avoid office politics.

If something makes you look good at the expense of others, be wary of it. Understand the game and who the politicians are, but don’t get involved, no matter how tempting it is.

Don’t expect what you don’t inspect.

President Reagan taught us to “trust but verify” with the Soviets. The concept is equally valid in business, especially when starting your career.

We often assume our teammates did what we asked without checking on them. This doesn’t mean we should hover. Instead, put checkpoints in your calendar to ensure your team is on task and you’ll get what you expect.

To learn what is wrong with your business, listen carefully to the people closest to the customer.

This philosophy emerged from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He firmly believed that pumping information up the food chain in a business was exceptionally difficult.

Your direct reports will insulate you from hearing about problems, so you need to get out and talk to your customers and, even more specifically, the salespeople on the frontline. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about internal improvements and solutions.

Be an enlightened leader.

Many leaders starting their careers refute the power of the “softer side” of running a business. They downplay the importance of a vibrant culture, a mission or vision statement, performance evaluations, mentoring, or courageous and optimistic encouragement.

Don’t ignore these things. They have the potential to strengthen you as a leader and your team.

Watch the horizon.

The candidates who get promoted are the ones who can see beyond the horizon and maintain a balanced perspective between their work and the work of the business. The difference between the good and the great is the ability to see the big picture and stay focused on the horizon.

To improve your results, find a way to measure them.

You should develop a short list of measurements for your business dashboard and review your progress at least monthly. Clarity on your results and plans makes it much easier to drive improvements.

Don’t underestimate the importance of influencing and leading people. 

Be approachable, understated, humble, and willing to listen.

John Maxwell calls this “The Law of the Buy-in.” People buy into the leader first and then the vision later.

Ultimately, the ability to honestly and genuinely influence and motivate teammates wins.

It’s best that you communicate successfully in person. 

Don’t rely on emails, letters, memos, and text messages. Video conference calls are much better than emails.

Always write down good ideas and input. Without it, you won’t remember your team or customer’s views and comments; writing things down helps you sort out your thoughts. Keep your notes in a journal and review them often.  

Stay above the line.

Do you know someone who always has a negative attitude? Who always sees the worst in every situation?  

Imagine an X- and Y-axis with a line through the midpoint. As leaders, we need to stay above the line with our attitudes. We need to embrace Ownership, Accountability, and Responsibility.  

Folks that are below the line use Blame, Excuses, and Denial. Do your best to stay above that line, even though you may slip in stressful situations. When starting your career, do your best to build the mental muscle tone to chin yourself back up over the line when you fall below.

Celebrate your achievements and successes as urgently as the disappointments.

We frequently forget how much we have accomplished, and taking the time to celebrate wins will hearten you and your team.

Be ready to openly and honestly debrief failures.

The military does this brilliantly. They specialize in identifying the root of mistakes without assigning personal blame. They focus on fixing processes and reinforcing accountability.

These are just a few of great leaders’ best practices and actions. There’s more to come! Spend this week mulling these things over and considering where they can take you in your career.

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Dave Schoenbeck
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