Leadership Tips: Starting Your Career – Part I
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 I have also been blessed with some amazing successes.
I’ve written a series of 2 articles to give you a quick summary of what I’ve learned and what I know to be true for those who are starting their career.
Give these ideas consideration as you test and refine your leadership style.
In order to achieve great results, you have to do the little things really well.
All of us want to throw the Hail Mary pass instead of be responsible for repetitious blocking and tackling. It’s certainly more fun to create glamorous high-profile strategies 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 have an unrelenting focus on implementation.
You must own your development.
Most people starting their career believe that their company and boss will be fully invested in their development. The truth is… that’s often not the case. It’s important for you to identify what you need to learn and encourage your boss to help you develop a specific written plan that you can implement.
I believe that we all need to always be willing to invest in ourselves by reading, attending conferences, taking classes, and so on.
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 practice and repetitions to fully develop your management style.
Learn how to handle conflict now.
When starting your career, it will be tempting to avoid confrontations, disagreements, and difficult corrective conversations. Managers and leaders need to be ready to engage with the right style and the right words at a moment’s notice without thinking. You must practice beforehand.
Embrace the 5 functions of management.
As a leader, here’s what you’re paid to do:
Your leadership skills will determine how far you will progress. 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. If we could get every employee to see the bigger picture, the productivity increase would be amazing.
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 “trust but verify” with the Soviets. The concept is equally true in business, especially when starting your career.
All too often, we make the assumption that our teammates did what we asked without checking on them. This doesn’t mean that we should hover. Instead, put checkpoints in your calendar to ensure that your team is on task and you’ll get back what you expect.
If you want to learn what is wrong with your business, listen carefully to your people that are closest to the customer.
This philosophy emerged from Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart. He strongly believed that pumping information up the food chain in a business was exceptionally difficult.
Your direct reports are going to insulate you from hearing about problems, so you need to get out and talk to your customers and, even more specifically, the sales people that are on the frontline. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn about internal improvements and solutions.
Be an enlightened leader.
Many leaders that are starting their career 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 people who get promoted are the candidates that can see beyond the horizon and keep 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.
If you want to improve your results, find a way to measure it.
I propose that you develop a short list of measurements for your business dashboard and that you review your progress at least monthly. When you get clarity on your results and your plans, it is 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.
In the end, the ability to honestly and genuinely influence and motivate teammates wins.
Successful communication is best done 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. You won’t remember your team or customer’s ideas and comments without it and the writing things down helps you sort out your own 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 really 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 getting to the root of mistakes without casting personal blame. They focus on fixing processes and reinforcing accountability.
These are just a few of the things I’ve identified as being best practices and actions of great leaders. There’s more to come! Spend this week mulling these things over and consider where they can take you in your career.
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