This blog is the second in a series designed to give the next generations the tools they need to begin building leadership skills, now. Visit Growing the Next Generation of Leaders to read my first blog on this topic.
Among the people I know and across the world these days, there are many different ways of working – all remote, in-person, hybrid models…but no matter what your working style, there’s no better time than now to learn and grow yourself and your career.
Often the hardest part of working on leadership skills is knowing where to start. What’s most important? How do I develop “the right” skills? The secret is to think beyond building skills, to building experiences. Seeking out a variety of experiences that help broaden your thinking sharpens your skills at the same time and will take you further over the long-term. I ask people to think of their careers as a book, not just a page or chapter – gaining tactical skills may be a chapter, but saying yes to an experience that pushes you to try something new is what makes an interesting book.
I don’t have a magic answer for those first questions, but I can tell you about a few experiences I’ve learned from while watching executives around me early in my career. Paying attention to how executives interact with others, both inside the company and with customers helped me learn the traits I wanted to model and the ones that I wanted to make sure that I never modeled.
So my first piece of advice is, lead from the front. If you want to be someone that people want to work for, be an engaged and visible leader that people can learn from. This sounds like common sense, but you’ll need to be deliberate in your approach to make it work.
Ask to join meetings that present good learning opportunities and be engaged. While you’re in the meeting, model the behavior you want to be known for. Be accessible and be accountable to the tasks or projects you take on.
Remember that, no matter your title, what you do represents the company. Culture and values of a company is a key differentiator, tune into those, know what they are and how you reflect those values in your work each day.
As you grow in leadership, relate to, teach and help your team, delegate tasks that will cause them to develop new skills or sharpen the ones they have. Give them credit and recognition at every opportunity. And, don’t ask anyone on your team to do something you wouldn’t do.The best leaders know what is acceptable to delegate and the things they should address personally.
When it comes to personal interactions, don’t give away the chance to be accessible and present, even when it’s difficult, uncomfortable or risky.
At the other end of the spectrum from being engaged and visible, people will sometimes avoid doing something because they don’t agree with or can’t see the vision behind what they are being asked to do. That leads me into the second principle…
Perspective is Important. Anytime you look closely at a decision or an issue, you have to put things into perspective. That means understanding all of the viewpoints surrounding an issue or situation.
This is why having a highly diverse team is so important. We all need diversity of people, backgrounds, education, skills and experiences on every team. This is really important to me because as a leader, we need more than just the facts and data to put things into perspective. Diversity opens your thinking to explore issues from a variety of angles. We’ve all said ‘if I only knew then what I know now! Wow what a difference I would have made.’
I once had a brilliant boss who heard me complain about a team working on hardware leasing. A week later, I was running that group. I thought at the time it was punishment, but it was to give me perspective and three years later that experience accelerated my career.
I’d recommend three ways you can gain perspective in your own career now. First, if you see a lack of diverse experiences represented on a project, look for people to bring into the conversation. Who else could offer a viewpoint that would benefit what you’re working on now?
Also, seek out people who can offer ‘reverse mentoring.’ For example, in one of my leadership roles, I was mentored by a Latino employee who took the time to help me understand what it was like for her to be a working mother, wife, balancing family obligations and work. This occurred over several sessions and a period of months. It helped me to understand diversity, unconscious bias and gave me empathy in a way I had been ignorant to before spending that time with her. Who can you get to know to broaden your own thinking?
Lastly, the great companies gain perspective from listening and communicating with their customers. Take any opportunity you can to hear what your customers are saying about their challenges and successes. What are their priorities and why?
Gaining an understanding of this bigger picture allows you to be flexible in your thinking and to gather the best information to make decisions. Perspective makes you a broader, richer, deeper leader.
In my next blog, I’ll share a few more practical tips to keep growing your leadership skills. Until then, I challenge you to be engaged and accessible and make sure you’re taking every chance you have to learn from the experiences of people around you.