We go through experiences every day that teach us lessons. Most leaders will only highlight the big defining moments in their careers to share with other people. There are also some smaller moments that happen and you may not realize they are lessons unless you are paying attention. This reflection can be something you do daily, yearly or as you are moving into another role. It may also be at the point in your career where you are passing the torch to the next person in line.
In an article from the Atlanta Journal Constitution by J. Scott Trubey The Outgoing CEO of Cox Enterprises, John Dyer, shares the lessons he learned over his career and what he is sharing with his successor. Some of these same lessons may be things that you can apply in your own career. Here are a few highlights:
1. John shares a story where a woman in his organization didn’t know who he was during a large negotiation. That taught him that he needed to get out from behind the desk. This lesson isn’t only for CEOs to pay attention to each day. Have you heard of management by walking around? Say hi to people walking down the hall and ask them how their weekend was or how their projects are going. You may learn more than you realize if you listen closely. They will also get to know you as a person and not just a figurehead in an office. Doing this consistently will make a huge difference in how people see you.
2. The lessons he is sharing with his successor are to ask the right questions, listen, communicate, be authentic and be a truth-teller. These five things may sound so basic, but are so important to your success. Let’s explore each one in a little more detail:
- Asking the right questions will tell you how things are going, if there are issues, what are the risks and gives your team the chance to share the information in front of others. Sometimes you can ask a question as the leader of the group (even if you already know the answer) which provides an opportunity for your team to shine in front of a broader group. The skill of asking the right questions becomes even more important as you move up the ladder. You won’t have all the details anymore and you need to ensure you are getting the best information to make decisions and communicate.
- Listening is also key. What words are they using when they describe situations? Are they doing okay? Are people telling you what you want to hear or the truth? No one wants to give bad news to the boss, but in my experience they are going to find out anyway. It is far better to deliver the bad news directly than to have them find out from someone else. Pay attention to what they are saying, but also what they are not saying. Ask for clarification on what you are hearing so you can understand the situation fully.
- There is a tendency to take communication for granted. You send an instant message or an email and assume that the message is now communicated. It is true that the message was sent, but did everyone interpret it correctly? Did they understand the next steps that they should take? Did they have additional questions, but didn’t ask them? Be intentional with your communication and recognize that you may have to send messages multiple times and in different ways for everyone to process it. This is especially true for large initiatives with many impacts to people, processes and technology.
- If you aren’t being authentic, people will see through it right away. This may require you to be more vulnerable than you have been before. Letting people see who you are will help you build a much stronger relationship with them. Be consistent in your words, actions and behaviors so they know that this is who you really are.
- Being a truth-teller is something that every leader faces along the way. Be as transparent as you can with information and share what you can when you can. They will respect you for sharing that you can’t tell them something right now, but that you will tell them when you can. Develop a reputation for delivering honest feedback. This doesn’t mean that you have to deliver it in a bad way, but you do need to be fair and honest about it. If you disagree with something, say so and have a conversation about it.
What have you learned in your career so far? What would you share with someone else to help them grow and develop? All of the lessons discussed here can apply in any role that you have whether you are a leader of people or leading a project. Take the time to reflect on what you have learned and apply those lessons as you go forward. You don’t need to wait until the end of your career to do this, you can start today.
(Thanks to Mona Reiser for sending the article in today’s post to me)