When I first became a manager nearly 15 years ago, I wish I had a roadmap for what I should know and what I needed on day one to become an extraordinary leader.
Looking back I made so many mistakes, some needlessly so. When I consider what I know now and what I've seen, it would have been helpful to have had someone who could pull me to the side and point me in the right direction.
If I could go back and give younger me advice, I'd share these six must dos:
1. Trust your gut.
As leaders, we have to trust our instincts. However, it's not just shooting from the hip, but also taking in data and all sources of information to make the most informed decisions. It's using all that input to decide what is the most optimum path with confidence that the data supports the action.
2. Seek counsel.
That said, don't be too proud to seek out advice from others. It's never bad to have more information. Bringing more people to the table for their perspective not only helps you find the right solution but further exposes you to different perspectives that allow you to fine tune approach.
Counsel can come from anywhere-- seek guidance from a mentor, a peer and someone junior to you. Data is data, no matter where it comes from. Remember, data is your friend and ignorance is your foe.
3. Failure is feedback.
Younger me was so afraid of failure, so much so that I would set goals for myself like not making a mistake for a year. That's problematic for three reasons: (A) that's not a S.M.A.R.T. goal (B) two, it's an unnatural goal, if not impossible goal and (C) placing undue pressure on one's self is unhealthy.
No one is perfect and mistakes will undoubtedly happen, the question is how do you respond in failure. Today, I make adjustments when I encounter a setback to ensure that it doesn't happen again and those failures become instructive for the future.
4. Practicality over pride.
Pride at times can override common sense-- don't let it. As a leader, people will look to you for direction, for guidance and being in the top spot can be intoxicating but leadership requires a level head. Leadership is a mix of humility and ambition, "humbition" as coined by IBM HR professionals.
5. Under promise and over deliver.
As new leaders, we are often eager to please so we set overly ambitious goals, that can never be met, ultimately setting ourselves up for failure. Leadership requires a realistic lens, offer what you can do and if you realize in process you can go higher, do so.
But base all your deliverables in what you can actually do. After all, it's about results small and big, not grandiose projections.
6. Be yourself.
Most importantly, don't be the leader others want you to be but the leader you want to be. I was once told that I didn't have executive presence (EP), and for months I tried to hone this mystical skill.
The reality is, I already had EP-- what I had to learn was how to assess the organization and find organizations that appreciated my leadership style. Because each leader is different, bringing tangible and intangible qualities as needed to the environment.
Too many times, I'd see a leader I admired and who I tried to emulate but I had to learn to be comfortable in my own skin and own my leadership style. It's fine to look to others for inspiration but it's important to blaze your own path and add your unique value.