Are you lucky enough to have a mentor? If you are, you know how great it feels to have someone knowledgeable and experienced to guide you along your professional development path. You know that you can draw upon that amazing resource as you evolve and face challenges along the way. Mentors are gifts, and help give us confidence to find our own way, to become leaders and entrepreneurs and practiioners of many disciplines. I have been extremely fortunate in my career to have several extremely experienced, generous and insightful mentors who have shaped me and built my confidence and skills through the years. I am grateful for their patience and tutelage, and only now recognize how incredibly influential they have been in my professional development.
In an increasingly competitive and mobile workplace, however, mentors can be rare, which shouldn’t stop us from becoming the best leader we can be, because experience itself, hard work, a firm sense of self, and a dedication to continual improvement can provide the basis on which to build a successful career.
Experience – It pays to keep showing up day after day
Working long hours in your profession, reaching milestones, and overcoming development challenges will hone your abilities while you mature as a future leader. Malcom Gladwell, in Outliers, repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. That equates to roughly 5 business years practicing your profession. Dogged persistence, patience and sheer tenacity go a long way to shaping an individual, one who can then impart that knowledge upon less experienced yet equally dedicated individuals as they make the trek from rookie to expert in a given arena.
Know thyslef, embrace thyself, to thine own self be true
You’ve seen the sayings, and unless you’re tuned into your more foundational tenets, you may not have given them a whole lot of credence. After all, catch phrases are everywhere and mean little, right? Well, maybe so, but only until they are relevant to you. And leaders who succeed, and in the process engender respect and loyalty in their colleagues and employees are those who have defined, and honor their true selves. The road to success is busy and full of distractions and an infinite number of ways to stray from simple, personal beliefs, but those who hold true to theirs have a much higher chance of becoming leaders that deserve respect – their own, and from others.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses as a leader is also very important. None of us are strong in every area, so recognizing early on where our true strengths lie allows for honest work in weak areas, and sometimes delegation of those aspects of our projects that others can, and will, handle much more adeptly and well. The ability to delegate, instead of ‘just handling it all ourselves,’ not only demonstrates self-awareness on our part, but allows others to grow skills and confidence in a larger group setting. It’s healthy to play to everyone’s strengths, and the end result is far superior, always. Delegation is also a time management component that can mean the focus is on producing the best result, not just protecting one’s ego by refusing to let go.
About the ego. Anyone who wishes to become a strong leader needs to embrace the greater good and let go of the ego as quickly as possible. Many, many bad decisions have been made throughout history by fearful, insecure leaders, and those decisions have often been to the detriment of their followers’ well being. Regardless of the setting – political, corporate, business, private – ego will interfere many more times than it will benefit the bigger effort. Does this mean lose your sense of passion and risk running out of steam to meet your leadership goals? No! It means be true to yourself, which, if you are dedicated to becoming a strong and compassionate leader, means letting go of that nasty little voice that always insists on being right, no matter what. That voice is short-sighted and seflish, and seldom supports the longer goal.
Most leaders take decades to develop, but knowing first that you wish to lead rather than follow others is the first step. The rest boils down to dedication, hard work, and keeping your eye on the long ball even when that feels impossible.