In recent interviews with senior business leaders, we asked them to look back and tell us what they wish they would have done differently to develop their leadership skills and to be more effective in their careers.
Here are eight tips for us based on their top answers and my own experience.
- Learn how to delegate and coach sooner. Get past the obstacles: I don’t have time … They won’t do it as well as I do it … It’s easier just to do it myself. And reap the benefits: coaching and delegating frees you up to take on new and strategic work. It develops and motivates others, and it helps them step up their contribution and shine. And the team gets more done.
- Proactively seek out mentors and coaches. Ask for help to learn how to delegate, handle difficult conversations, manage politics and gain other skills. This is particularly important when you’re in a situation where mentors aren’t naturally taking initiative with you.
- Be careful who you imitate. Many leaders rise through the ranks because of strong skills but in spite of other deficiencies. E.g., I worked for a very senior executive who taught me to be more assertive and proactive, but I made it a point not to imitate his intimidating and demeaning approach.
- Seek new challenges and stretch opportunities. Several leaders we interviewed said they wished they’d switched roles sooner. Others wished they’d managed a P&L sooner. Or taken an international assignment. The theme: take the initiative and don’t hesitate to step into a role outside your functional expertise and comfort zone.
- Prioritize personal development. Don’t wait until “you have the time” or you’re up against a wall. Attend seminars and workshops. Read articles and books. Hire a coach. Cultivate relationships with mentors. Do what you need to do to change and stay current and connected.
- Develop your network. Your network is not only helpful for job hunting. The people you know can offer ideas, advice, tips, sponsorship and moral support in many other ways. And you can help them. Deliberately build relationships inside and outside your company. Leverage social tools like LinkedIn and make time for coffees and lunches.
- Figure out how to challenge the status quo without becoming an outcast. Be willing to call out problem areas AND develop a point of view about how to fix it. And communicate in a way that shows others you are on their team and part of the solution.
- Have fun and enjoy the journey. Some leaders we interviewed said early in their careers they were so uptight, eager to please and focused on advancing, that they missed out on some of the fun of the journey. When is the last time you had a good laugh? Saw a movie? Went out with friends? Took a leisurely vacation? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Thanks to those I interviewed for looking in the rear view mirror to help us as we look forward.
Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps senior executives and their teams learn from looking backward as they move forward. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.