Every day is another chance to become a better leader. “Forward” was the theme of the political victory this fall, and “Innovation” is our business climate in these years of recovery. To succeed in today’s business environment, employees have to be leaner, meaner, and greener. And we can’t always depend on someone else to guide us.
In an ideal world, a new employee would start at a company with a sponsor and a fully developed orientation and integration program before moving on to an assigned mentor and progress through the ranks by virtue of performance, goal achievement, and the company’s succession planning. But now business is not only “do more with less;” companies are cutting and restructuring in order to make ends meet. Success is now an individual responsibility.
According to the Wall Street Journal, about 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies had some sort of mentoring program for new employees. In most cases, HR will do a pretty thorough job of orientation. But beyond the basic information, beyond the first year, after our mentor moves on or loses sight of us, leadership development is often neglected. Not to worry though! We are resourceful and intelligent and ambitious. Those are all the characteristics we need to carry on our own professional development.
10 before 10
The first tactic to master is time management. Cultivate creativity and inspire the learning process by getting a little boost before the day really gets started. Commit to doing this by 10:00 a.m. There are plenty of resources from which to master a topic in only 10 minutes. Some of my favorites are:
- Success Progress – This is a video blog of book reviews. Most are 5-8 minutes long and cover a variety of current business books.
- TED – These “Ideas Worth Spreading” are fantastic video lectures by inspirational speakers from around the world.
- Khan Academy – Tag line: “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
You’ll notice these are all video sites. I keep my laptop on the counter while I make coffee in the morning and just let a new video roll every day. A micro-education becomes your industrial strength when consumed continuously, so keep at it. Power advice is best digested by thinking, “How does this apply to my situation?” or, “How can I use this advice today?” Make it real and use it right now. Tell someone else what you learned. Now you’re a mentor as well as a self-developed leader! There is a tremendous amount of education out there and I’m discovering new developmental opportunities all the time. I keep a list of sites available on my blog. Feel free to check it out, and please let me know of others you find.
The expectation is that leaders know the businesses they’re in. Besides keeping up with your company’s stock price and news, really dive deep into industry issues. Peruse a variety of newspapers and trades every day. This is pretty easy to do for a few minutes at a time during the workday. Set your internet home page to your company’s “investor relations” section from the website. Bookmark appropriate websites and online publications. Glance at the headlines from major news outlets. Aim to read a managerial book every quarter. Carry it with you everywhere. Always ask yourself, “What is the boss reading?”
A mentor would make introductions to people she thought you should know (or whom should know you!). Do the same for yourself. Set a goal of connecting with one new person a week, whether at a conference, in a different department, or through a blog or a colleague. Always be equipped with business cards and be liberal about handing them out. I introduced myself to a keynote speaker during a conference, and we exchanged business cards. She said that if I found her on LinkedIn, she would connect with me. She challenged me by saying that only 10 percent of the people you meet will actually follow through with a connection. You control whether you’re in the top 10 percent. Make those connections within the first 24 hours of meeting, and continue to check in with your new connections periodically. (P.S. That speaker and I are still connected!)
Soon your management style will change. It becomes easier to chat with senior leaders in the hallway when some cool, educational insight is on the tip of your tongue. Projects in the office might take on a new angle based upon your new knowledge. Personal and business financial decisions probably look different. Best of all, talents are developed and career strategy becomes more focused. These were all the things a mentor would have supported.
These strategies are as fruitful as you want them to be. It’s like anything else: You get out of it what you put in. But keep in mind that perspective is queen–enlightenment always comes from having an outside voice guide us. So keep looking for a great mentor, have progress check-ins with your manager, and seek professional development wherever you can find it. When you’re at the pinnacle of your career, you’ll be glad you did.
What are you doing to develop your leadership skills?
Share your tips in the comments!