Each week, I take one question from a leader somewhere in the world and share my thoughts. Today, like last week, I’ll answer one of the questions I suggested you ask other leaders to accelerate your own development: What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned thus far in your career?
I like this question. I know I’m biased, that’s why I recommend using it. Like you, I’ve learned countless lessons during my career. Lessons about people, lessons about myself, lessons about leadership and followship, lessons about business and much, much more! That fact alone makes this a good question - it requires a thoughtful response. Here’s my attempt to call out a few of the biggest lessons so far. If you’ve read much on this site, you’ll not be surprised.
Servant Leadership is the highest form of leadership. I didn’t know this when I was a young leader. I’m not exactly sure when I learned it. It was not a moment as much as it was a progressive revelation. There were great role models around me and over time I just began to “get it.” Once I understood it, I committed my life and leadership to this approach.
My capacity to grow determines my capacity to lead. Thankfully, this was instilled in me early in my career as well. Once again, I was fortunate to have leaders around me early in my career who taught me this lesson. I also learned that I had to own this – in concept and in practice. It’s great to have an organization that supports my growth, but with or without support, I am accountable for my own development.
Leadership is about results AND relationships. I was slower to learn this one. In the early years of my career, I didn’t focus too much on results, I focused too little on relationships. I believe my results and my opportunities suffered as a result. Today, I completely embrace the fact that the path to superior results is paved with a focus on BOTH results AND relationships.
I don’t control my opportunities to lead, just my readiness. I’ve worked in six different roles over the last 35 years. After my first job working in the Chick-fil-A warehouse, I’ve not asked for any of the positions I’ve occupied – I was volunteered. Most of us don’t control where we lead – our organizations decide that. What you and I do control is our readiness. Like the player on the bench, when the coach calls our number, we’d better be ready. If we’re not ready, we may never get the call.
What big lessons have you learned in your career thus far?