Life Lessons in Leadership – Tapping Over a Century of Professional Experience

What if you could travel back in time to get a fresh start to your career? What wisdom would you share with your younger self that could help you overcome your doubts and seize your dreams? Over the past several months, I have had the wonderful opportunity to pose these questions to several leading professionals. The responses they shared were more than I could have hoped for! Wherever you find yourself along your professional journey, I am sure you will find the advice they shared to be valuable, interesting, and maybe even inspirational. I am thrilled to share what they so openly shared with me and hope that their insights can give you a fresh perspective on your professional path. 

Dream BIG!

When I often think of what inspires me most about the great leaders and visionary entrepreneurs of our time, it’s not their knowledge or expertise, but their ability to dream big. In both our personal and professional lives, our dreams become a north star which guide and motivate our efforts. In looking back at her career to date, Amy Wong, co-founder and chief operating officer of AQ Talent Lab, would tell her younger self to “Dream bigger…I feel like I would have accomplished a lot more if I had been greedier with what I wanted to achieve. So don’t be afraid to ask for more from yourself.”

Far too often, we err on the side of caution and are conservative with our aspirations. But instead, as Amy asks, why not dream fearlessly? After all, what do you have to lose?

Embrace Adversity

Okay, so you’re dreaming big, easy sailing from here on out right? Well, unfortunately not. If there’s one thing I’ve learned that is universal to all our professional journeys, it’s the inevitability of adversity. Whether it will defeat us or make us stronger is up to us. In this spirit, Ted Rubin, chief marketing officer of Photofy, would tell his younger self, “Don’t give up so easily.” He encourages us to tap deeper into our passions so that we don’t scrap our efforts too soon. “One of my regrets is that I let things go too soon – and very often you have to let your emotions carry you a little bit more than your intellectual side.”

But what if there is more to gain from adversity than resilience alone? Mike Stevenson, founder of Thinktastic, says that failure can have a profound positive effect. “What I can say to all young people is that adversity can be a very powerful fall. So when you fall, fall forward.”  The lessons and growth that we can derive from failure are often more impactful to our progress than success. And sometimes it’s our mistakes that lead us to where we need to be. So why not use them to fall forward and grow in the process!

Trust the Process

Once we’ve established a dream, and prepared ourselves for the inevitable challenges that lay ahead, the next bit of wisdom to incorporate is patience. As they say, patience is a virtue – and in the scope of an entire career it’s all the more true. For Daniella Kahane, CEO of Women in Negotiation (WIN), her advice to her younger self is simple: “Patience. If I would have learned to live with more patience and trust in the process I would have saved myself a lot of angst and agitation.” It’s easy to view our professional journeys as a line between our beginning and our capstone achievement, but it’s ultimately what happens in between that forges our character.

While our careers are in development it can be nearly impossible not to compare our progress to others, and in doing so lose sight of our own paths. Violet Lim, co-founder and CEO of Lunch Actually, says she’d tell her younger self to, “not worry so much about what others think. …Worrying about what others may or may not think just gave me a lot of self-doubts.”

Overthinking, comparing ourselves to others, and doubting our abilities can all unnecessarily hinder our success. If we can learn to let go of these bad habits, we stand to be much more in harmony with our pursuits.

Continue Learning and Build Relationships

Yes. Vision, grit, patience and self-confidence are all important but you may be wondering what can I tangibly do now to become a more successful leader? While much of the wisdom imparted by these leaders deals with internal qualities, not all of their advice is so philosophical. Some of the most important messages that these leaders have for their younger selves can be applied right now. For instance, John Andrews, CEO of Photofy, shares why continuous learning is key to his success. “We live in a really interesting time where learning is more accessible. So I think the advice is…to focus on learning something new and improving your skills every day.” This advice is echoed by Jean Patrick, CEO of ScaleUP Edge, in her call to actively apply the things we learn: “Have an open mind and don’t be afraid to try new things. Don’t ever get satisfied.”

One impactful action you can take today that could transform your career is to build relationships. “I’ve learned over the years that the technical aspects are important tools, but the things that really make the difference in whether you’ll be successful as an individual, a team or a company depends on people” notes Chris Burke, Vice President of Transmission Operations at Entergy Corporation. Chris reminds us that our personal success doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

This is a perspective shared by Ted Rubin as he goes further to add that, “the other major piece of advice I would give is to create relationships every step along the way and, of course, nurture those relationships.”

Life is all about learning and engaging. When we learn we grow, when we build relationships we learn and grow even more.

The collective wisdom gained from so many years in the professional space is something that makes the advice shared by these leaders so special. Together, they highlight what elements are truly important in the long run.

They encourage us to dream without bounds, and to embrace the adversity that comes with pursuing any worthwhile endeavor. They remind us that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and that neither will our careers. And that day by day we can proactively learn and build new skills, while also creating and nurturing relationships every step of the way.

Their insights lead me to reflect upon the advice I would give to my younger self. I’m amazed by the powerful similarities. Resilience and patience are two lessons that particularly resonate with my personal experience.

Throughout my career, I’ve learned that the journey is a marathon and not a sprint. During this long journey we’re destined to encounter setbacks and frustrations. But it’s these experiences that provide us with the stamina to keep moving forward. At the end of the day, our careers are dynamic and we will never be defined by one incident alone. Instead, the actions that take place throughout our careers ultimately shape our legacy.

I hope their advice inspires you to reflect upon your own journey and motivates you like it has for me.

Journey onwards!

A special thank you to the individuals whom I had the pleasure of interviewing.

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