5 Things I Wish I Had Learned 25 Years Ago

A few days ago I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater, Oklahoma Christian University, and speak to their business undergrads on the top five things I wish I would have known when I first started out in the business world.* No matter where you are in your leadership walk, your ability to “live out” these five things will impact your success and influence your passion for what you do.

1. Relationships matter.

There are very few “individual” jobs in the real world. Now, we’re all individual performers at one level or another, but we’re also almost always part of a larger team, whether that’s our department or just the company as a whole. When we learn how to build relationships with our coworkers and focus on working with our teammates, we care about each other, our customers, and the work that we do. It makes work enjoyable, and when everyone at work enjoys their work, the company enjoys heightened success.

2.  Good communication is essential.

One of the first things we sometimes want to do when we get a new job is share all that we know with our colleagues and our leader. After all, we want to prove our value, right? Well, often the best way to prove your value isn’t by telling; instead, it’s by listening and asking good questions. When you ask good questions, you’re showing your interest, you’re learning, and you’re even leading up to your leader by forcing him to think through his decisions. When you listen (and take notes!), you’re demonstrating that you’re interested in what your leader has to say, and you’re going to take responsibility for making it happen.

3.  You don’t need a title to have influence.

Regardless of how title-driven your organization may be, your title doesn’t define your true value. Your actions do. So don’t focus on what you’re called. Focus on how you can add value to others. Leadership is about serving, and you don’t need a title to serve and add value to others. That is how you’ll earn real credibility and lasting influence.

4.  Learn from the difficult times.

Our lives are filled with ups and downs, and no matter how much we may dislike it, we’re not always going to be on top of the mountain. I’ve dealt with many challenges over the course of my career, and one thing that I’ve been motivated to do during these difficult times is to figure out what I need to learn from the situation so I can use my story to help others. After I make it through the storm, I want my story to be one I’m proud to tell.

5.  Go after the experiences.

Don’t choose your jobs based on the salary. Choose them based on the experiences you’ll gain. View each job – and your responsibilities within that job – as an opportunity to gain experience. The more experiences you gain, the more value you’ll be able to bring to others. And the more value and experiences you can bring to an organization, the more they’ll be willing to pay you for that value and experience.

*Special thanks to all the young leaders (and you know who you are!) who helped me create this “Top 5” list by sharing your insights with me on your top five things.

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