Leadership Starts with Your Own Journey

Key Takeaways:

  • Leadership and career/personal journeys are unique to each person.  Figure out what works best for you.
  • Surround yourself with people and opportunities to help you learn and grow.

I want to get promoted. I want more money. I want to have a vice president title. I want to have a corner office with windows. Ah… the words that echo throughout the hallways, offices and common spaces at practically every company.

There is nothing wrong with having lofty goals and ambition that can sometimes be through the roof.  On the other hand, what does it all mean? Will you be a better leader or feel more fulfilled at your core when you get that promotion or that title? Probably not. At least not without a little bit of help and examination of other parts of your work and personal life.

A little about my own journey: I had been promoted to a supervisor role at a job in my very early 20s — until that company went out of business the next year. At that time, it was really just a job for me as I balanced work, school and everything else. It wasn’t until my next job, (nearly 27 years ago) that I began to learn what growth and fulfillment looked like.

What does it all mean? Well, I remember much more career-savvy people telling me when I was younger that promotions, money and titles would not matter nearly as much as I advance in my career. They said I would care about making a difference, being true to myself and getting fulfillment out of the work. I chalked that advice up to something other than wisdom. Perhaps they tried and could not get promoted?  Maybe they just were not as ambitious as I was? Maybe they did not have the education I was determined to get?

I’m here to tell you that they were exactly right. It was wisdom that came from people who had walked in my shoes before and were gracious enough offer what they learned to others coming behind them. Now I’m that guy. The one who is going to reiterate everything I heard, and have now lived.

I’d like to offer some tips that have really made a difference for me:

1 – Let your peers and leaders know about your interests

Many of my opportunities came from building strong relationships across business and school, and talking about what gives me energy — things I am passionate about (which can evolve over time, by the way). This has led to interesting projects, gaining new skills and meeting some amazing new people. Sometimes more money or a promotion, but more often than not, building my knowledge and relationships. People will help you, coach you and advise you. Just make sure you have those relationships built by the time you need that help. Be willing to help others in the same way too!  As an introvert, this was hard, but so necessary and rewarding.

2 – Figure out who you are — quickly

What are you willing to stand for, and what are you willing to walk away from? That can be hard to do when you’re blinded by the lights of your own ambition toward the material things. It feels great to make a difference while standing on the solid ground that you helped to build. I wasted a lot of time doing what I thought others would appreciate or catering to someone else’s needs, all while knowing I could not reconcile this in my own head and heart. When you let your authenticity and vulnerability shine through, I promise that you will feel better about almost everything. Don’t waste as much time as I did trying to realize that.

3 – Learn from your mistakes and from the mistakes of others

Leadership and career navigation are full of pitfalls.  Rarely are you going to make a mistake that someone else has not already made.  As the saying goes, if you make a mistake once, that’s OK.  It’s when you repeat the same mistakes that your credibility and competency begin suffering. This all requires you to be very alert and engaged. Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to what could pull you off track.

4 – Balance your short-term and long-term decisions

When I was younger and less experienced, the temptation to make decisions for short-term gain was enormous. That “in the moment” feeling was intoxicating and energizing, but rarely well thought-out. If you have already focused on #2 above, you can frame your decisions in a way that will enable you to zoom out from that short-term satisfaction and think about what it means for you longer term. For example, if I take on that project that will surely give me a chance to be promoted, what does that mean for me long term? Does this align with where I want to go?

5 – Listen more than you talk

You have likely heard that we have two ears and one mouth because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk. That’s not wrong.  I choose to speak when only when my words will matter more than my silence. Listening to others has been immensely beneficial to my growth as a leader and as a person. Being a talkative leader may get you more attention in the moment, but leaders that listen are gaining knowledge and insight that will sustain growth over time.

6 – Be kind and be humble

People will often not agree with you. Being a leader means people will not always like you.  You will have to make unpopular decisions, and people can be downright mean to you. You will also see other people get what you wanted. You don’t see their journey though, and they may have other priorities or gifts that you don’t. Those situations can humble you. Be kind about it.  Always.

I could offer many other tips as well, but really wanted to highlight some that first came to mind to help you through your own journey.


Discover Your True North – by Bill George

Rise – by Patty Azzarello

Elevate –  by Robert Glazer

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.