Don’t wait to be recruited for a developmental opportunity. One morning I was approached by my director at work and was asked to apply for a mentoring program. He told me that I had made a positive impact in our department and he wanted me to gain more experience on a larger scale, and that an essay explaining why I should be selected was due by close of business that same day, if I was interested. My mind was immediately clouded with doubt and numerous excuses for why I felt I wasn’t ready to take on another task. I ignored the uncertainty of my inner voice long enough to write an essay on why I should be selected, and to my disbelief – I was selected to participate in the program. I am beyond thankful that my director took the time to discuss this opportunity with me. Sometimes people see the potential in us before we see it in ourselves or before we feel we are ready. You will most likely never feel 100% ready, just go for it. Don’t make excuses. If for some reason you don’t get selected, then take the feedback and apply it. This will help you improve and better your chances of being selected next time.
Speaking of feedback… Ask for it. My manager told me, “Jaime, you can’t do everything yourself. Make a list of what needs to be done and prioritize it from most important to least important. Delegate tasks on your list that are least important so you can focus on what is most important.” This is the best piece of advice I received because I am somewhat of a perfectionist and like to be in control. I like knowing that things get done the way I expect, but I needed to loosen my grip and be okay if things were not always perfect. Once I implemented this I found I had more time to spend on tasks. And I learned through the art of delegating the importance of setting expectations and following up. This also provided an opportunity for me to provide feedback and hold others accountable. Ask your mentor, peers, direct reports, indirect reports, and your boss for honest feedback. Listen with an open mind and do not become defensive. Just listen and say thank you. Then take that feedback and apply it. Let others know what it is that you are working on to improve so they will notice it. Don’t be afraid of receiving or giving feedback. Being honest, sincere, and genuinely wanting to improve yourself and help others improve themselves will make you a better leader.
Build meaningful relationships with the people you work with. They say we spend more waking hours with people at work than we do with our own family at home. This lesson hit me hard. I have been working for the same company for 9 years and most days I would just go into work focused on my objectives. I would plan ahead my to-do lists, solve problems, handle escalated situations, and be as productive as possible. But I didn’t take any time to actually spend with others. Sure, I always made it a priority to get to know my direct reports and be there to help out my peers, and my 360 results have always been great. But that was my job. Now, I actually take the time to talk with others and get to know their likes and dislikes. Through building these connections with others we can help each other become more successful and fulfilled.
Read more. Throughout this program we were assigned several leadership books to read and then we would discuss our takeaways either at a roundtable with the other mentees in the program, or one on one with our own mentor. I can honestly say that I gained valuable insight from each book. They were so relevant that I was able to immediately apply new strategies that I learned from them with my own team and improve our results. Since completing this program I have made it my goal to continue reading leadership books. If you have any good suggestions let me know!
Get to know yourself. I learned new things about myself from my mentor. Our weekly meetings helped me see situations from different perspectives. He would ask me questions that actually made me think about different outcomes and possibilities. Sometimes he would even answer my questions with more questions! One thing I learned is that I don’t have to be the technical expert all the time. I have worked extremely hard during these last 9 years doing my job to the best of my ability and I have continued to learn everything possible to become the expert. While it is important to be good at your job, as you move up it becomes even more important to learn how to effectively manage people. Those people will be the technical experts. This is also why building relationships and having connections with other people will help you be more successful. It’s not always about knowing everything, sometimes it’s about knowing who to reach out to. Keep in mind – what you know is valuable to other people as well. Take advantage of teaching opportunities to help others become more successful. One of my favorite things I heard Michelle Obama say was: “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” Always remember where you came from. Remember where you started. And remember what you needed to succeed, whether it was provided to you or not. Make real change and provide what you needed to those coming up behind you.
You are not too busy. I thought there was no way I would be able to squeeze this into my schedule. I was working full time with a team of 12 people, in school taking Finance, and coordinating a regional event for almost 2,000 people while I was going through this program. All of this in addition to having 2 kids, a husband, 2 dogs, and a cat at home. There were some long days and nights. But I made the time to commit 150% of myself to every assignment, meeting, project, and presentation… and it was completely worth it. I met wonderful people that I may not have met otherwise, gained knowledge of a different department, and presented action plans to senior management. I learned about prioritizing tasks, delegating, and following up to ensure nothing fell through the cracks. I now believe you can never be too busy to add something of value to your life. If it is worth it, you will find a way to make it happen.
You get out what you put in. As with any learning or growth opportunity – it is up to you to make the most of it. Take time for self reflection and make goals. Be open minded and be your authentic self. Ask your mentor questions about their own career path and get to know them. Be honest with yourself… and this is just the beginning.