Note from Art: this one’s with a little help from my friends.  I’ve been working a great deal with first-time leaders recently (my favorite groups!) and I posted a tweet to the extremely talented group of great people that I follow on Twitter asking what they wish someone would have told them when they started out in their leadership careers. Here are a few of their insightful thoughts with attribution, commingled with thoughts of my own.

Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me When I Became a Leader

One of the motivations in writing Practical Lessons in Leadership a couple of years ago was to take a stab at leaving behind that letter we all wish we would have received when we first became leaders.  You know the letter…it’s the one that if we had read it and actually followed the advice, we might have short-circuited a few years of learning things the hard way.

The short-story on what my letter to early career leaders includes:

  • Not everyone should lead. It’s OK to be an individual contributor, although you will still need to develop and draw on your leadership skills to succeed.
  • You need to realize sooner than later that your role as a leader is about creating the environment and providing the support for others to do great things and prosper.
  • Leading is hard work. As one wise man indicated, it’s a profession, with a body of knowledge waiting to be discovered.
  • Credibility is your most valuable currency as a professional and a leader. Everything you do must reinforce your credibility.
  • Treat everyone with respect. All of the time. No exceptions.
  • Leading is all about everyone but you. Get over yourself.
  • You’ll spend too much time with the wrong people. Focus on the people that want to grow, develop and succeed.
  • The highest respect you can pay someone is to truly pay attention by supporting their development.

And from some of my colleagues on Twitter

-From: @GinaAbudi on influence and communication:

“Even as a leader you STILL must be able to influence others effectively.”

On communication: (paraphrased): Keep your communication open.

-From @DavidWLocke on the power of a thank you

“Years ago, I almost fell over when an engineer thanked me for working on his project.”

-From @wallybock:

“I wish I knew the importance of role models and mentors.”

“People in my classes talk about skills they wish they had or knew to get training in. The most desired skill clusters were (in order) talking to team members about performance/behavior and dealing with the boss.”

-From @mjasmus

“I wish I knew that the people part of leading would be the most complex, messy and difficult.”

I wish I knew that leading isn’t about the push. It’s more about the pull.”

-From @rseres

“Leadership is not about control.”

“As a leader, you don’t have to have all the answers.”

-From @SherpaDe

“Good listening is a skill to be taken seriously.”

“Learn to ask great questions and stay curious.”

Some smart, experienced people with great advice for early career leaders!  Thanks to all.

The Bottom Line

If you are an experienced leader with responsibility for supporting the development of leaders around you, remember to pay forward the lessons that you’ve learned over time and frequently learned the hard way.

While we will all have our own unique leadership experiences, we owe it to the next generation to do everything in our power to help them along. Never mind that no one was there to help you. You’ve learned that you are better than that.

And for those of you embarking on your leadership careers, read, listen and learn. Oh, and while you are at it, heed Wally’s advice and seek a role model or mentor. There are more than a few experienced leaders out there happy to help you along your journey.