Everyone wants to build a successful career: to get promoted, to gain new responsibility and authority, to earn a higher salary.
Be Deeply Curious.
Learn how to get the people around you to do the best they can.
Find a work-life rhythm you can maintain.
Build your team.
When looking for people to place in leadership positions, especially senior leadership positions, look for people who deeply understand the business. Probe deeply into most companies and you’ll find way too many senior executives understand their role and their division but not the overall business, much less the broader economy. An outstanding executive: 1) Deeply understands their specific areas of responsibility; 2) Thoroughly understands the aspects of the rest of their company; 3) Has a solid understanding of their industry, other industries, and macro-economic forces and trends. Sound like a lot to know? It is – but it is knowledge that will separate you from the pack. Most people work hard to check the “I’m doing a great job in my job” box, but to be a leader you need to be able to step up, care about, and truly understand the larger issues of the business. People instantly recognize when you truly care about your business and truly care about learning. That always shines through – and will always take you far.
Remember: different people have different leadership styles and different ways they influence others. Authenticity is the real key to leadership at any level, especially the senior level. The goal is to be authentic and learn to work within the framework of your personality to get people to follow your lead. Be yourself and leverage your strengths. Don’t try to act like someone else; people can instantly tell. If you’re casual and easygoing, don’t try to switch personalities and become refined and polished. You’ll just come across as insincere and plastic. People like, respect, and follow real people. Be yourself and learn how to get people to do what you want them to do – as yourself.
You can’t treat your career like a crash diet: Cut your calories in half and exercise like crazy and you will lose weight, but eventually you won’t be able to stick with a program like that and you’ll gain back the weight you lost. A career works the same way. While there will be periods of intense stress, in general you must find a business and life rhythm you can maintain over the long term. Find a rhythm where you can have enough time for family and friends, feel satisfied emotionally, and still excel at work, because building a great career is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don’t kid yourself: Everyone knows when you’re only in it for yourself. Unless you truly care about the company you work for and are personally invested in its success, you will never work as hard as you need to work to truly succeed. Every great leader is deeply invested in the success of others; every great business leader, regardless of position or level, cares deeply about their company and the people around them. If you don’t care deeply now, find something you do care deeply about: Another function, another mission, another company, etc. You can only reach your full potential, both personally and in a career, when you truly care.
Outside of work we all need a broader group of people we can rely on to provide advice and guidance – people who care about our success the same way we care about theirs. In other words you need a team. The people on your team don’t need to be older, grizzled sages – they just need to know you and care about you. Make sure you have people in your life you can always turn to and for whom you will always do the same.