So You Want to be a Leader?

Act like leaderAs a 22 year old starting my first professional job as a petroleum engineer, I was surprised that while my boss was in his 50s, his manager was only 26 years old. Talking to other engineers in my department, I discovered that the young hotshot manager barely made the grades to graduate from high school, and had only so-so grades while in college. How did this rather average guy rise so quickly in the organization?

Now 35 years into my career, I look back on that college genius buddy who helped me survive many college assignments, mid-terms, and finals. He could read a chapter just once and fully understand all of the technical nuances. Where is he at his career today? He never made it into a management position. In fact, he never made it out of the lower engineering technical ranks.  What does it really take to do well in the business world?

Do smart people make great leaders?
Good grades will open the door of opportunity for a better job, so emphasizing good grades will help college-bound students. Employees also feel the pressure to be an expert as they compete for promotion opportunities and bigger paychecks. But be warned: too much of a focus on being smart comes at the expense of other rather important factors that drive career success.

Think about Leonard and Sheldon, the socially awkward physicists from CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” comedy show.  Yes, they are both funny and endearing, but is that what you want for your own kid’s career? There’s nothing wrong with being smart, but focusing on learning to the extent that social skills are stunted is a very costly mistake. You don’t want to raise the party animal, but you do want a child who knows how to engage and motivate the people around them. Certainly that’s what the business world wants, so let’s take a look at that aspect.

What makes someone a leader?
Why do some people rise in the organization despite their technical brilliance? And why are some people organizationally at the top, but not a true leader? Advice from top leadership experts reveals several common attributes that can make a difference in your career:

Kouzes / Posner3 Stephen
Character Teamwork Find your voice (values) Be proactive Visionary
Commitment Manage conflict Model desired behaviors Begin with the end in mind Teamwork (buy-in)
Competence Shared accountability Visionary Put first things first Coach / mentor
Discernment Visionary Engage others Think win-win Communication
Focus Organizational behaviors Search for opportunities Understand others first Empathy
Initiative Communication Take intelligent risks Synergize -teamwork Integrity / Values
Passion Reward & recognize Encourage collaboration Sharpen the saw (re-energize) Empowerment
Positive Attitude
Problem Solving Trustworthiness Strengthen others Find your voice and inspire others
Responsibility Commitment Recognize contributions Build relationship trust
Self-Discipline Focus Celebrate the values, victories

1 The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader: Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow
2 The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive
3 The Leadership Challenge
4 The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, and The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything
5 The Heart of a Leader

The secret to leadership.
A thoughtful study of the above table reveals that leadership attributes are more about empathy and less about ego. Reading books about leadership will improve your understanding of what it looks like, but knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.  Here’s the secret to becoming a leader: start acting like one. That’s the hard part holding most people back.

If you’re in high school or college, get involved in projects, volunteer work, and other worthy activities where you interact with other people. If you are an employee, take every opportunity to serve on a team and hone your leadership skills while improving your behavior and character. When the opportunity for informal or volunteer leadership roles appear, raise your hand high and step up. Don’t fear failure, because that’s a great way to discover what doesn’t work, and what attributes you need to work on harder.

The surprising benefit of leadership
If you follow the advice from the right people, then you will receive a huge bonus that many people overlook. Take another look at the list of leadership attributes, but think about your personal relationships (spouse, friends, and family). Imagine the positive impact you can make with those who you love.  Remember that true leadership isn’t about “being in charge of others”, but “inspiring others into taking action they otherwise wouldn’t take”.

Can Facebook Kill Your Career?

The internetOne picture is worth a thousand opinions. How do you walk that thin line between being yourself and being a professional? Sure, Facebook and Twitter ought to be reserved for personal fun, opinions, and reflections. But in today’s world, you have to manage several different versions of “self”, assuming that your career journey is in transition (or could be).

Perception is powerful (read What Mask Are You Wearing). That doesn’t mean that perception is accurate, but perception is indeed very powerful.  What your boss thinks of you is their ‘reality’ and that can make a big difference in who gets a raise or promotion. During your job interview, what the suit behind the desk thinks about you can stall your career before you even get started.  “The Company” can be your boss, your peers, your suppliers, or your customers. Regardless, their perception will be formed on the available data, and Facebook is fair game. Consider how these six principles can impact your career:

1.    “The company” believes you spend too much time on Facebook.

Do you post during the workday? If so, then your friends who believe that Facebook belongs at home will make their judgment. Even if you only use Facebook before or after work, if you make several comments or posts, people will begin to think that you are on Facebook ‘all the time’.

The Solution?  Ignore Facebook during the workday, and limit your comments on co-workers posts. If you think that’s ‘not fair’, then go ahead and comment, but know that unfair judgments are brewing…and cutting off your nose to spite your face is just plain dumb.

2.    “The company” doesn’t agree with your position on fill-in-the-blank issue.

People are interesting, and that’s a good thing, but you never really know what hot button you might hit when you post your opinion about topics (e.g. abortion, ObamaCare, gay marriage, or military action).

The solution? Keep your opinion about those touchy subjects off of social media, and try to refrain from getting into a debate with someone who posts something you don’t necessarily agree with.  There is a much better time and place to have those conversations. Perhaps it’s not fair, but think about the best outcome for everyone, as that says something about your character too.

3.    “The company” sees you at your worst.

“Business causal” means wearing nice clothes designed to make you appear trim, wearing the right amount of make-up to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives, and sporting a hair style that’s under control.  Saturday’s picture of you working in your flower bed, or heading to the beach in your comfy clothes, or making pancakes just after rolling out of bed do not reflect you at your best. While “the company” looks just as unkempt in their off time as you do, they aren’t obligated to admit to that fact. Not fair, for sure, but it’s the reality of living in a fallen world.

The solution? Assume that pictures of you will be seen by everyone, and then decide if the thrill of several “likes” is worth the risk.

4.    “The company” sees your friends at their worst.

Your BFF will probably respect your Facebook page, but your BAF (barely-a-friend) will one day post some rude politically incorrect statement and tag you in it.  When that happens, your career may well be in the hands of an idiot that you can’t control. Even if you can delete the offensive post from your profile,  “the company” will see it in the nanoseconds that it existed. Lucky you.

The solution? Everyone gets one opportunity to mess with your profile, and then you remove them as a friend, because they really aren’t one (even if it’s your mama).

 5.    “The company” judges your integrity, attitude, and competence.

If you haven’t gotten the message by now, then hear this: “The company” doesn’t mean to do you harm, but the company is made up of a lot of unique people with lots of personal issues and core values that you can easily offend.  Even if they misunderstand your post, when your boss or co-worker is involved, then it really doesn’t matter. What does matters is their perception of you.

The solution?  Check out our suggestions below.

 6.    “The company” is you.

If you’re using Facebook, then you too are likely to judge others based upon their Facebook self-branding. When your friend’s political views are at odds against your views, does that knowledge affect your relationship with them? If their lifestyle choices are different from yours, does that build a relational gap? Even worse, does that knowledge make you trust them less, consider them less capable, less moral, or drive you to avoid working with them?

The way we behave on social media is very similar to the way many people behave when they are driving their car.  People find comfort in anonymity, which makes them feel justified in taking a far stronger stance on a topic than they would ever do face to face.  Don’t be fooled.  Instead, take a few simple steps to protect your career from damage caused by social media.

Remember two basic rules about the Internet:

1.      Everything on the Internet is public

2.      The Internet has near infinite memory

Then consider the following simple changes before you post:

1.      Respect yourself and others

2.      Assume that every friend will see your post

3.      Be honest and transparent, but don’t be naïve

4.      Don’t complain about your job, your boss, or your industry

5.      Remember that Facebook really isn’t the place to voice strong opinions

Humans are limited in our ability to fully understand how others think and feel, and what drives their thoughts and actions. Hopefully we continue throughout our lifetime trying to be more self-aware, but fully understanding the complexities driving the behavior of others is a challenge. So we rely upon perceptions, and if you are wise, you learn how to be transparent in a way that more accurately reflects the true you.

Have a story about how social media caused you grief, or how you recovered from it? Share with us so that others can learn!