Recently I had the opportunity to speak to members of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter at James Caldwell High School. The faculty advisor asked me to share some of my experiences in college and thereafter relating to my journey to get to where I am today.
One of the goals of FBLA is to get the students active in leadership opportunities even at a young age. They are encouraged to identify ways they can benefit their communities as well as reaching for their own career goals.
Throughout my career taking on leadership roles has served me well. Here are a few lessons that I learned along the way that helped put me in a place to be a leader.
Lesson #1 – Figuring out what you are good at, and what you like to do (they may not be the same) is a lifelong process.
Use the time throughout high school and college to start to figure out what you are good at and what you like to do and how you can incorporate that into a career and or activities outside of school and work. In high school I was a good overall student, but I also had a bit of a creative bent. I was looking for a career that utilized both my over solid academic base and creative skills. At the time architecture seemed like a good fit.
To this day, I’m discovering what I’m good at. It was over the course of my career that I realized that my strengths included communication, management, and organizational skills. What you are good at and what you like to do and steering your career to leverage those skills will evolve over time.
Lesson #2 Don’t assume that your career path will be a straight line.
High school, college and even your career, are a discovery process, a journey. You may know now what career path you want to follow and actually end up doing that, but most people do not.
I ended up in the architecture program at Carnegie Mellon University, but I quickly learned that architecture was not for me. I was still on my quest to find something that suited by talents. I landed in the Graphic Communications Management program in the business school. And, my path continued to change.
When I began my career, I worked in Yellow Pages starting in production because I had the technical and business knowledge from my major. But I quickly learned that I was also good at communications, specifically for things like technical specifications. Hence, I moved to a sales support role where I worked with sales, marketing, and production. I was fortunate to be in a big company that rotated their employees in different areas to develop them. I was given several opportunities in marketing – product development, market management, and research. Who knew that marketing is where I would end up? Over the years I have found marketing to be a good career for me. It combines my creative, technical and communication skills.
Look to your strengths for a career that you love. You may start out one place and end in another.
Lesson #3 - Be generous with your time.
It seems like it has always been in my nature to help people which has made my professional life and my personal life more fulfilling. When people come to me for marketing help, I’m quick to share recommendations and insights. I’m eager to help them and their business.
Through high school and college, I was quick to raise my hand to help out. In college, when the Resident Assistant resigned, I stepped up into that role. When the women in our dorm wanted to form an intramural team, I was quick to volunteer to design and print shirts and manage the team (I’m not good at sports). I am basically a shy person so taking the initiative to meet people has always been challenging. However, getting involved and taking on leadership roles gives me the opportunity to get to know people in way that I am comfortable.
Volunteering is not only fun, but it can also help you gain experience, acquire new skills, meet new people, or expand your network. It allows you to give back to the community, to help a friend or promote a worthwhile activity, and it just makes you feel good.
Lesson #4 – Take the initiative. Don’t wait for things to happen or opportunities to come to you.
When I started my own firm in 2012, I knew I had to get out there and meet people. The first thing I did was join the North Essex Chamber. But I also knew that I had to get people to know, like and trust me or it would be difficult to grow my business. First, I joined the Chamber marketing committee, then led the committee and served on the Executive Board. In 2020, I stepped up as President of the Chamber.
Taking the initiative to get out there, get involved, and be a leader has given me the opportunity to find common ground with others. Not only has it brought me business, but have I made a lot of friends over the years. It has also cultivated a strong sense of community among myself and my peers.
I’ve already talked about how taking the initiative, and raising your hand, will help you get to know people, exhibit your abilities and just have fun. But it is also important to lead in educational and professional settings. Take every possible opportunity to share your expertise, share ideas, or share how things can be done differently. You will get the highest respect from your peers, teachers, and bosses. You can’t always volunteer for certain roles that you would like to fill, but if others know and respect you then you will more likely be recommended for that role.
Lesson #5 – Be interested in others, it will come back to you in multiple ways.
One of the biggest things I learned in my corporate career, my career as a business owner, and as a business leader in the community is to take interest in and listen to others. Generally, we are constantly rushing around to get things done and leave little time for personal interaction. Take a few minutes to learn more about someone you met, to share each other’s experiences, or find out how someone is doing. Reach out just to catch up. It’s people that make our professional and personal experiences more meaningful.
Listening is one of the most powerful tools you can possess as a leader. It helps build trust and foster bonds with others. It lets others know that they are important to you and that you value what they have to say. Engaging with and listening to others shows respect. Listening broadens your perspective and helps you better understand the people around you.
Embracing leadership qualities and roles helps develop important life skills that are of value throughout your life, helps create a road map of where you are and where you want to be, and helps achieve greater personal fulfillment.