Four lessons learned from leading…
Over the course of my career, I have often wondered how and when I became a so-called leader. Did something happen to put me on this path? What influences gave me the guts? Is there a “confidence” gene you inherit from birth? Where did I learn to take risks and make decisions?
My most recent leadership position was as the president of a worldwide advertising agency network: AMIN Worldwide. And, honestly, the last few years as president have been a bit of a blur. Leading a communications firm like Simantel has its own velocity, then pile on an enthusiastic network of entrepreneurs who are hungry for interaction, conferences and growth. Seems a bit insane, right? But it wasn’t.
Every opportunity to take the reins offers new insights into what it means to be a leader, and more importantly, teaches how to become better at leading. Here are a few things I’ve learned about taking on leadership roles.
1. Who you hang with matters. All leadership books point to one constant truth about successful leaders: they surround themselves with people smarter than they are, and then let them go to work.
I have been blessed to work with some extremely talented people. Some are entrepreneurs and business owners. They know how to leverage experience and make decisions to move things forward. They are always aware of what they don’t know and understand when to reach out for help. Their honesty and transparency makes them winners in so many ways.
Some are young professionals aspiring to learn about leadership and team building. Moving along the path toward success, they are unafraid to work like fiends and are anxious to provide an abundance of innovative ideas. They inspire everyone to think bigger, and are hungry for mentorship.
Bottom line: Great people—smart people—always make a leader look much better than they could ever be alone. Carefully cultivate your network because your success is dependent on those around you.
2. Leaders need to grow, too. As those who own businesses can attest, our employees think we magically hold the perfect answers to the challenges no one else can solve. Somehow leaders are just supposed to be all-knowing and born to figure things out.
But the truth is, while leaders may possess a certain confidence to move things forward, we always have a thirst to know more. For me, I’ve learned a ton about leading… as I was leading. I honed my listening skills, tried harder to see all sides of an issue, and sharpened my ability to make things go smoothly when questions and conflicts arose. More than anything, I saw how these could positively affect team building.
Recently, some fellow leaders sent me a kind note of thanks, saying they felt they had improved professionally by being a part of my committee. They are, like me, still anxious to grow without regard to where they land on their company’s organizational chart. Every leadership role offers the chance to refine your leadership technique, so be present and look for ways to improve.
3. People are very much the same, everywhere. Leading has expanded my personal network and brought new people into my life that I otherwise would never have met. In June, I passed the torch as president of AMIN Worldwide—a group of 50-plus agencies from around the world focused on actively expanding knowledge, resources and business opportunities.
Being the leader of AMIN expanded my world, and not just geographically. My gain was a network of professional peers around the globe—amazing people I will forever consider my friends. Different people, different languages, different cultures and different ways of working. But the most astounding thing is not how different we are, but how much we have in common.
Every business wrestles with the same challenges: managing the bottom line, evolving with the speed of change, maintaining a creative edge, retaining the best talent… and, oh yeah, keeping clients very happy. Wow.
Recently, some partners from Africa, Europe and Australia spent a night at my house for a good old American cookout. But we didn’t spend the night chatting about business. Not at all. We spent the time telling tales about our childhoods, our children, our families and our lives. The conversation never lulled, and we laughed beyond reason. These are the similarities that truly bring people together.
Seek out personal connections with your fellow leaders. Despite differences in geography or industry, you probably have a lot in common.
4. Don’t doubt yourself. The truth is, I can’t quite remember how I ever made the decision to say yes to leadership. In fact, when asked, I am usually honored and flattered, but sometimes my thoughts go straight to self-doubt. What in the world am I thinking? What could I possibly contribute? Do I have time? How will the group feel about me? Can I make a difference?
Usually with a bit of uncertainty, I take the leap. Then one small step just leads to another. I often look back and wonder what I was worried about in the first place. When things get tough at Simantel, I often think, “We are smart people, we can figure it out.” This is something to always keep in mind when fear comes calling.
If you have succeeded in your career thus far, odds are you can take it to another level. And if you are asked, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.
Sure, taking the reins usually means a lot of work, but the payoff personally and professionally can be grand. So I encourage you to ask yourself: Is it time to jump in? iBi
Susie Ketterer is owner and principal at Simantel and the former president of AMIN (Advertising and Marketing International Network) Americas, an alliance of 50+ global agencies that share knowledge, resources and business. For more information, visit simantel.com or follow @Simantel on Twitter.