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15 Years and 15 Lessons Learned

What it means to be an effective leader has changed dramatically since I founded TalenTrust in 2003, because workplaces themselves have changed. Gone—or going—are the unbendable rules, inflexibility in how and where to work, micromanagement, pedestals and hierarchy, minimal time off, and virtually everything else traditional and predictable about work. What defines today’s workplace is the opposite. It’s humanity.

Effective leaders in today’s world are learning to live and thrive with constant change and uncertainty. Without a new mold for what a leader should be and do, we have opened the door to expressing our own humanity as well as creating more humane workplaces. Rather than a recipe for chaos, leaders in companies of every size and industry are seeing greater engagement and satisfaction, increased teamwork, and more innovation and productivity.

In celebration of TalenTrust’s 15th anniversary, I share below 15 lessons I’ve learned that you may find helpful as you consider who you are as a leader and who you want to be. Rather than being constrained and unemotional as in the past, today’s outstanding leaders—the ones who attract and retain top talent and beat the competition--embrace their humanity and bring it to work.

  1. Be kind. It will come back to you hundredfold and it costs nothing.
  2. Be grateful every day. You’ll be perpetually in awe of all that you have, rather than what’s missing.
  3. Speak your mind. There’s no other path to building trust and relationships.
  4. Get rest. Figure out what you can do to charge your batteries, do it often, and take breaks throughout the day.
  5. Be curious and ask questions. The most effective leaders are lifelong learners who wonder “why?” as it relates to people, things, or behaviors.
  6. Share your story. There are so many reasons why you should share stories: It’s the way people understand and remember; how they are inspired; and how they learn from what worked and didn’t. Stories show your vulnerabilities and allow others to share theirs, promoting and nurturing honesty.
  7. Challenge the status quo, regularly. There’s lots of status quo to challenge, especially as it relates to people and workplace culture. Leaders should continually challenge the reasons why things are the way they are and encourage employees to do the same.
  8. Make your own decisions. Don’t let fear control your decisions about issues of debt, growth, experimentation, innovation or anything else. Get input from advisors, employees, and relevant others. That’s important. But you are ultimately the one who must make the decision—and you have to own it.
  9. Consider mistakes a gift. Create an environment where you and everyone else can take a risk and fail. That’s where innovation thrives.
  10. Find channels for connection. Build business relationships that go wide and deep so that you can know your audiences, market to all of them, and build credibility around your brand. Join a peer-to-peer organization for advice and support. Vistage International has been a great investment for me.
  11. Give back what you can, even if it’s only in small amounts. There are others in the world who are in need. Giving is an all-around win: for you, for the recipient, and for employees who will find purpose in your generosity.
  12. Continually invest in your company through innovation and cold hard cash. Investing in your people counts as an investment too—and in a big way.
  13. Ask for help. With inspiration from Aristotle, I believe that the sum of us is stronger than any one of us. You cannot do everything alone. You may find help in many quarters if you just ask; and mentors matter at any age.
  14. Be true to your values. When you’re not, you are shattering trust, encouraging hypocrisy, and giving others permission to do the same.
  15. Love your employees. Yes, you should express your love and appreciation at work and everywhere else.

In reality, the changing expectations of younger workers mean that you have no choice but to opt into this new kind of leadership. Use the 15 lessons learned from my experience as food for thought, and I hope a strong contribution to your personal leadership journey.

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