Throughout my career in the Army and in post-retirement, I have been asked by audiences to give them some guidance on getting their careers off on the right foot or help staying on course. I was not one to use a script to give speeches, but I have had time to pull out and review my scribbled 3-by-5 handwritten cards. The topics below have remained consistent during my over 40 years of leading people.
- Set your moral compass to True North
- Manage your reputation
- Be accountable
- Find your passion
- Play for the team
- Cultivate relationships
- Choose happiness
I grew up in a family with parents that taught me values through their actions. I feel fortunate to have had wonderful role models teach me to set my moral compass to True North. I understand we all need forgiveness for some actions we may have taken in the “folly of our youth.” However, there are some mistakes that are seemingly impossible to move past. Those are typically the ones that deal with ethical, legal, or moral missteps. When it comes to parents, I won the lottery. If you were not as fortunate to get a firm grounding when you were growing up, find someone that can mentor you and learn by observing those you respect.
You have but one reputation in life – and it is yours to manage. In this day and age of 2018, with all the recording devices and 24-hour coverage, people are watching your every move. And for those in a leadership role – the spotlight is always on. I had a friend of mine who unfortunately had too much to drink at a work function; everyone was talking about him on Monday morning. He soon noticed that even though he had not repeatedly done this, people still talked about him after each work social function. As an experiment, he completely gave up drinking and to his amazement, people still reported how slammed he had gotten. Perceptions are just as important as the truth; they can hurt you and your reputation. Decide how you want people to “see” you and live your life accordingly. Differentiate yourself from the crowd in a positive way. My three touchstone words are dignity, compassion, and respect. That is how I want people to remember me so that is how I try to conduct myself in work and in life. Even when I have had to fire someone, I aimed to do so in a respectful and compassionate manner.
After entering active duty, I completely understood that if I was told to be in formation at 0600 hours (6 AM), I would there on time. However, I have learned not everyone is so accountable. Undoubtedly you will eventually run into the person that is always late or the one that didn’t complete his part of planned, collaborative work. If you need help becoming accountable, find an accountability partner; someone you can trust to tell you like it is. People find it harder to disappoint people they care about, so having a partner can help you stick to achieving your goals.
You are young but once – find your passion. A lot of people aren’t driven by or focused on a certain career path at a young age. We go to college to figure out what we think we want to do. We begin enjoying courses focused in one area but still may not have considered how we will use our education. To those that read this and identify with it – I get it. I found my calling as I was approaching 30 years of age. For some, life will line up and you will work in an area where your passion matches your job opportunities. I find most people that work in non-profits are passionate about that particular cause. However, not everyone can make a living by working where their passion lies, but hopefully you can find a way to keep it central in your life. Passion gives you energy and excitement and a sense of worth that helps keep your spirit strong.
Teamwork is key to life. Whether you have professional or personal goals to achieve, a team can make you more capable. Even our greatest athletes have coaches that continually help them maintain their greatness. Many workplaces are multi-generational and have individuals from varying life circumstances. Younger professionals strive to hone their skills and become acknowledged experts. Your 20s are a great time to develop your technical and people skills. I aim to work with people that have strengths where I feel less adequate. I also enjoy diverse people than bring different viewpoints to the group. Winning teams have shared visions, but relish individual differences and use them to benefit the group.
Cultivate long-term relationships. Having a pool of people from different backgrounds and opinions is a source of strength. It was difficult for me to learn to include some people whose company I did not particularly care for. It’s enjoyable to work solely with friends; super really. But being able to appreciate the skills of someone that pulls you out of comfort zone requires patience and a certain amount of savviness that comes with practice. Look, we all need people and one day you are going to need “that” person; the one you aren’t so keen on. You will be far ahead of the game if you have already developed a relationship with them. I also believe having a plentiful pool of people you can count on is the foundation to leading a rich, fulfilled life.
In today’s competitive environment we have a tough time separating work time from down time. Those devices that bring us great joy are the same ones that interrupt our family and play time. We are eager to achieve success at work and at home, but those lines have blurred. Some people feel guilty when they take time away from work to enjoy life, but then don’t enjoy life because they are worried about work. To this I say – choose happiness. Reflect, celebrate goodness, and good things. Stay in the moment with those you care about. Celebrate other people’s achievements as you would your own. When you overhear conversations that sound negative, turn the words you heard around, and think about how it could be stated in a positive way. Today’s actions feed tomorrow’s happiness. Optimism fuels optimism, happy people brew happy environments. It actually is that simple.