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May 5, 2009

Leadership Tips: 7 Points to Remember

Earlier today, I was listening in on a global conference call to kick off Asian Heritage month. For anonymity's sake, I won't mention the name of the keynote speaker (we will refer to her as Ms. Success), but I will tell you that she is a minority in the corporate world due to her gender and ethnicity. She lived most of her life in the Northwest region of the United States, in a time when people of her ethnicity were not welcome... but she persevered, and is now one of the most influential executives of a global company.

What struck me as interesting and made me even more engaged during her speech was her humility. The woman did not advertise her credentials, nor did she seem boastful or self-entitled. She went on to say share some of the finer points she learned during her uphill battle with prejudice and adversity:

Be Yourself. There is nothing more difficult than trying to be who you are not. It is important to remember where you came from, and what you've done to get to where you are now. Have no shame, and use any struggles and bad experiences as sources of strength... after all, you did eventually overcome them. Besides, smart people will always know if you're wearing a mask.

Persist. Ms. Success mentioned that at one point in her career, she interviewed for a high level job for which she knew she was more than qualified. Unfortunately, the hiring executive bluntly told her that she did not fit the image, since all of her contacts were old, school, boy's club types, and they would be uncomfortable interacting with a petite, female, minority figure. Well, she did not let this comment phase her and persisted in interviewing with numerous companies - some telling her the same thing. Eventually, she landed an even greater position at a more prestigious company. She learned that by persisting, a door of opportunity will eventually open.

Adapt. During numerous boardroom meetings, Ms. Success noticed a trend in the way the majority of executives interacted. Since 99% of them were All-American, alpha males, they usually broke the ice by talking football or golf. Now, Ms. Success is neither a football or golf fan... but she did realize the importance of interacting with her peers and not being left out and exposed as an outcast. So, before every meeting, along with reading the headlines in the Wall Street Journal, she would also flip to the Sports Section to catch up on the interests of her peers. While this may seem contradictory to the first point (Be Yourself), remember that much of success comes from relationship building. And, if you don't make an effort to adapt and try new things, you will block the natural growth of a relationship.

Don't lose sight of the other 25%. Ms. Success stated that as an individual, you are always judged by your performance and contributions at work... 75% of the time! But, what about the other 25%? The relationship building aspect? Well, if you forget about the other 25%, you will soon reach a plateau in your progression to the top. Thus, don't skip out on too many lunches with your peers or superiors, make every opportunity to chit-chat, share your experiences and stories. If you don't build relationships, you may end up alone in a mediocre position with nothing to look forward to but a pat on the back from time to time. Building relationships ensures that you will eventually have a network of people who will help propel you towards your goals in the future.

Stretch Beyond Your Comfort Zone. Let's be honest... everyone loves the feeling of being the best at what we're doing. But how long will you feel good, if what you're doing remains the same year after year? Colin Powell once said, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it' is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant or the scared. It's an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms.” It's usually the person who becomes complacent who no longer continues to grow in self-worth.

Give Back. Along your journey, you will have learned many valuable lessons and gone through many enlightening experiences. Why not share that knowledge with others? Be a mentor, confidante, teacher... None of us would have succeeded if not for the advice and teachings of those in the know. Pay it forward, because it will eventually catch up to you.

Balance! That is... find balance in your life. If you have a family, make sure you have quality time devoted to them. Enjoy your time with your spouse, parents, siblings and relatives. Spend time with good friends and make sure to laugh often. If you want to focus on yourself, make sure that you find ways to personally develop. Take some classes in something totally unrelated to work, travel, try new foods, meet new people. No one can keep sane with all work and no play... that's not what life is all about. Being happy in your personal life, will make success easier and more fun to accomplish!

Remember these 7 points... and take advantage of Ms. Success' knowledge and experience. I know I will!

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