Having recently made a leadership transition, I’ve been pretty introspective as of late. Time and space will do that to you – offer a window into your own soul… a way to observe your life from a healthy distance. (This is useful when you’re busy deciding what to keep and what to leave behind.)
I’m moved to share, especially with those beginning their leadership journeys, what feels most true and transferable to me right now. While I know most people prefer to learn by experience, I hope these 5 gems will inspire you toward deeper understanding of and commitment to your leadership vision.
1. The best way to become who you’re destined to be is to accept who you are.
We see models of leadership all around us, often gleaning insight on what to say, how to behave, when to act and when not to. We look for qualities to emulate, and check our own budding leadership personas against those of leaders we admire. This can be a really good way to develop as a leader, or a really bad one. We are all inspired by other people and ideas. But your path is your own. Your ultimate leadership impact will be a combination of your gifts, your beliefs, and your purpose. Think of external inspiration as the home decor in a structure customized by you. Embrace your uniqueness. Then decide how you will leverage it to make a difference.
2. Work harder earlier so you can work smarter later.
I’m grateful. At this stage of my career, I have the precious opportunity to determine where, when, how, and with whom I work. Of course, several factors led me to this place, but hustling in the beginning was a major contributor. When you’re starting out, leave everything on the dance floor. Ask all the questions that come to mind. Meet all the people you can. Take in all the sights and sounds. Work on all the projects available. Give your best, and use your energy to build a solid platform from which to soar. If you do, you are more likely to glide into your next professional chapter.
3. Never compromise your values. No exceptions.
We’ve all heard stories or seen movies where the temptation of more – more money, more power, more time – caused people to cross their personal boundaries with disastrous consequences. These inflection points are not always that dramatic, however. Sometimes we tell a seemingly minor lie, or throw a colleague under the bus. Other times we remain silent while unethical things are happening around us. Compromising your values is a slippery slope, and ultimately, hurts you most. It’s never worth it. Be the kind of leader others can respect. More importantly, be the kind of leader YOU can respect.
4. Be friend to most, and enemy to none.
All leaders know how important relationships are to long-term success, but this is about more than networking. It’s about kindness. Generosity. Trust. And support. Open your heart to people. It’s like watering a tree – when you nurture people, relationships flourish and the benefits extend far beyond the individual. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t make enemies at work. Assume positive intent. Contrary to how it may feel at times, most folks don’t wake up in the morning scheming to ruin your life. Most often, people do the best they can. Give grace where possible, build bridges, and be a connector. While you should always maintain personal boundaries, be sure to avoid creating walls.
5. Dream. Do. Then dream some more.
So many leaders share their dreams with me. I am fortunate to be in a position to encourage others to pursue their purposes and share their gifts with the world. My advice is always the same: Don’t let a dream become a fantasy, which is what happens when you never act upon it. You have to DO something. Take a step forward, even if it’s a small step. I have a family member who expressed interest in owning a bakery. The chasm between where she is and where she wants to be is expansive, but I advised her to make a few business cards, bake her favorite treats, and pass them out at a school or work function. Speak your dream out loud: “I’m a baker. Call me for your next gathering.” Dream. Do. Then dream some more. Don’t let the size of your dreams intimidate you. They belong to you, after all. Own them!
As a leader (which is a title that can belong to anyone), I have never regretted taking a professional risk. I have, however, regretted not taking one. A risk doesn’t have to look like a new job or a new company. It could mean doing the exact work you do today, but differently. It takes courage to vary an experience you once thought was fixed. In the world of career and work, most things are variable, including how you show up. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been at it, or where you are in your story. If you’re reading this “story”, you’re still writing yours, and that’s the best part.
Tara Jaye Frank is CEO of TJF Career Modeling and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Tara consults and speaks on women’s leadership and diversity and inclusion. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.