Back to school time is always fun and exciting and I loved the years I spent in college. I learned a lot of great things, made a few lifelong friends, and also experienced a few hard knocks. As I work toward finishing my master’s degree, I’ve been reflecting on some important lessons learned while working in the corporate world and as an entrepreneur – lessons that I most definitely did not learn in college. Here are seven things that I had to learn on my own:
1. Advocate for Yourself
In business, you continually need to advocate for yourself. Whether its negotiating a salary, or a promotion, or establishing boundaries about working overtime, being able to support your own cause is vital to survival in the real world. In order to successfully advocate for yourself, it’s important to know your own value and priorities. I was happy to learn recently that some local high schools are working with students to develop self-advocacy.
2. Learn to Network
We naturally enjoy spending time with our friends, but in business, who you know really does matter. Most business deals are built on relationships and being able to successfully establish and build professional relationships can make or break your career. I learned this at my first job out of college working for the CEO of a large managed care company. Our CEO got to know clients by spending time with them on the golf course and at dinner. He led with honesty and integrity and when our clients saw that he also cared about them as individuals, they became loyal clients, and often friends, for life.
While golf isn’t my passion, I have been able to apply the same concept by meeting clients for coffee or lunch to get to know them better. I have also been able to meet new clients by regularly attending certain networking events and following up with a thank you note and invitation to meet for coffee. You have to find what works with your personal style.
The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.
~ Keith Ferrazzi
3. Develop Powerful Systems and Habits
Managing a lot of tasks and priorities can be challenging, especially when you first get started in business. Learning how to establish systems and habits frees you up for bigger tasks and challenges when they arise. Any task that you perform on a routine or regular basis can be put in a system. Identify the tasks you want to make sure you do consistently and work to establish a habit that puts those items on “automatic.” Anchor habits can be extremely helpful.
“We become what we repeatedly do.”
~ Sean Covey
4. Learn How to Lead, Even When You’re Not In Charge
Many people think they have to be appointed to a leadership position to lead in an organization. The truth is that leaders are found (and needed) throughout organizations, and sometimes the best leaders have no title or specific authority. Stop waiting for someone to grant you a certain title. Start providing leadership where you are right now through example, by team building in your own department, or by suggesting new ideas and ways to improve the system.
5. Maximize Your Strengths
It took me a long time to realize that I prefer to work on projects that require creativity and abstract thinking such as strategic planning, business development, and marketing. Once I understood that about myself, it became a lot easier to guide my own career. And don’t think guiding your career always has to mean finding a different job, although it might. I also learned that even within a “defined job description,” there’s almost always room to steer your tasks toward the things you enjoy and are good at, while still managing the less desirable tasks. Knowing your strengths and learning how to maximize them will create greater harmony in your work, while helping you excel even more. Also read: Earn a Living Following Your Passion.
6. Find the Right Mentor
Finding good mentors in your career can save you a lot of time and frustration. I was fortunate to work directly for two visionary CEO’s in my career. They both pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and take on bigger projects and more responsibility than I thought I was ready for at the time. I also learned a lot about what it takes to be a great leader and also, that even as a CEO, no one has all the answers. Look within your own organization to identify a potential mentor. If you’re not able to find one, consider hiring a life or business coach. I’ve worked with some amazing coaches who are also extraordinary mentors.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
~William Arthur Ward
7. Be Authentic
I’ve heard a lot of people in my career use the mantra, “fake it until you make it.” While this works for some things such as improving your confidence, in general, pretending to be something you’re not usually hurts you in the long run. People can tell if you’re not being authentic. If you live your life as authentically as possible, you will be happier, have less stress, and people will be more willing to trust you. Be yourself.
What business lessons did you learn on your own? I look forward to visiting with you in the comments below 🙂