While the world is full of unique talents, personalities, and gifts, there is a shared set of values that runs through each and every one of the successful business leaders I know. And while these attributes come naturally to some, I guarantee that each of these executives developed and reinforced these traits by choosing them regularly. As we settle into the people we become, each of us is the product of the choices we make daily.
Why would anyone follow you? Hire you? Buy from you? In choosing to be a leader, students entering the workplace must daily choose to lead–anywhere they are given the opportunity–with integrity, competence, follow-through, inspiration, and vision. Employees who have been working for several decades also need to re-visit and hone these skills as well. Dom Cerio of CNN discussed the importance of your delivery and your “pitch,” to sell yourself. Cerio questioned the students: “In sales, and life in general, what are you bringing to the table? Why should a person take your call or meet with you?” Think about what you offer. How would people describe you? Would they describe you as a person who chooses to act with integrity and competence, to follow through on promises, and to bring inspiration to your teams?
There are always new things to learn and skills to enhance that will serve to improve your value, personally and professionally. Lifelong learning will expand your knowledge and your horizons, as well as branding you as a person who is able to adapt and incorporate new ideas. Margie Fox, President of Fitz and Hen, encouraged the students to watch a TED Talk every day and listen to business podcasts.
Being able to communicate clearly and effectively is crucial. Communication will assist you in improving your interactions with clients, vendors, and colleagues. Communicating well means choosing credibility: people will not believe the message if they do not believe the messenger. Successful business leaders communicate what they will do, and what they expect, and then demonstrate their credibility by following through. Be clear about what is important and why. As Kay McKean, Founder of SALT Leadership discussed, “Think of your last communication with someone. How much of that approach reflected your values?” Because communication reflects our values, focus on connecting with the person or people in front of you. Put down your phone and offer the gift of your full attention.
Do you think successful business leaders achieved that status by seeing work that needed doing and thinking, “Well, that’s not MY job?” Geoff Leonard of Google encouraged the students by sharing sage advice: “You will find a place where your skills are most needed and when you do, always do 5% more than everyone else, every day!” Margie Fox also shared her “plus one” theory: do one more thing than what is asked of you. Do your best at every task you are assigned and when another position opens, you may be the best candidate. You will be asked to do things that are not your job – do them! Everything is your job. Are you able to do the job of the person in a position above you and below you? Choose to take initiative! Look for opportunities to volunteer on projects in both your company and your community. This will assist you in expanding your internal and external network. Change your perspective to see volunteering as an opportunity, rather than an obligation.
Walking this balance beam takes conscious effort, but is worth it. Choose balance, set boundaries. You cannot be your best self in your career if you cannot find time for the things that matter to you. Work/life balance is a challenge; especially when you are new to your position or work in a demanding industry. You spend so much time at work–which is why it’s so important to love your job! Or, if not loving it, choosing to enjoy it as much as possible. As Michael Stefanski of MetLife advised: “You don’t regret the things you do, but the things you don’t do.” As you approach the day, week, year – be a shining star. Choose to shift your mindset to what you can contribute versus what life “owes” you. Establish your personal values and pave your own personal path to professionalism. In the insightful words of guest speaker Erica Keswin, founder of The Spaghetti Project, “How do you bring yourself to work? It’s all about the human connection. Bring your human to work.”
The good news is that it’s never too late to choose these traits and to shape the employee, friend, spouse, parent, or overall “good human” that you become. Every day when you wake up, you are your choices–and you can choose these five traits of successful business leaders starting today!
Gail Lowney Alofsin is an author, speaker, adjunct professor, and business executive. Her book, Your Someday is NOW – What are you Waiting For? has raised over $40,000 for non-profit organizations since April 2014.
A lifelong student and humanitarian, Gail believes that we all have the capability to be a leader in our own lives, influencing the lives of others to positive peak performance and success. To book Gail for your next conference or company meeting, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on twitter: @gailalofsin.