Last year, the company I worked for had a very forward thinking department which took the initiative to host a series of events they called “Breakfast with a Leader.” This was their way of getting around the fact that company-paid training programs had been all but eliminated in an era of cost reduction. I had the honour of being invited to speak at one of these sessions. There were over 20 eager and engaged professionals of all ages and backgrounds in attendance, not to mention a delicious breakfast!

Since then, I’ve had requests to discuss in more detail specific aspects I brought forth in the breakfast session, which was about the lessons I learned over the course of my 20-year career. We all have learning experiences, which are coloured by our own context and who we are. Mine are mine alone, and my interpretation of them is obviously the product of my upbringing, my personality, and my state of mind at the time any one specific event occured. So, although the lessons learned I spoke about at the Breakfast with a Leader event are mine (and I learned them the hard way!), I believe they can be applied universally in the context of each individual’s reality. Here they are.

1.      Family First. Always. This means that when the people closest to you need you, you are able to give them your undivided attention. Now, I’m not saying that when your child forgets his project at home, you run out of the office to deliver it to his classroom. I’m saying that in a time of need, such as a physical or mental illness, a child being bullied or being a bully, or a loss though death or divorce, there’s no substitute for taking the time and being 100% present to help in any way you can. Your presence will be remembered, and it will shape and strengthen your family and your relationships.

2.      Invest in Yourself. If you were to draw up a list of your assets, you’d probably forget the biggest one: yourself. In the same way you’d invest in a house, or a mutual fund, you can – and should – invest in yourself to ensure you get growing returns over time. Investing in your health, your family, and your career will yield dividends. I’ll deal with this lesson learned in a separate article next week.

3.      “You’re not saving any lives.” This is a direct quote from the best boss I’ve ever had, in the context of some office interpersonal and political issues going on several years ago. I’ve always taken my work and my results very seriously, and certainly my bosses appreciated that. Sometimes, though, that singular focus on getting stuff done and getting it done right is counter-productive. Sometimes working in harmony with others matters more than the task at hand, especially if you have the privilege of leading a team of direct or indirect reports. I learned that it IS possible to raise the bar while lowering it. This one is very personal; think about it, and I’ll tackle it more in a future article. In the meantime, remember, unless you’re saving lives, you’re not saving lives.

4.      People rise to expectations. Assuming you clearly communicate an expectation to someone who has it within their power and capability to achieve it, they will rise to the occasion. I have worked with, led, and gotten great results from people that other leaders didn’t have the time for. Leading takes time, and, unless you’re in the military or in a crisis, barking orders doesn’t work. Ambiguity will almost never get you the results you want, either. In contrast, asking a market analyst for a detailed assessment of a specific market, with specific definition of what a successful outcome looks like, and being open to a discussion, will ensure that the analyst will rise to that expectation. No one comes to work wanting to disappoint their boss or their team. No one signs up to feel like a failure. By starting from the premise that everyone wants to be successful, and by setting clear expectations and having open lines of communication, you will get great results.

The four lessons learned above are mine, and as I spoke about them in the Breakfast with a Leader session, I realised that they apply in some way to anyone wanting to achieve professional and personal success. I’d love to get your feedback! Like or comment to let me know what you think, and be on the lookout for next week’s post about investing in yourself.

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