A Roadmap for the New Leader

A few weeks ago, I received this message from a former student:

Hi Professor.

I’ve been in the working world for 5 months now. I’m not yet in the position I desire, though I am pumped to continue in my journey.

I'm networking more and more, mingling with professionals with much more experience than I. About a week ago I thought back to your course and reflected on what I had learned about being an effective leader. I see now that just having the intent to do better doesn't mean others will believe you and/or support you.

Can you offer any advice on how one navigates as a new graduate and budding leader? What are the rules of engagement?

Kind Regards,

Seeking Direction

I love hearing from former students. They ask the best questions.

This question, in particular, was a head-scratcher, because there isn’t a simple answer. As with many leadership quandaries, her best approach will depend greatly on the situation.

After much thought, I fashioned a 4-step roadmap for the new leader, which l hoped would help guide her where she wants to go. Today, I share an expanded version of this roadmap.

In order, they are:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Sit back and listen
  3. Help others
  4. Share your goals

Step 1: Ask questions

This first step is about remembering there is always more to learn. Recent college graduates tend to have this mentality where they just graduated and now suddenly they know everything.

Trust me, I know this because I was once "that guy." The moment people catch a whiff of this attitude on you, you'll have an uphill battle in convincing them you don't think you're a know-it-all.

Graduating from college only proves one thing - that you have what it takes to graduate college. With that achievement behind you, your next aim is to learn everything you can and strive for excellence in whatever you do - whether it is your dream job, or not. What you learn will benefit you in each and every future endeavor.

Be careful, though, about becoming that annoying person people avoid so they don’t get stuck answering all your questions.  Like with most things, moderation is key. Find a way to strike a balance.

This leads us to steps two and three.

Step 2: Sit back and listen

Listening is hard. When you do it right, it can be the most exhausting thing you do all day.

That is because really listening requires tuning 100% into the person talking, paying attention to the messages that are being sent, both verbal and non-verbal.

The right kind of listening involves popping the thought-bubble filled with stories, to-do lists, disagreements, daydreams, and so on. The very same thought-bubble that shows up whenever you listen to a presentation, meet with a client, coach an employee, get feedback from your boss, debate with a coworker…even as you read this article.

The first step in popping the thought-bubble is awareness. Second, mentally pop it and actively refocus on what’s in front of you.

It is funny, and true, that great listeners are also considered great conversationalists, even when they do the least talking. That's because the person being listened to feels appreciated.

When people see you as a great listener, who also asks great questions, they'll start to notice you. They'll start to wonder, "What is SHE thinking...?"

Step 3: Help others

When you're great at listening and asking questions, you’ll find yourself in more meetings, offices, networking events, and hallway-chats. These situations will naturally yield opportunities for you to offer help and add value to others.

But, they won’t fall into your lap. A little effort is required. When you see an opening, grab it. Start with, “I think I can help with that.”  And then, do it.

You may have to step out of your comfort zone, do something you don’t enjoy or make a personal sacrifice or two, and that’s okay. On the flip-side, you may discover a new area of interest or ignite an unlit passion.

The added benefit is what you receive in return. The more you help, the more deposits you make that will eventually pay dividends, because people are willing to help those who help them. This relies on the rule of reciprocity, which simply states that people give back the kind of treatment they’ve received from another.

For any influence tactic like reciprocity to be effective, however, it must be genuine and authentic. So, if you willingly help others, and you do it well, you’ll get noticed and you’ll find a line at your door of people willing to help you.

This leads us to our final step.

Step 4: Share your goals

I've learned a key step in reaching one’s goals is telling people about them. Most things are difficult to accomplish on our own, without a little help from others. We need people, so why keep our goals a secret?

But, we can’t just go around willy-nilly asking for favors. No, we must first build trusting relationships through the arts of question-asking and listening, and by helping others. Once we’ve taken those steps, we’ll find our relationships to be safe and fruitful places to share our goals.

When you start sharing what you’re interested in, something magical happens. People start offering ideas, making connections, and volunteering to help.

So, think about what you want and start sharing it with people you trust. Don't be obnoxious....but certainly be open.

Next thing you know, you’ll be one step closer to where you want to be.

Forks in the road

In closing, this roadmap isn’t a straight shot to anywhere. There will be speed bumps, stop signs, forks in the road, and hazardous conditions to navigate. But, if you follow these steps, you should see progress in the right direction.

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