One of the best things that can happen to your career is the selection of a good boss. As you are being interviewed for your next position, you should also be interviewing your prospective leader. Both of you will be taking a chance on the other, so both of you should go into the relationship with your expectations established and eyes wide open. Your next boss knows what they will be looking for when they interview you, do you know what you are looking for from them?
I am fortunate to have had several strong leaders ahead of me, each one contributed to my career beyond our immediate relationship. The lessons I learned from observing their leadership styles, strengths, weaknesses, resiliency, and ability to influence paid dividends in my career.
My first job coming out of the military was with a major defense contractor. I was fortunate to be under the tutelage of a seasoned pro. He became my mentor for several years, not because it was an assignment but because he saw something in me and was willing to invest himself in my future, even though it would never pay tangible dividends for him personally. We became friends, to the point he was a life mentor as well as a professional one. Our relationship had boundaries, but it was also warm.
Working for a major financial institution exposed me to a whole new set of issues and opportunities. At one point a new leader came in who was much different than his predecessor. Everyone had to adapt. He had a no-nonsense style and pushed us to think differently, to innovate, and to up our game. It wasn’t always easy, but there was always trust. He wasn’t a touchy-feely leader, but there was no ambiguity about the mission or his support.
For several years I was on staff at a large church ministry. It had a big presence in the community and was experiencing radical change. It was a dynamic environment, fast paced and challenging, with excellence as the standard. In a time of high stress, the Executive Pastor focused on valuing people, communicating, and leading with his attitude. Many people believe that working in a ministry must be a piece of cake – they would be the ones who have never had the experience. It is not easy, but I learned that communicating clearly and consistently, valuing people even when disciplining them, and encouraging the organization through one’s attitude are skills that strong leaders mobilize every day.
In another case, our division leader set achieving and maintaining excellence in every area of operations as an imperative. He led by setting the bar high, empowering associates to perform, and demanding accountability. He set the business-first tone, gave people opportunities to demonstrate their value, invested in developing talent, and positioned our division as a respected thought leader in the organization.
I’ve been fortunate to have strong, capable, and trustworthy leaders in my career. Each brought something to me that I could adopt as my own and adapt to my style. Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. Every time I interviewed for a position; I was also interviewing my potential new leader. What did he or she offer that would complement my knowledge and skillset? What could I learn from them about managing and leading complex organizations? Did they exhibit personality traits that I could respect and honor?
Careers are often an amalgamation of different experiences. As you walk your path, be intentional about collecting experiences that will broaden and deepen your value and give you opportunity to pick from the best when you establish your own leadership style. Look for the strongest leaders you can find, those who will demand your best, and work to develop your own leadership capabilities as you grow. If you are like me, you will have a wealth of good experience to draw on, and not all of it will be yours.