33 Business Lessons from 40 Years of Corporate Experience
I have been in management and leadership positions in the military and business world for forty years, and I often get asked about my corporate experience and my best business lessons. Surprisingly (or not) my list of business lessons probably have varied to a degree, depending on when in my career it was constructed.
The list of lessons is based on real world experiences as well as managers and leaders I studied (including many bosses). For example, Dwight Eisenhower was only one of many I studied over those many years.
Being such a business manager is a lifelong learning process. You are never done learning and renewing lessons you have learned. Every great manager always looks for ways to improve their ability to improve their leadership qualities and attributes.
If you read ten books on business management, you could easily build a checklist of 50 or more management lessons for future business managers. But more is not necessarily better for the best lessons to study and apply.
The following lessons represent my favorite lessons on business management I have learned over my 40 years. They are the ones that have made the biggest impact on my success:
No matter what the job is, leaders always want to look for the best people and then take care of them. A business is just a group of people working on various creations and inventions. People are your business. It is as simple as that. It’s all about the people. They are the lifeblood of the business.
When you’re leading a business or an organization, you’re leading people. It makes sense that leaders need to take care of their people. Many leaders work to have relationships with their employees. Taking them out for coffee and getting to know them better is common among leaders. Putting people first is an important element in being a leader.
Whatever you do, be competent in your current job. It’s the only true currency you have. That being said, no amount of competence will protect you when the next re-organization comes.
Never forget that relationships in business should be business relationships. You may have a friend or lover at work, but the relationship will end the moment the opportunity to advance in the business is placed between you and your friend or lover. By the way, I strongly recommend keeping romance outside of the workplace.
Be a multiplier
Multiplier business managers know that at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is NOT the lone genius. Rather, it is the genius who knows the importance of bringing out the smarts and capabilities in everyone in the team.
Understand that politics is a fact of corporate life, and learn to deal with it. That means you take time to understand the views of the people involved in corporate conflicts, as well as the conflicts themselves. There will be times when you have to choose between being in the right or being employed. It’s your choice.
Establish clear direction
Getting people on board, aligned and pointed in the right direction is vital for an organization. If each person is going in a different direction, it can be chaos in an organization.
Keeping people coordinated and aimed is a continual process. You’re the luckiest leader in the world if this happens by default. Two ways to ensure people are coordinated and aimed is setting milestones and having multiple coaches and promoters for your employees.
Do what you can to make sure people enjoy what they’re doing. If people aren’t passionate about the business and love what they’re doing, they are more likely to be going in a different direction and susceptible to becoming disengaged. Certainly not a good thing.
Both managers and leaders know their job with their teams is about building lots of connections. They make people feel they have a stake in common problems.
Pay attention to culture
Understand the culture of the organization, especially their expectations of what makes a good employee. They all say they believe in teamwork, dedication, hard work, etc. But look at the employees who are successful, who get the recognition, who rise quickly – they represent what the company is looking for. What do they do that you can do?
Build and maintain trust
Trust is a key element we all need to set aside vulnerability, but it is hard to build, and easy to lose. It is not built on words, but through actions and evidence. Only when it works can a team address the necessary issues to win.
Corporate experience meaning … conflict and consensus
Conflicts and fights are not the same thing. Conflicts are normal and required factual push backs in business, whereas fights are emotional, often personal, disagreements which do not lead forward to consensus.
Change is the only constant in business, so make it your competitive advantage. Initiate change rather than react to it, and give clear instructions to help the team understand why the change is necessary, and how it will make the situation better.
Establish a level of structure and control
The challenge of structure and control is to strike the right balance. With none, things fall into chaos, but too much can have the effect of stifling innovation and creativity.
In general, any decision is better than no decision. Usually, a blended approach is the best, between independent decisions, and collaborative decisions factoring in the best team input. Picking the best team members is a right starting decision.
Foster continuous communication
Communication is the glue that forms the bond between leaders and teams and holds great teams together. Credibility is a required base.
Corporate experience … provide recognition
Recognition drives motivation and human behavior, and human behavior drive results. Recognition validates people and their purpose. Intangible rewards can have an even greater impact than tangible ones, but they must be relevant.
Create learning experiences
We all have a desire to learn and grow. The best learning opportunities are experience and sharing.
Make your boss look good
Understand what your boss regards as a priority, and help him or she accomplishes it. Make sure that you document what you’ve done. Your boss needs the accomplishment, but shouldn’t get the credit for the work you’ve done.
Train your replacement. You won’t be able to get a promotion if there’s no one else to take your job.
Corporate environment … foster teamwork
Peter Drucker is a silent mentor for our small agency. We are big fans. He once made an interesting point when he said that leaders don’t train themselves not to say ‘I’ He’s implying that leaders innately work with others and let the team get the credit. They don’t force themselves to say ‘we.’ ‘We’ is natural for them, and it’s the way they’ve always thought.
You work as a team when you don’t care who gets the credit.
So the next time you interview someone with a resume that states, ‘I accomplished x’ or ‘I did x’, it should send up a few warning signals.
Many companies follow the motto: “Hire for the character, train for skill.” You hire people that are eager to learn. They don’t have a ton of skills; but as a leader, you teach them, and they become better. They grow with your company and contribute to its success.
You see this with football coaches. In football coaching, it’s almost unheard of for someone with no experience to be hired as the head coach of a team. Most people start in a low-level position and gradually move up.
The same occurs in business. George Bodenheimer is the former president of ESPN. He started out working in the mailroom of ESPN. It would have been very difficult for him to rise to the presidency if he hadn’t had a boss who wanted to help him grow and succeed in the company.
How you dress, how you stand, how you speak, etc. If you want to succeed in a corporate environment, you have to communicate that you are the kind of employee that represents the corporate success story.
Do not rest on past successes
There is nothing more dangerous to life’s success than a last great result, is there? We are ‘only as good as our next result’. Stay paranoid.
Make yourself a project
Hairdressing icon Vidal Sassoon was famous for having said: “The only place you’ll find success coming before work is in a dictionary.” We have to work on ourselves. Put pressure on ourselves. Critique our days. Give back to society. Be our very best coaches and cheering squads. All of this applies as much to our personal lives as for our business lives.
Continue to add to your connections and be a continuous learner
Woody Allen said: “85% of the secret of success is just turning up.” Turn up to events. Make that phone call. Read that book. Do that training? Have the courage to ask that question. Make the effort. Stay connected to what’s happening around you.
Be a priority ‘ninja.’
Getting more of the important things done every day. Be obsessed with getting priorities rights, on what’s really important, every day, and make sure you spend the majority of your day on these priorities.
Darwin said it was not the strongest of the species that survived, but the ablest to adapt to change. There will be more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the past 50. Get excited by change. Be part of the most movements that you can. Help shake things up.
One of the key jobs of a manager is to be an effective decision maker. Employees are never comfortable with managers who make slow decisions and the frequently change their minds. Quality managers make decisions quickly and stick with them.
Provide sound guidance
Be available for your staff members and show interest in their career development within the business. Don’t hesitate to offer guidance along the way.
Building and maintaining trust
Always do what you say and set good examples. Demand from yourself the same level of professionalism and dedication that you expect from others. Trust, once broken, is seldom restored to its original state. It is the most fragile yet essential attribute of leadership and management.
Present the big picture
Consistently show the team how their projects fit into the larger goals and objectives of the business. You can never be too detailed on communicating the big picture.
Be patient but persistent
Delivering strong managerial skills takes time and practice. Seek guidance from mentors, colleagues, your boss, and your network.
Having and being able to deliver confidence counts. Most managers are self-confident. The real skill and ability are to extend faith to others. You must be good at recognizing and believing in the talents of others.
Accept learning is never done
You have worked hard to get to this point. Rely on your experience but accept there is still much to learn. Learn from everywhere you can, including your team.
What a business represents
For all of the reputation that corporations are soul-sucking, back stabbing, political jungles where you can only rise by stepping on the heads of others, they also provide employment, benefits and a bit of security that support millions of people and their families worldwide.
They are not democracies, not charities, and not therapy centers. They exist to make money, and they hired you to help them make money. That’s the deal.
Keep that in mind every day, keep your emotions in check, do your job, and if you find you don’t like working there anymore, don’t complain – just keep it professional, and move on.
The bottom line
The moral of this story is that the best leadership lessons should have a great influence on team development and teamwork. If these different thoughts are possessed by your current management or leadership team, or your emerging leaders, you will be in a good position for the road ahead.
Which of these management lessons stand out to you like the most critical? Do you have any other thoughts of effective managers worthy of mention? Leave a comment and share your insights with other readers and us. We would be most interested in your thoughts.
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All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new ideas.
When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.
Test. Learn. Improve. Repeat.
So what’s the conclusion? The conclusion is there is no conclusion. There is only the next step. And that next step is completely up to you. But believe in the effectiveness of collaborative innovation. And put it to good use in adapting to changes in your business environment.
It’s up to you to keep improving your learning and experience with innovation and creativity efforts. Lessons are all around you. In this case, your competitor may be providing the ideas and or inspiration. But the key is in knowing that it is within you already.
All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new lessons.
When things go wrong, what’s most important is your next step.
When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.
Are you devoting enough energy to improving your continuous learning for yourself and your team?
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change. We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.
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