Is there anyone so wise as to learn by the experience of others? – Voltaire
As we grow in our leadership, we don’t always know what the next step is or how to accomplish the next goal that’s in front of us. Leadership is rarely linear and it often leads us into uncharted territory. Throughout my leadership journey, all I have ever been able to do is look to people that I admire and ask, “What are the things they have done that I can emulate that will put me in a position to be more successful?”
Most of you know that I grew up very poor. I didn’t have a lot of great role models in my life that could steer me in the right direction for things like educational decisions, career opportunities or really even common manners. One story that always sticks out to me on this topic is one time in high school when I was invited over to my then-girlfriend’s house for dinner…
Her mom had prepared pork chops and I can remember picking it up with my hands and eating it straight off the bone. I had no idea that it wasn’t appropriate to eat pork chops with your hands – that’s how I had always done it in my own home. After dinner, her father, who was very successful in business, pulled me aside and shared that eating pork chops with my hands wasn’t appropriate behavior at their dinner table. I was horribly embarrassed – even remembering that moment today brings back those same feelings.
A few days later, I shared that experience with my best friend’s mom, who I have a really incredible relationship with, and she gave me the advice to first be an observer. When you find yourself in a situation that is new to you, observe what others around you are doing – especially people who are successful – and learn from them. That advice put me on a path to being a sponge, an observer, throughout my entire life.
Now that I have found some level of success, I know that I have a responsibility to be a teacher and share the lessons I’ve learned with others. At Southwest Michigan First, we refer to those moments as: Lessons from behind the Boardroom door.
For example, the other day I had to share with a new team member that as business professionals, we can’t wear loafers without socks. That may be trendy or fashionable or even appropriate on a golf course, but there are certain standards of dress that we have to adhere to in the business community.
Am I saying that everyone needs to wear a navy suit with a red tie to find any amount of success in business? No, but in order to deliberately break the rules you have to first know what they are. In order to understand what the rules are, you have to observe others who have found success and then choose to innovate on those standards to make them your own.
You can learn amazing things from others if you’ll simply pay attention and look for the lessons in everyday life. As leaders, we can learn a lot simply by observing people around us who have found success and gleaning wisdom for our own lives from the paths and decisions they made along the way.
Question: Who are you intentionally observing and learning from to grow your own leadership success?