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5 Tips for Navigating the Road to Leadership

RoadMy first job out of college was the best and worst experience of my life, and it taught me a lot about leadership. I started my career at Target, and because I had studied business, they had me running an area with five people reporting to me. My staff ranged from workers with little apparent interest in their jobs, to team leaders who were reporting to me. The challenges of running such a varied team can be overwhelming, but the job also gave me a tremendous range of responsibilities and leadership experiences, forcing me to learn quickly and be decisive. In the end, it was a good first job that certainly stretched me and helped me see that I could be a successful leader.

Taking the reins of leadership can be daunting, but along the way I have learned a number of useful lessons for current and aspiring leaders.

  1. Disappointments Are a Learning Experience

One of my toughest lessons came when I found out that the person most qualified for a job doesn’t always get it. It can be a tough pill to swallow. I had worked many long hours for one company, and when a new supervisor arrived who was unaware of all my contributions, they ended up giving the promotion I had hoped for to someone else. My advice for those who face similar disappointments is not to be discouraged or allow the experience to shake your confidence. In the end, your record will speak for itself. Your skills and experience will qualify you for other opportunities.

  1. You May Have to Move On to Move Up

After losing out on the promotion, I made a realistic assessment of my prospects in my current position.  I decided I might not have a great future working for the new supervisor, so I began researching other opportunities. The lesson for me was that if you can’t see a clear path to a leadership goal, it’s important to evaluate what steps it will take to put you back on track, which may include a change of job or organization.

  1. State Your Expectations

There’s great value in saying up front exactly what you want in any situation. After losing out on the promotion, I began interviewing for a new job as a controller. Having previously devoted a great deal of overtime hours with a company, I realized I had to set boundaries. As a result, I told every interviewer that I wouldn’t work weekends. If you don’t set boundaries at the beginning, it’s a mistake to think you’ll be able to get what you want later. I ended up with a job that better suited my aspirations, and I never had to work weekends. If I hadn’t been so assertive about what I wanted, I don’t think that would have been the case, and that would have been a major drawback to what turned out to be a good job.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Aim Higher

I think that when we find ourselves stagnating in a decent job and favorable work environment, we sometimes feel we should be satisfied and not seek out greater challenges or opportunities. But it’s a mistake to give up on wanting more. That includes having the confidence to stretch yourself, something women may be less likely to do. In particular, women may be hesitant to apply for a job unless they perfectly suit the qualifications. I consider myself to be very confident, and yet if I looked at a job description that said manufacturing experience was preferred and I didn’t have it, I wouldn’t apply. But every job is a learning experience, and hesitating to take a chance could prevent professionals from expanding their knowledge and horizons.   

  1. Invite Alternate Views

Leaders are better informed and better able to make decisions when they hear a variety of differing perspectives or opposing views. When we as leaders have an open mind—and thick skin—we benefit from a broader range of ideas and candid assessments of current problems or needed change. It’s not helpful if everyone agrees with you. Successful people understand the value of differing opinions.

Benefitting from Lessons Learned

Most of us have had good and bad experiences on the job, and there may be times when we feel stuck in our careers. The good news is that there are many lessons that novice and veteran leaders can learn from everyday experiences. The trick is to believe in yourself and to continue to pursue the opportunities you seek.

Kathryn Lockhart, CPA, CGMA, is vice president and controller of Noodles & Company and a member of the AICPA Women’s Initiatives Executive Committee. For more insights into lessons learned by women leaders, visit the Women in the Profession video channel on AICPA TV.

Road courtesy of Shutterstock.



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