Leadership. It’s a concept on everyone’s mind in the workplace. From the new hire straight out of college, to the CEO and everyone in between, the last few years have shined an even brighter light on how people are managing, inspiring and growing their teams.
Leadership is something I’m continually considering and am extremely intentional about. During the past 20-plus years, I’ve had formative experiences, both ups and downs, and have arrived at some key philosophies that I believe define a good leader. While I’ll always consider myself a work in progress, here are some lessons I’ve learned thus far.
Find your chief aim
After graduating college, a mentor suggested I write my goals with specific time frames for accomplishing them on the back of a business card. Originally, I wrote down job titles and income levels I wanted to achieve, along with “things” I wanted to possess, which I believed were a representation of my success. When I turned 30, I realized I had met the goals, but wasn’t fulfilled.
About this time, a friend gave me a copy of the book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The author speaks of many traits required to achieve success in life, and one of them is the concept of having a chief aim. I thought long and hard about what I would want to say about my life someday. And based on what I discovered, I also considered what I hoped others would say.
I started thinking differently about success and fulfillment. Instead of what “things” I could accumulate or what job titles I strived for, I decided to make my chief aim more about how many people I could positively impact. This led to a significant career shift. I went back to school to become a doctor, taking classes during the day and working at the county hospital as a phlebotomist at night. However, during that time, a significant life event created the need for me to return to work for a defined period to allow my spouse to stay home with our newborn children until they were healthy enough to be in daycare. So, I pivoted again to find a temporary job that provided enough income to support our new family.
I was confident my commercial finance background would give me the chance to find something quickly and, as luck would have it, a family friend introduced me to banking. My intention was that it would be an interim solution, and then I would return to school, finish my medical degree, and begin positively impacting people through medicine. However, at the end of the first year, our kids where healthy, my wife was ready to go back to work, and she quickly asked me if I was ready to go back to school. And I wasn’t. I loved what I was doing, who I was doing it with, and where I was doing it. I had found true passion and fulfillment in being a banker and a leader.
Most importantly, I found my chief aim, and it trumped my original business card goals. I realized it’s not about money, title or tangible things. It’s about helping others find their chief aim and how they can employ it in their career—to have an impact and help others find belief in themselves and push them to see and believe what they can accomplish when they put in the work to make it happen.
That chief aim changed the way I looked at my work—my purpose shifted from being focused on my success to concentrating on others and the impact I could have as a leader. And it’s what still fuels me more than two decades later.
Know what’s important to the individuals on your team
Early in my career, I was chipping away in a sales role and having success. I had a manager who was inspiring and motivating, which was helping me achieve success, and then one day, he took his encouragement and support to a new level.
Our company-wide team was gathered at our annual internal conference. The CEO of this very large organization was a leader who I especially admired and had been studying closely to learn about his leadership style and approach. My manager at the time noticed this. Unprompted, he grabbed me by the arm, marched me through the crowd and right up to the CEO.
He spent the only time he had with our CEO (who he did not know) to introduce me and spend time telling him what great work I was doing and why he should keep an eye on me as a future leader of the company. This manager displayed true servant leadership. He put my success at the forefront of his purpose that day. He could have used that introduction to highlight himself. Instead, he displayed incredible leadership and focused his time on promoting me.
I left that conversation feeling more invigorated and motivated than ever before. I try to carry forward that leadership lesson – it’s critical to recognize your team’s motivations and work to provide opportunities to stoke their developmental fire. Put their success first and yours will follow.
It’s about more than the job
Each job has “everyday” work. However, it’s critical we see and consider the bigger picture versus just checking off to-do lists and collecting our paychecks. We must have a broader perspective to make a true impact.
For me, I see banking as a noble occupation that, ultimately, makes our communities a better place.
Without a bank, business growth would slow, people would have a harder time accumulating and managing wealth, and innovation in general would be stymied. Banks also act as a hub in the community – a place for people to gather, connect and provide support for one another.
One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which illustrates this point perfectly. Without Bailey Building and Loan stepping in to find creative and necessary financial solutions to managing a financial crisis, the entire city of Bedford Falls would have suffered. As finance professionals, we are not just doing a job, we are playing a key role in the overall well-being of our communities. As a leader, I work to emulate this each day and remind our team of the bigger picture. Remaining mindful about the broad-reaching impact of what we do can keep us all motivated, even during down days.
Leadership can, and should, take on a variety of forms. Whatever the approach or scenario, it’s imperative to lead by example, serve those you are leading, and continue to grow and evolve yourself as a leader.
Like I said, I’ll always be a work in progress. I hope others will be, too.
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