The best advice they never gave me
This Wednesday night I have been invited to deliver a guest lecture to the commerce students at the University of NSW.
It’s made me reflect on the best advice that I was never given when I went to Business school in the 1980’s.
I’m not suggesting that if I was given this advice in my early 20’s that I would have taken it. I might not have been ready for it. I just can’t seem to recall ever receiving it from any of my lecturers or early business mentors.
When I speak to tomorrow’s business leaders at the UNSW this week, here’s a brief summary of what I’ll be telling them.
As your career starts to unfold you have to learn to trust that magic balance of luck, opportunity and timing. All three, combined with your own courage and appetite for risk will determine how successful your career will be.
Here are the 5 pieces of advice that I wish I had received earlier in my career:
1. Start learning now how to become a better leader
You will learn very little about leadership by following others. Leadership takes years to learn and a lifetime to master. Don’t wait until you are applying for leadership roles to start learning about it. Be brave. Think about the path you want your career to head down. Have the courage to make more decisions every day. Learn how to empower others through excelling at delegation and relationship skills. Improve your listening skills. Learn how to present with style, in a clear and concise fashion. Put your hand up whenever there is a chance to lead projects. Recognise that leadership will never be a popularity contest. Quite simply, your career success will be stifled if you can’t lead.
2. Understand that most people are not like you
The business world you are entering is already a global one. You need to excel at understanding how to communicate with people from a broad range of backgrounds. If you look around this room or think about the people who were on the bus with you today, you will notice that they come from a broad range of backgrounds. These people represent your future business partners, suppliers, clients and staff. You will have to learn to build quality commercial relationships with people who are not like you. Every culture has slightly and often very subtle ways of doing business. Work on learning more about how men and women are valued and treated in different cultures. Become a cultural ambassador if you have any desire to work outside of Australia or with clients from non-Australian backgrounds.
3. Learn how to sell
Not just products, but ideas and services. If you start learning how to sell early in your career you will have a huge start on the girl sitting next to you in this lecture theatre. Yes, that girl, right next to you. Her marks might be higher than yours, but if she can’t sell or influence others, and you can, you will earn a lot more in the long run. Probably three or four times as much as her. Selling is a skill. It’s like learning a musical instrument. It can be taught if you have the desire and discipline. Future employers and business partners will see you as being far more employable than the other candidates they are looking at if you can sell and have evidence of selling skills.
4. Become a great networker
One day, when you run your own business and trust me most of you will want to at least try it, you will need an ABN. The best networkers know that this really stands for Always Be Networking. Start immediately. S.I.T. (Stay in touch) with a broad range of people. Connect people. Seek out mentors who will enjoy assisting you and watching you grow and fulfil your potential. Form your own networking group with like - minded, focussed, switched on people. If you are always looking to find ways of assisting others you will be amazed what could happen with your career. Use social media wisely. I suggest that you think of it more as a career builder rather than as a way of getting a date.
5. Be brave and back yourself
A fulfilling career will come through taking risks. Staying in the same unfulfilling role for year after year simply because it pays your rent will not be much fun for you or your family. Don’t think about what might have been or could have happened. Make it happen. Why not? You have the same amount of time as great entrepreneurs like Janine Allis (Boost Juice founder), Carolyn Creswell (Carmens fine foods), Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos (Amazon founder), Tony Hsheih (Zappos founder).
The best time to take those risks is sooner, rather than later. Not in 4 years’ time when you have more qualifications that might not mean too much to your future employers.
I know you are marketing students, however be wary of too much market research. The late Steve Jobs never really trusted it. For a variety of reasons, people will say certain things when they are being researched. Henry Ford once said that if he had used market research people would have told him they wanted a faster horse.
As you look around this room you are probably thinking who is going to be the person who will be the most successful in their career? Will it be the girl in the row in front of you? Will it be the guy who thinks he’s cool at the back of the room with his headphones on?
Well, I think that it could be you. If you follow the 5 tips that I have outlined and can combine an ounce of luck with opportunity and timing, perhaps it will be. Why not?