Leadership lessons you don’t learn in school, part two

In part one, we introduced the idea that although grade schools and postsecondary educational institutions are instrumental in equipping students with the tools they need to succeed in the workforce, some lessons can’t be taught in the classroom. Instead, they are learned on the job – or, as leadership coach and advisor Roy Osing phrased it, “in the trenches.”

As former executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Canadian telecommunications company TELUS, Osing has more than 33 years of leadership experience. He is currently president and CEO of Brilliance for Business, a consulting firm he founded with the goal of delivering practical advice to people looking to boost their personal and professional performance. Osing recently penned an article for The Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab in which he presented five key leadership lessons he didn’t learn in school. The first two, as detailed in part one, were:

  • There is no all-encompassing “right” answer in leadership – rather, there are numerous advisable and inadvisable paths down which executives may travel. In light of this, leaders must be flexible and willing to give up on Plan A when Plan B (or C, or D…) seems more workable.
  • Failure is often more valuable than success, as it presents a learning opportunity, a chance to deviate from the regular way of doing things and the impetus to analyze current operations to find areas in need of improvement.

The last three lessons identified by Osing are as follows.

Climbing the corporate ladder is a long and deliberate process.”

Looking forward, not backward, is key to success

More often than not, climbing the corporate ladder is a long and deliberate process. When leaders reach the summit of the C-suite, it’s natural for them to want to turn around and look at how far they’ve come, as well as identify what got them to where they are now. However, Osing warned against giving in to this temptation.

“What got you here is irrelevant – it won’t get you to where you need to go,” he asserted. “It’s all about ‘What have you done for me lately?’ Every new challenge requires something different of you. Have the discipline to ask ‘What do I have to do differently now that I have new responsibilities?’ and keep your feet moving. Every day should be a new day in terms of doing something startling.”

It could be said that this approach is more relevant in this day and age than ever before, given the unprecedented speed of technological evolution, the pace of globalization and the ever-changing economic landscape.

Going for the bold can sometimes pay off

Whether a leader has his or her sights set on a promotion or is simply angling for a greater share of the company budget for his or her department, in some cases, it pays to make steep demands.

“People who are known for unique skills and have strong currency within an organization earn the right to be bold, to stick out their chins and blatantly ask for what they want even though it may be ‘ridiculous,'” wrote Osing.

However, having “ridiculous” requests be taken seriously is a privilege that must be earned. Professionals who make such demands without first amassing the leadership capital and respect required will be unlikely to receive what they asked for, and may even damage their reputations in the process.

“Leverage is vital (the organization needs you to perform a vital role) and timing is critical (they need you now),” Osing went on to explain. “If you have both, you will be surprised with what you can accomplish. Make yourself invaluable; watch for the opening and ask.”

Timing is critical when making bold requests.Timing is critical when making bold requests.

Some circumstances are simply beyond leaders’ control

One of the most famous prayers in the world, the Serenity Prayer, involves asking for the serenity to accept the things one cannot change, the courage to change the things one can and the wisdom to know the difference. It’s human nature to dwell upon what didn’t go the way we may have wanted, but leaders must evolve to accept such situations. As Osing put it, “You will always have setbacks; that’s the way it is.”

One of the other lessons that the former TELUS EVP honed in on involved the value of failure, which can also be parlayed into this point. Rather than smarting from the sting of a decision he or she doesn’t agree with, a leader should take a more proactive approach by analyzing what – if anything – could have been done to change the verdict and keeping this in mind for next time. Of course, sometimes there’s simply nothing that could have been done to engineer another outcome.

“The only thing you have any degree of control over is what you do next. So, take the punch; congratulate the winner; muzzle your ego and move on,” Osing wrote.

Dwelling on the present – or, even worse, the past – instead of looking to the future may well result in missed opportunities down the road.

Just as all human beings are unique, so too are leaders. The experiences Osing has had during his illustrious career offer valuable insights, but chances are every leader will be able to point to his or her own set of lessons learned in the school of life rather than the classroom.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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