If I Knew Then…Business Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks

I’ve been reading a great little book called Climb: Leading Women in Technology Share Their Journeys to Success. The book is a collection of personal stories from female executives about what they’ve learned on the road to the top. Every path is different, and every story is unique.

What I love about this book is that each chapter is a little snapshot perspective from someone who has wonderful insights to share. The stories collected by Sandra Hofmann and Bonnie Daneker are quick reads, so I can pick up the book when I have a short break or a few minutes to wait before a meeting, and I can get a nice little fix of inspiration.

Another thing I love about this book is that it has gotten me thinking about my own life lessons in the school of hard knocks. As I read these women’s stories, I’m reminded how much the things I once thought were true have been put to the test over the years. So much of what my well-meaning parents drilled into my head may have been good advice at the time, but times change and rules get broken or become irrelevant as the world evolves.

With that in mind, here are a few of my own life lessons to share:

  • Trust is Critical to Success: I was brought up to be somewhat skeptical of the motivations of others. Trusting too much was just a recipe for disaster, because letting someone in offered them all the tools they would need to take advantage of me. While that can be true in a cut-throat world, I’ve learned that you never really get the chance to succeed without putting yourself out there.

    You have to be willing to risk a little hurt if you ever want others to trust you. Be real, give a little of yourself, and you’ll find that openness is the doorway to the trust that is so important for building friendships, developing teams, gaining confidence and inspiring others.

  • It Takes More than Hard Work: Don’t get me wrong, hard work and a solid work ethic are vital elements to a successful career. I was taught that hard work was a virtue, an end in itself. Eventually, I learned that just working hard won’t get you where you want to go. You can’t put your nose down, work hard, and hope to be noticed.

    Hard workers who never look up become workhorses, burned out and disillusioned when the promotion doesn’t come, or when all the effort goes unnoticed and someone else gets recognized. Which leads me to my next lesson:

  • Know What You Want, and Speak Up: Go ahead and work hard, but do it with vision and purpose. Know what you want to get from your efforts, and make sure that your boss and others who can help you know where you want to go. Do you want a promotion? Find out what you need to do to get to the next level and do it. If you desire more responsibility, ask.

    When you don’t speak up for yourself and just keep plugging away, day after day, people will assume you are happy as a clam and no change is needed. If you don’t look out for your own interests, why should anyone else be concerned about what you want? You are the captain of your career, take charge and steer your own ship.

  • Bad News is Best in the Morning: OK, that may not make sense, so let me explain. I’ve always told my employees that I want “bad news early.” We all avoid conflict, it’s natural. No one wants to tell their boss the project has been derailed, the budget is out of whack, or that new brochure has a typo and needs to be reprinted. But what happens when you try to hide the bad news in the hope that no one will notice? Inevitably, it gets worse.

    If you see trouble coming and meet it head on, you’ll be in a much stronger position to deal with the problem. So bring me bad news early. Good news can wait. We can celebrate tomorrow. Bad news needs to be tackled, tamed and taken care of. Face it and move on. Then the successes are that much sweeter.

  • Change is Opportunity: Fear of change keeps a lot of people stuck in one place for way too long. Staying in a position you have outgrown, at a company that is going downhill, or with a project that no longer inspires you is one of the worst career mistakes one can make. Change is what keeps us moving forward, growing and developing.

    I’m not against commitment to a company or job you love. My own father taught at the same college for more than 30 years and loved it. I have friends who have been with the same company since college. But looks can be deceiving, because everyone I know who has been with one company for a long time has had many positions, projects and opportunities to grow within that context.

    Long tenures are less and less common these days, and I built my own career on change. Balancing commitment to my current activities with foresight to see what’s next. Learning about new technologies and techniques so I would be ready to seize the next challenge. Embrace change, no matter how difficult it may seem or how uncertain you may feel. Because change create opportunities for success, growth and achievement.

  1. Let me tell you, this post is awesome, specially point # 4which states bad news in the morning, and i am quite impressed with the explanation.

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