GMT NewYork London Moscow Tokyo Sydney




7 Soft Skills You Need to Achieve Career Growth

Is there someone (or hopefully, several someones) at your company who it seems like everyone wants to work with?

Maybe they always get pulled into brainstorms, or maybe your team’s leaders consult with them. Or maybe it just seems like everyone on your team just really, really likes them.

It might be because they’re the nicest person in the world, or it might be because they have a finely-honed set of soft skills.Download our leadership guide for actionable advice & guidelines from  HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah. 

What exactly are soft skills, and why are they so important to growing your career? Keep reading to find out.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills are the combination of people skills, social skills, communication skills, emotional intelligence, and personality traits that make it easy to get along and work harmoniously with other people.

Soft skills can be taught, but they’re not as straightforward as hard skills: those specific qualities and skills that can be clearly defined, measured, and taught for success in a job.

Hard skills can be quantified and advanced. You can learn advanced mathematics or writing skills, and you can get better at shipping code.

But when it comes to soft skills — things like small talk, empathy, and flexibility — it’s not as straightforward.

That doesn’t mean soft skills aren’t worth investing in — and practicing. You need hard skills to land a job, but you need soft skills to progress in your career. So we’ve rounded up a list of the soft skills most critical to building a successful career — and how you can brush up on them.

7 Soft Skills You Need to Achieve Career Growth

1) Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is often referred to as the ability to recognize and manage your emotions and the emotions of others. It’s made up of five key elements:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-regulation
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social skill

You can read more about the specifics of the attributes of emotional intelligence in this blog post if you want to learn more, but in the context of the workplace, emotional intelligence boils to a few key abilities:

  • Can you recognize and regulate your emotions and reactions in the workplace?
  • Can you build rapport and positive relationships with other people?
  • Can you empathize with others?
  • Can you give — and receive — effective, constructive feedback?

It might not sound like the most important skill for job growth and success, but in some cases, it is. In an analysis of new employees who didn’t meet expectations during the first 18 months on the job, 23% failed due to low emotional intelligence. (Take this quiz to rate your emotional intelligence and identify areas where you can improve.)

2) Team Player Attitude

The ability to play well with others is a soft skill you’ve been working on — unknowingly — since your first day of pre-school or daycare. You might not have known it when you were fighting over blocks or figuring out the rules of a made-up game, but you were actually preparing for a lifetime of workplace collaboration.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or a people manager, you have to work with other people — in meetings, in brainstorms, and on various cross-functional projects within your company. A positive, can-do attitude when it comes to working with others is essential to team harmony, which means you need to be able to run an effective and inclusive meeting, be open to new ideas, and work respectfully with others.

Read our guide to running better meetings for all personality types here, and brush up on these rapport-building questions to get to know and work well with any team member you encounter.

3) Growth Mindset

In any job, no matter what the role, you’ll encounter roadblocks, disappointments, and other situations that might frustrate you. A soft skill that’s critical to your ability to persevere is having a growth mindset — a term psychologist Carol Dweck coined to refer to a frame of thinking that reflects viewing your abilities, talents, and intelligence as skills you can grow and improve upon.

Someone with a growth mindset might look at a failure to meet a quarterly goal as an opportunity to identify their strengths and weaknesses to tackle the next quarter’s goal. A person with a fixed mindset, however, might say to themselves, “I’m not good at blogging,” and let that negative outlook — without any belief in the capability of improvement — impact their next quarter’s success, too.

Watch Dweck’s TED Talk to learn more about the growth mindset here — and try to find places in your daily correspondence or reflections where you can reframe your outlook by viewing a challenge or setback as a way you can grow.

4) Openness to Feedback

This is part of emotional intelligence, but especially when it comes to the workplace, being open and able to receive development feedback is critical to success at a job — especially a new job.

Think about it: Constructive feedback helps you do the best job you can, and if you take it personally or react defensively, you aren’t able to hear the feedback and adapt it to your current strategy.

The key to giving and receiving feedback is to come into the conversation from a place of kindness: You aren’t receiving constructive feedback because that person hates you personally, it’s because they want you to be the best you can be. You should be chomping at the bit to receive feedback that can help you more effectively hit your goals.

If you don’t feel comfortable with feedback yet, try immersion therapy — make feedback a part of your daily to-do list. Ask for feedback from more people you work with to get immediate help honing your skill set — and to help make it easier to take.

5) Adaptability

No matter what your role, and no matter what your industry, the ability to adapt to change — and a positive attitude about change — go a long way toward growing a successful career.

Whether it’s a seat shuffle or a huge company pivot, nobody likes a complainer. It’s important not only to accept change as a fact of life in the constantly-evolving business world, but as an opportunity to try out new strategies for thriving in environments of change (remember the growth mindset?).

If you don’t feel comfortable with frequent changes, either on your team or at your company, write down your feelings and reactions, instead of immediately voicing them. By laying out how you feel and why you feel a certain way, you’ll be able to distinguish legitimate concerns from complaints that might not need to be discussed with your team.

6) Active Listening

You probably can tell the difference between when someone is hearing words you’re saying and when they’re actively listening to what you’re saying. If someone is typing while you’re presenting at a meeting, or they’re giving you that slack-jawed look, they probably aren’t really hearing what you’re saying.

Active listeners, meanwhile, pay close attention to meeting presenters, offer up clarifying questions or responses, and refer back to notes in future discussions. They don’t need things repeated to them because they heard them the first time — making active listeners not only respectful colleagues, but more effective workers, too.

If you think you could stand to improve your active listening skills, challenge yourself not to look at your various devices during meetings — instead to focus completely on speakers, and take notes by hand if needed (which is proven to help with memory retention).

7) Work Ethic

You can’t succeed in a role without being willing to put in the time, effort, and elbow grease to hit your goals, and company leaders and hiring managers are looking for people who will put in the extra legwork to succeed without being asked.

If you want to get a new job or get promoted, it’s essential that you hone your work ethic — so quit bellyaching and put in the extra time you need to succeed. Or, if excelling means learning new skills or tools, dedicate time to learning those outside of work hours so you can make your time in the office as effectively as possible.

What weaves all of these soft skills together is a positive attitude. It might sound cheesy, but believing that there’s a positive outcome in any and all challenging situations will help you navigate the day-to-day of your job while making other people really want to work with you. These soft skills are harder to teach, but the payoff might be even bigger, so make sure you’re investing time and effort into auditing and improving your soft skill set.

free ebook: leadership lessons

New Call-to-action




How to Ask for a Promotion (and Have Other Tough Conversations With Your Boss)

Last year, my colleagues launched a tool called The Next Five to help people navigate through those times in their career where they’re feeling kind of stuck. You know — when you’re just not sure what the next step is on your career path.

And while many of us think about this stuff from time to time — and maybe even practice the speeches to go with them in the shower or in the car — I don’t think we often verbalize our thoughts on where we want our career paths to go, if we even know ourselves.

So, we did a little research to see how often people are actually asking for promotions, or talking with their managers about the next steps in their career paths. It’s pretty hard to find a ton of hard data on it — if you know of any, please send it our way — but we did find this: The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average tenure for today’s worker is 4.4 years. If you focus on just younger employees, that number halves.Download our leadership guide for actionable advice & guidelines from  HubSpot's Dharmesh Shah. 

What’s more, 91% of workers born between 1977 and 1997 report going into new jobs with the intent of staying less than three years.

While it sure seems like a jumpy career path is normal, there’s more to be said about the importance of these career discussions. After all, if your manager or employer yourself, which would you prefer: helping your team progress internally, or having them leave for what seems like a better opportunity elsewhere?

And if you’re looking to have this conversation with your boss, keep that question in mind. To help you get the conversation started, let’s take a closer look at why they matter and how you can get the most out of them.

Why Ask for a Promotion? Do Career Path Conversations Even Matter?

Some workplaces look at job-hopping as a phenomenon we just need to accept in this day and age. And they’re probably right … to an extent. I don’t think many industries should expect to return to a time when people stayed at companies for decades. But we might be able to find more longevity out of our roles than we do right now.

Quite frankly, job-hopping sucks for more than just the organization that has to rehire and retrain someone every couple years — it sucks for the employee, too. Yes, maybe they get promotions and raises — in fact, it’s not an uncommon way to make your way up the career ladder. But it also means taking a risk, adjusting to a new team and a new manager — possibly finding out one or both of those are a poor fit — and figuring out the nuances of a workplace and job that you could end up hating.

Worst case scenario? You end up out of work at the end of all that, and you’re back on the interview circuit.

So I think it behooves of all of us to have these conversations about what we want our career paths to look like with ourselves, and our managers. It helps us get closer to the work and life we want, and it helps clue our managers in on how to give it to us.

A Few Helpful Guidelines

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty of these conversations, let’s set some ground rules for how these conversations go. Keep these in mind before you launch a large-scale discussion about your career path.

  1. Think about your relationship with your boss. If you’re on good terms, great — chances are, the door is open and you can be candid about what you see for your career trajectory, or your confusion around it. The best managers are the ones who know how to create or find opportunities that combine your skills, interests, and challenges, so these are some things to outline before the conversation. However, if your relationship with your boss isn’t so splendid, or she’s just not in a decision-making position like this one, look higher. Figure out who the best person is to speak with, even if she works in a different department.
  2. Chat with colleagues who are changing roles. When someone on your team is leaving her role, knowing why can help you determine what you see for your own career path, and perhaps give considerations to possible changes that you didn’t otherwise think of. Plus, if she’s leaving a vacancy as a result, that might be an opportunity for you — find out what the true nature of the role is; then, determine the next steps for applying for it internally, if it’s a good fit.
  3. Be your own hiring manager. Many managers crave a sense of proactivity and the ability to solve problems independently from their teams. Remember what we said earlier about what makes a good manager? By figuring out some of these things yourself — like the types of opportunities that are a truly a strong combination of your skills and interests, as well as the team’s unmet needs — you might be able to create your own promotion and subsequent role. Explain why your idea checks off those boxes and meet with your team or boss to discuss it. But be sure to come prepared with a clear idea of what’s next, and how to plan to execute this development should it be approved.

What Elements Make Up an Effective Career Path Conversation?

I’m gonna put my money where my mouth is and talk about my own experiences with these conversations.

I’ve had career path conversations with many bosses — the last formal one was around March — but I’ve also held them with people on my team. Both have been awkward … sometimes. But both have been totally normal and non-cringe-inducing just as often.

When I look back at all those conversations at a macro-level, the good ones (whether they were about my career or my teammates’) all came down to three elements:

  • Relationship
  • Timing
  • Forethought

1) Relationship

Technically, this shouldn’t matter. You should be able to have productive career path conversations no matter the manager-employee relationship. But it would be naive to think the relationship you have with your boss doesn’t play into how well these conversations go. That’s not to say the closer you two are, the better the conversations go — sometimes the closer you are, the harder it is to have frank conversations.

But the better you know each other, and the more ease you have talking with one another, the more likely you’ll have already sorted out communication styles that work. You’ll just know how to get from point A to point B with less pain and awkwardness, because you’ve done it before.

It also gives you the ability to “read the room,” so to speak. You can tell if something you said is being poorly received or misunderstood. Those soft skills matter when you’re talking about career paths because they can accidentally veer into uncomfortable territory and leave people feeling insecure if the communication is off.

If you don’t already have a strong working relationship, it doesn’t preclude you from pulling off a successful conversation. It just makes the next two items — timing and forethought — all the more important.

It also might help to run a few practice rounds with someone so you can make sure you’re clearly verbalizing what you intend. Former HubSpotter Katherine Boyarsky does this and can’t recommend it enough: “Have a mantra that you can repeat in your head during the conversation that helps center you if you go off on a tangent,” she explains.

Aim to be very clear, direct, and forthright with what you’re looking to do without putting the other party on the defensive.

2) Timing

There have been a few career conversations I’ve had in the past that were ill-timed. It didn’t turn them into an utter disaster, but they just didn’t seem to stick. The most common instances where the timing has been off in my experience have been:

  • My boss didn’t know I wanted to have the conversation/I sprung the conversation on a team member in our 1:1. When it comes to talking about your career path, you can’t expect great results from a conversation in which half the people in the room are unprepared. Give everyone some time to think about this. After all, it’s a massive topic that has a lot of moving parts to consider.
  • We tacked it on to the end of a meeting but didn’t have enough time to finish the conversation. Because your career path is such a massive topic, allot enough time to do it justice. I think career discussions are best when they take place over a series of conversations, so it’s alright if you just have a quick thought once in a while. But if you haven’t had this talk with your boss or employee yet (or it’s been a while), make a separate meeting dedicated to this, and only this.
  • I could tell my boss was distracted due to other sources of stress. This is where that “reading the room” I mentioned earlier comes into play. Even if you’ve pre-planned a career path meeting, sometimes things come up that distract one or both of the participants. If you’re picking up on some body language — or spoken language — that indicates distraction, reschedule the meeting.

3) Forethought

A lot of this post so far has been a 50/50 thing — managers and employees should both be held accountable for this career path stuff. But when it comes to forethought, this lies largely on the employees’ shoulders. We need to think about what we want to do in our career. No one can tell us the answer to: “What do you want to do in five years?

Sure, your manager, a mentor, or your family and friends can all talk you through that stuff, but it does come down to you to take ownership over the direction in which you want your career to go.

So, put some forethought into the ways your career path could take shape before broaching the subject with your manager. Some people tend to have really clear career goals, while others are a little more … floaty. That’s fine. If you find yourself in the “floaty” camp, here’s are a couple things to think about to get your brain going:

First, it’s okay to not know what you want from your career at all times. I tend to bucket my life in quadrants:

  • Relationships (friends, family, love)
  • Career (skill development, promotions, satisfaction from the work I’m doing)
  • Hobbies (beach bumming, ghost stuff)
  • Health (exercise, cooking, happiness, clean home)

Typically, not all of those areas of my life are banging on all cylinders at once. When life is going great, usually three — maybe only two — are rocking and rolling while the rest are in stasis for a bit. Sometimes, that thing that’s in stasis is your career. And that’s fine. You don’t need to be thinking about your career path all the time. But if you feel a general ennui, it might be that too many of those areas of your life are lagging — and one could very possibly be your career.

If that’s the case, ask yourself this …

What does the team look like today, versus a year from now?

First, think about this question hypothetically — assessing gaps that will need to be filled down the line, and aligning them with company goals. Then, talk to other leaders in the company and on your team about where they see the team going in a year, and what kinds of goals people might focus on in the future.

This is where your manager can help you, and where I have seen really successful (and non-awkward) career path conversations begin. If you can get a sense of what the organization’s needs will be over the next 12 months, you can start to see which of those needs you’re interested in helping fulfill — because even if your dream job is X, there’s not much anyone can do for you if the company’s investments are in Y.

Finally, remember that career progress comes from a lot of different places, and that progress is indicated by a lot of different things. It comes from skill development, networking, and aligning with projects that advance both personal and company goals. And all of that takes time.

If we want to benchmark our progress, we need to look at more than just promotions. Instead, we need to focus on whether we’re developing new skills, being given more responsibility and autonomy, putting ourselves in mildly uncomfortable situations that help us get better at stuff (hello, public speaking), working with new people in the organization, being asked for our opinion more often, or being pulled into meetings with people we respect and admire.

These are all really good signs of progress that are hard to formalize, but indicate you’re taking the right steps to get your career on the path you’re aiming for.

What Would an Expert Say About All of This?

I’m glad you asked.

That was all based on my experience — holding career path conversations with team members, and with my own manager. But let’s ask an actual HR professional who has spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff.

I talked to our Senior HR Business Partner Brianna Manning, and asked her for the advice she would give someone who was struggling to hold productive conversations about career advancement. She echoed two of the sentiments we’ve already talked about — preparation, and giving a heads up that you want to have this conversation. One point in particular Manning shared regarding preparation is the importance of establishing career trajectory dialogue from the beginning of your relationship together:

“If your manager is well aware of what direction you want to take your career, they can purposefully plan on assignments and projects that help set you in the right direction. In fact, if you want to follow your manager’s path, specifically, you should be direct and let them know that. Ask them to lunch to talk through their challenges, and learn what kinds of projects they took on to help get the skills they needed for the role.”

If you feel unsure of how to start that conversation because you don’t have that solid relationship yet, she provided some sample language that helps make it less intimidating:

“Try opening with something like ‘I learned about this really great resource to help us make the most of our 1:1s and layer in some career development focus — would you be open to trying it?’ or ‘I want to make sure we bake in time for communication around career development in our 1:1s, can we set aside five minutes for that on the agenda on a weekly basis?'”

But Pierce hit on one other important point in initiating these conversations I would be remiss to gloss over: You have to build trust and credibility to have productive career conversations.

It’s really difficult for your manager to focus on your career path if you aren’t succeeding in your current role. Make sure you’ve got a handle on your responsibilities before setting your sights on the next thing. In some cases, it might be wiser to focus on the “now” of your career path rather than the next turn down the road. As Pierce put it:

“If you demonstrate that you always deliver on current responsibilities, and always try to go the extra mile, you’ll build credibility and trust around your own personal brand. This will open doors for you. Just remember that it all takes time. It can’t happen overnight.”

She emphasized that credibility also comes from owning the follow-through on those career conversations. If your manager has opened up some doors for you, make sure you own your progression by nailing those stretch assignments, introductions, or whatever it is you’ve been given an opportunity to shine doing.

What Should You Expect to Get From These Career Path Conversations?

If you’re expecting a specific result out of one conversation, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You wouldn’t expect your manager to come in and dump a promotion on your lap, so you shouldn’t expect to solve your career destiny in one swoop.

In order for those doors to open, all relevant parties must be envisioning you in a certain role for a few months, at least.

I would say the best results typically come from people that think about their career path often, and have frequent — whether formal or informal — conversations about it.

Most of all, those with the most interesting paths tend to just keep an open mind about the different, jagged, very weird ways we all make our way through our careers.

Need help doing a little soul-searching? Take a few minutes to check out The Next Five.

free ebook: leadership lessons

New Call-to-action


p class=”wpematico_credit”>Powered by WPeMatico




Demystifying Creative Success: How to Build a Creative Career from Scratch

Published by in category Career Development, marketing agency | Comments are closed

If you start your career at a corporate bank, the path to success is usually presented as a clear progression of incremental promotions, straightforward skill requirements, and predictable time lines.

For those of us hell-bent on pursuing a creative career, there is no luxury of a well-trodden path.

Achieving big league success in a creative field can seem like an elusive confluence of meeting the right people, pushing your work into the right hands, and stumbling into the right room at just the right time. It’s grueling, inexact, and more than a little dependent on luck. 

While there’s never going to be a simple, tried-and-true road map to creative success, there is value in speaking to people who have forged their own path in a creative industry, and learning from their experiences. 

To start demystifying the path to creative success, we turned to Vanessa Holden, the newly-appointed executive design director of Sub Rosa, a strategy and design practice based in Manhattan.

If anyone’s “made it” in a creative field, it’s Holden. Her expansive career includes creative leadership roles at some the world’s most highly-regarded lifestyle publications and brands, including West Elm, Williams-Sonoma, Martha Stewart Living and Weddings, Vogue Living, Real Simple, and Marie Claire.

In her new role at Sub Rosa, she’ll be leading the agency’s design team, guiding the direction of multi-media projects for clients like Adobe, Comedy Central, and GE. 

Below, Holden discusses her unique path from freelancer to agency leader, how she evaluates creative risk, and the absolute best career advice she’s ever received. 

Vanessa Holden Talks Creative Success

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their creative career?

Holden: I started out freelancing because I wanted to try a lot of different things. I have always throughout my career toggled between full-time and freelance or consulting roles. I think there’s no better way to start your career than to freelance and ask questions. Be a person who’s really looking to learn, and you’ll gain a lot over just a few short projects or only a handful of clients.

One thing I would caution people about is that although the fluidity of freelancing is really appealing and there’s plenty of that work, committing to a full-time position and building something over a two or three-year period offers its own unique opportunities for growth.

Don’t take on freelance projects passively. Do it actively. Then, when you really want to learn more about yourself, commit to something for a longer chunk of time. Because there is a big difference between designing things or producing things on a project by project basis, and building a career. Creative people build careers over decades and every project you take on should be actively shaping your career in some way.

Do you still use any of the connections you built as a freelancer today?

Holden: Absolutely. No question. There are people that I call on now 25 years later who I can work with as easily today as the day that we first worked together. My network at this point is truly global.

Certainly the other thing about freelancing is that you get a marketing mindset, because you’re always reconfiguring your narrative. Who are you as a designer? How are you positioning yourself and your network and your contacts? There’s tremendous cumulative value to maintaining those relationships over time, not least because they’re super energizing and it’s exciting, and it’s fun being creative and working with people for 20 plus years and growing together.

Wherever you end up — for me starting in Sydney and having friends now literally everywhere across the world, or even just knowing a bunch of people in agencies or different kinds of creative roles across the city — there’s nothing more valuable than building your network. I’m actually right in the thick of having these conversations with my daughter. It all happens right there in the beginning. It does.

How do you decide it’s time to take on a new career challenge?

Holden: I moved to America to work in publishing. I had always worked in publishing and always imagined that would be my entire career. I was a print brand girl, always multichannel, but print was really at the center of any brand I was developing or working on.

In 2008, there was a radical acceleration in digital. The explosion of mobile apps created this really intense, almost immediate shift within the industry, and made me really reconsider what my skill set was and how it was applicable to things beyond print.

I was at a point where I could have gone in lots of different directions. I was then at Martha Stewart Living. I had a fantastic opportunity over three years there to flex into the multichannel space as digital was evolving.

By the time I started having a conversation with West Elm and thinking about what my next growth opportunity might be, I was keenly aware that publishing was just one facet of a more rounded toolkit I had. It became more about brand building — regardless of the actual output.

When I started that conversation with West Elm it became a story about being a proficient visual storyteller, which is really what I had been throughout my entire career. I started out as a graphic designer and an art director. Visual storytelling had always been central to what it was that I was doing anyway, and then the question was, “Oh, but am I ready for retail?”

Moving into editorializing a brand felt really like new territory. To me it was a very natural kind of extension of what I was doing in my day-to-day anyway, and for me was the best kind of risk because I had the toolkit that I needed to apply to it. I just needed to learn about a completely new context.

I think it’s risky to stay still. I think it’s risky to stay with what you know — which isn’t to say you should constantly be moving. With the freelance economy right now, it is possible to move too much, where you don’t learn enough about yourself and your skills because there’s so much movement.

But I do think it’s risky for anybody to say, “Oh, this is what I do, and I’m going to keep doing it for the next 10 years.” That’s just, I think, completely unrealistic.

When I think about risk or stability and what that ideal balance is, I think I have a pretty fluid approach to growing a career. I’m just always looking to expand my toolkit.

How do you decide which projects to pursue, and which to pass on?

Holden: I think I’m actually leaning how to do that now. I think I’m a person who says yes to everything. I also have a family, and that’s definitely always been the thing that comes first for me.

When I look at which ideas to scrap or which to move forward with, it’s like what’s my maximum capacity and what can I fit in there? I am learning to be more selective about my time, I guess, right now.

Seeking out spare time that’s truly just down time is also really important. I like to be really busy, but you need open time. How do you not just chase the ideas, but also prioritize unstructured growth time? It’s everybody’s challenge right now. I wouldn’t say that I had that figured out. I don’t know that I’m ever going to have that figured out!

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Holden: My three-part thing is: Get in front of it, ask for what you need, and own it.

Jim [Brett] at West Elm told me, “Imagine what it is that you want. Do a vision exercise for yourself, whether or not that’s a facet of a job or a bigger vision for where you want to be over time. What are you looking for? Get in front of it.”

Ask for what you need is the second part. People don’t know how to help you until you can ask them for something, until you actually verbalize that. I think people don’t ask for help with as much frequency as they probably should. Then once you have those two things — you have your vision and you have what you need — own your responsibility in delivering on that.

That to me creates extraordinarily rich creative space, because you have everything you need to execute what your vision — whether it’s for yourself or for a client on a project.

New Call-to-action

Powered by WPeMatico




Age Is Just a Number: How to Be a Leader at Any Stage of Your Career


I have a confession to make: I used to be embarrassed by my age.

And I don’t mean I was a little bit embarrassed. I’m talking a gut-wrenching level of embarrassment to the point where I would either lie about my age or deny the person a response.

After years of doing everything possible to avoid those four little words, I have managed to overcome my embarrassment — partly because I’m a little older, but mainly because I’ve come to terms with what I have accomplished and the hard work it took to get there.

History is laden with young leaders — trailblazers who envisioned goals that those above them seemed unable to see — and I believe there are more now than ever before. The pace of business is accelerating and I believe it is due to the unbridled energy and enthusiasm of young people who aren’t afraid to say, “I can do this, and I can do it really well.”

Take Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, and Amy Schumer for instance. They’re all incredibly intelligent and successful young people who took advantage of a unique opportunity that seemingly no one else could see. They were also dedicated, methodical, strategic, and they understood what it would take to succeed.

I wouldn’t want anyone to suffer the embarrassment and insecurities I’ve felt by being young, hungry, and capable. As a young leader in the making, it’s important you know how to free yourself of this curiously common case of professional ageism. Below are my tips for doing just that.

1) Understand the business.

The most important thing that’s happening in your workplace is the overall health and prosperity of the business. It is vital that you not only work hard in your position, but also that you understand how your role fits in with the rest of the business to drive real results. 

And don’t ever be afraid to demonstrate this intelligence. For instance, if you happen to step into the elevator with the CFO, ask a question that represents your awareness of what matters to them, instead of a casual “So, how’s business?”

2) Be an active listener.

Even if you are a young leader in the making, you are still very much a student of leadership. Listen, ask questions, and soak up as much as possible. Your more experienced colleagues may or may not be leaders, but they’ve no doubt seen many more things than you have. Their insight could be invaluable — even if you don’t agree with their point of view.

3) Demonstrate your abilities

You don’t need a promotion to grow at work. If you think you can lead, then all you need to do is prove it.

This means asking for opportunity to shine, and demonstrating that you can step up when duty calls. It might only be a small task, but others will take notice.

4) Challenge the status quo.

Even the most traditional company should be open to new ideas (and if yours is not, maybe a new job is what you need). Even if the answer is ‘no,’ the fact that you aren’t afraid to reimagine ways of doing things will get you noticed.

It’ll be easiest to do this when you first start a job. When I worked at Microsoft, my mentor told me that you only have about six months to question everything before the position starts to change your lens — so don’t be apprehensive about challenging old ideas.

5) Know what you know (and what you don’t).

I worked really hard during school and was really pleased with where my scores landed, but I would never claim to be an expert in all of my subjects. In that same light, there are frequently aspects of your job that sit outside of your specialty. You should be confident in your expertise, but never be embarrassed by what you don’t know — it’s the only way you’ll ever give yourself an opportunity to learn more.

6) Share your unique thoughts.

No one looks at things quite like you do, and your insight could be invaluable at the appropriate time. Your opinions might not shake the earth every time, but there’s no harming in sharing what you think with others. In fact, it takes guts to share your opinions — especially if they are potentially controversial. So while you may not be a thought leader just yet, you can test the waters by writing blog posts, engaging in Twitter conversations, planning coffee catch-ups, and taking advantages of chance elevator encounters. 

7) Take and give feedback without getting defensive.

Many young leaders get defensive far too quickly, and they guard their ideas like they’re children. Push that zeal aside for a moment and take on feedback in any form — good or bad. You should also become able to share feedback with others as they’ll respect your honesty, even if they don’t show it the first time. The more feedback you receive and the more you give, the better you’ll become at yielding positive outcomes. Everyone will improve around you … which is what leadership is all about.

8) Take well-assessed risks.

Being young and bold can have its clear advantages. With less to lose, taking strategic risks will be key to your success. Zuckerberg, Mayer, and Schumer took risks, but they were meticulous in their execution and confident in their abilities. They were lucky in some ways, but they were also prepared and sure of themselves.

9) Remember, not everyone is like you.

If you’re reading this post, you’re likely someone who is interested in growing themselves. Keep in mind that not everyone is interested in moving into a leadership role. Some people prefer being individual contributors who excel in niche opportunities while others maybe just aren’t cut out for leadership in the first place. And that’s okay.

In the past, my inexperience has occasionally lead me to judge my peers harshly because they didn’t have what I call ‘B-HAGs’ (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). I’ve learnt that to be a great leader, you need to be aware of everything that’s going on around you — and that includes understanding and accepting how your colleagues differ from you.

I believe my story represents the aspirations of many young professionals who share an eagerness — a compulsion — to further themselves both personally and professionally. I just want to make one thing clear to other young leaders who are working hard to improve themselves: Always be proud of who you are and what you have accomplished because that’s the driving impetus of your future success. twitter-logo.png

Register for INBOUND 2015!




20 Mantras Great Leaders Live By Every Day


This post originally appeared on the Sales section of Inbound Hub. To read more content like this, subscribe to Sales.

Leadership can be a difficult characteristic to understand. Which qualities make someone a good leader? Do those same qualities translate to all aspects of life, or can a person successfully lead a sports team but fail in the boardroom? Are people born leaders, or can anyone inspire others to follow them?

I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions, and I doubt that many people do.

But when I think about what it takes to be an effective leader, I am invariably reminded of late summer conversations with my grandfather on the deck of his home on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. We talked about anything and everything together — from the current state of Red Sox Nation to the most effective technique for shucking the cherrystone clams we collected earlier that day. But, on occasion, the discussion would drift towards more business-oriented topics and I got a free lesson in leadership studies from one of the very best.

To provide a little background, Don Davis, my grandfather, left a distinguished career in corporate America in 1988 to pursue his “retirement” as a professor at MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations program. During his 22-year tenure at the school, he shared the lessons he learned from his time in business and inspired more than a few of today’s most influential leaders.

As I am sure any of his former students will tell you, it would be nearly impossible to boil down all of his lessons into a single blog post. Fortunately, those same students were kind enough to compile a Memory Book after he passed away in order to share some of his most important teachings, namely the 20 leadership mantras that were core to his curriculum.

Here are those 20 mantras, along with some insight from our Martha’s Vineyard discussions. (For a more personal explanation of how these mantras helped various students succeed in business, you can find the Memory Book in its entirety here.)

1) Leaders don’t choose their followers. Followers choose their leaders.

One cannot simply choose to lead a group of people. You may be a leader in title, but you’re not a legitimate leader if your followers do not believe in you and your vision.

2) Followers choose leaders they trust, respect, and feel comfortable with.

If you don’t have the trust and respect of your followers, how are you supposed to make the connection necessary to inspire them to achieve great things?

3) Be yourself. The number of leadership styles is limitless.

There is no scientific formula for what makes a good leader, only a belief in your own ability as well as the ability of your followers to be successful.

4) Leaders need a base of power and authority — but the more they use it, the less there is left.

Needless to say, effective leadership requires a certain amount of authority. Like most forms of capital, that power is finite. Use it sparingly and only when necessary.

5) The best leadership is based on persuasion.

Anyone can have a vision. Leaders have the ability to persuade others to believe in their vision.

6) Leaders set the ethical standards and tone of their organizations by their behavior.

As a leader, you set the example. Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want printed on the cover of the New York Times. Your followers are avid readers.

7) Integrity is the bedrock of effective leadership. Only you can lose your integrity.

Unethical behavior is a slippery slope. Avoid the slope at all costs because everyone slips.

8) “Selfship” is the enemy of leadership.

A true leader cares more about the success of his/her followers than their own success.

9) Be quick to praise, but slow to admonish. Praise in public, but admonish in private.

If you’re going to praise someone, do it big. If you’re going to reprimand, make sure it is warranted and do so in a respectful manner.

10) One of a leader’s key responsibilities is stamping out self-serving politics when they emerge.

As a leader, your job is to inspire the entire group. No single person is bigger than the group, not even the leader.

11) Be sure to know as much as possible about the people you are leading.

How can you inspire someone if you don’t know what motivates them?

12) One manages things, but people lead people.

It may be a bit cliché, but at the end of the day, followers are human beings. Don’t lose sight of that reality.

13) Diversity in an organization is not only legally required and socially desired — it’s also effective.

Every problem, obstacle, or issue has a different solution. Different perspectives make it much easier to identify the right solution.

14) Leadership should be viewed as stewardship.

Leader and teacher are synonyms, even if the Thesaurus tool in Microsoft Word doesn’t agree.

15) Don’t make tough decisions until you need to. Most will solve themselves with time.

Procrastination isn’t always a negative tendency. Don’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes you just have to give the problem time to work itself out.

16) When making decisions about people, listen to your gut.

Believe in your ability to identify the right talent. It’s your vision, so you should be able to recognize when a person embodies that vision.

17) People can see through manipulation and game-playing. Everyone can spot a phony.

This goes back to the mutual respect and trust that must exist between a leader and follower. Don’t undermine that mutual respect via manipulation. You’ll lose followers.

18) Learn to say, out loud, “I was wrong” and “I don’t know.”

You may be a leader, but you’re not omniscient. Don’t pretend to be.

19) If you know a plan or decision is wrong, don’t implement it. Instead, keep talking.

Don’t try to jam a square peg in a circular hole. Work with your team to figure out a way to round the edges of the peg so it fits properly.

20) Each of us has potential to lead, follow or be an individual contributor.

Potential is limitless and everyone has the ability to contribute to the success of a particular vision. It all depends on how strongly they believe in that vision.

There is no recipe for what makes a good leader, but these mantras can provide valuable guidelines. I wouldn’t trade those talks on the deck for anything.

Do any of these mantras ring true in your experience? If not, how would you tweak them?

Enjoy this post? To read more content like it, subscribe to Sales.