"Where do you want to be in 5 years?"
"Do you see yourself working here forever?"
"One day you'll take over, won't you?"
I think I am asked a variation of these questions on a weekly basis. I never know if people genuinely care, are nosey, or have more time than I do to think about my future! Perhaps it's the plight of a long term staff member in a short term society.
Can I confess something to you? I hate these questions! Not because I cannot figure out the answer, but because worrying about the answer is a waste of energy.
Planning is necessary, but we can plan too much. Leadership in our generation is less about preparing the ideal scenario and more about being prepared when an opportunity arises.
The late S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chic-fil-a expressed this best in saying, "Take advantage of unexpected opportunities."
The question you need to be asking is, "Am I ready to leverage my next opportunity?"
If you want that answer to be "yes", then stop stressing over the future and invest your time developing a handful of traits. These are must-have's for any leader who wants to make a large impact.
Ready for them? Here they are...
One trait that moves you up the chain quickly on my team is the ability to get things done, get them done quickly and get them done well. Fast moving environments require people who move even faster. Those who pour over projects way too long or seem sluggish to get started cap out in their effectiveness early.
Is there a simple way to increase your ability to execute?
Yes! Schedule it. What gets scheduled gets done. Pull out your calendar and schedule 2 hours of your day for 5 days a week to work on a single project. Put your phone on airplane mode. Get off InstaGram. Work feverishly like it is the night before finals and you are cramming for an exam. Do not sweat doing perfect work. Focus on doing 80% good enough work. People will not look at your progress and say, "They only finished 80%?" No! They will say, "Oh man! They have already finished that much? I haven't even started yet!
You have to seize your opportunity of a lifetime in the lifetime of that opportunity. You cannot control when opportunity will knock but you have to be ready to fling the door open when it does. Agility is being able to adapt in the moment, having a personal ease when faced with adversity, learning quickly and remaining nimble in the midst of situational chaos. You do not see panic in agile leaders.
Old ways do not open new doors. Agility is the ingredient that will define next generation leadership. If my team is going to make an impact in an ever changing future, I need people who are able to learn fast, stay calm, and handle problems with ease.
Here is a challenge I give myself from time to time to help me stay agile. I look for areas that have been defined by the word "can't." I love the word "can't." I love being told what I cannot do. "That area will never grow. No one can help that leader develop." The word "can't" is the spark that ignites creativity. I am forced to think new thoughts and employ new practices without being flustered. "Can't" keeps me sharp. There is nothing more powerful than rallying people and energy around an obstacle that others just "can't" figure out.
Rigid things break. Flexible things break through. Leadership is ever evolving. If you are emotionally attached to your methods, you limit yourself. To be prepared for what is now and what is next, remaining flexible is key.
Change is inevitable but progress is optional. Do not fall into the trap of adapting to change as it comes your way. That does not bring progress. Leaders are agents of change. They see what needs to be changed while everyone else is wallowing in what is currently successful. The only way to keep yourself on the leading edge of change is to force it upon yourself. Personal flexibility prepares you to champion leadership change.
One way to remain flexible is to invite challenge or adversity into your path. The best way to do that is allowing other people to evaluate you. I did an entire post on this weeks ago.
Margin is the distance between what you need and what you have. Some opportunities are really distractions in disguise. Margin is the guardrail that helps determine the difference. Maintaining margin in areas like money, fitness, energy and time keep a person healthy.
I refuse to hire anyone on my team who lives without margin in specific areas. If I cannot trust them to be responsible for their own lives, why would I trust them to lead my organization? When your team members lack margin, you end up paying some of the price.
Personal margin is the foundation of leadership margin. As you grow in your responsibilities you must be mature enough to determine direction for your team, which opportunities to say yes or no to, how much to demand out of your team, and proper timing. If you are stressed because you are living paycheck to paycheck or your health is terrible because you have not taken care of your body, you do not have the clarity to make mature decisions. If you want to lead of leaders and organizations, you will only rise as high as you own personal levels of margin.
There are 2 action steps to develop more margin: First, live below your means. Spend less than you make, keep physically fit, take time off, eat realistic portions of healthy food, and unplug from technology every day to name a few. Second, quit telling yourself all of the reasons why you cannot do those things. They are not reasons, they are excuses. The only person your excuses are hindering is yourself.
To be prepared for that one-day moment you have to prepare in this moment. Work to develop these qualities and you will be ready for your time to shine! Keep Leading Bravely!