Lessons learned the hard way can make you more successful and satisfied

The other day at a staff meeting we began comparing notes about lessons we’ve learned the hard way. I liked the idea so much, I asked a number of other colleagues and clients to share what they’ve learned about work life. It was interesting how similar all of our shared experiences were. Perhaps you’ll agree, or think of a few of your own.

·        Getting fired isn’t the worst thing. Sometimes it’s the best thing that can happen to you. Often, getting fired forces you to reflect on what you really want out of your career. For some, it created an opportunity to become an entrepreneur, for others it meant finding a company that would fit their personal values, or a new career path that fit their talents.

·        What goes around comes around . . . be patient. When I began my career I thought this was just wishful thinking. I watched as a few people pulled nasty political tricks and power plays and wondered why they kept moving up. But I’m here to report that things did indeed catch up with them. Well, well, what do you know!

·        Nobody is responsible for your career but you. The career ladder is a step stool at best. You must build your own skills portfolio and market yourself within your company and in your field. Waiting around for someone to notice you and promote you is sheer folly. Find out what you have to offer, find ways to add value and figure out your own path, whether it means growing your current job, moving to a new department or leaving your company for a fresh opportunity.

·        The biggest learning comes from the biggest failures. After the pain fades and you’re done licking your wounds, take a step back and separate the learning from the emotion. Those who only blame the messenger or make excuses are doomed to make the same type of mistake again.

·        Listen to your inner voice and values. When I’ve ignored them I’ve always paid a price. When you get that nagging feeling that just won’t go away or you find yourself over-justifying the action you are about to take, tune in to your gut before you act. It’s trying to tell you something.

·        Better to be inclusive than exclusive. Often, when planning a department meeting or a project planning session the question comes up, "Who should be there?" Inevitably, the leader who tries to limit attendance ends up doing damage control or having additional meetings to get input and buy in. (And who attends shouldn’t just be a function of position or status on the organizational chart.)

·        Trust the wisdom of the group. Through years of working with groups and teams of all kinds, I have learned to listen to and respect the collective intelligence of the groups I facilitate. If they are resisting a new initiative, there is usually a solid reason worth exploring. If they don’t want to address a sensitive issue, it usually is because of an unspoken political or organizational reality. Forcing the issue seldom works. Progress is made when the wisdom of the group is tapped.

·        The more you give away the more you get. This one only seems to pay off if you don’t expect it to. To be convinced you only need to look at the schedules of highly successful people. You will find that they make time to volunteer for a worth cause, or meet with a stranger to help them with their job search.

·        Don’t take yourself too seriously. We can all make incredibly stupid mistakes and say and do foolish things. Have you ever noticed one of the highest compliments we say about someone we respect is, "He’s so down to earth. He’s so confident he can laugh at his own mistakes."

·        Everyone defines success differently. Some people want more money, others want more free time, and still others would be a lot happier with a genuine pat on the back. One-size-fits-all reward systems don’t work and it’s na├»ve to assume what motivates us will motivate everyone.

·        Think of everyone as a potential ally. You never know when you’ll need their help or support. No matter what level their job is or what their duties are, your colleagues can like you or launch you. In my career some of the best advice I got came from an assistant who had her ear to the ground. In another case, the custodian tipped me off to a big organizational change.

What are the lessons you’ve learned? E-mail or send me your "lessons learned" and I’ll use them in a future column.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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