Here’s what to look for in a leader.
Image Credit: andersovergaard.com
“The company has had some very bad press over the last ten years and let down many customers in a big way.
But if I have a child one day, who will support me — the company or my people leader?
If my baby is sick, will my leader be outcome-focused or time focused?”
My millennial friend was bored with her job after five years and was trying to decide what her next career move would be. These few sentences above really helped me understand a change that is occurring.
Millennials have figured out that the leader they choose has the biggest impact on their career, not the company. You could work for a great company, but if your boss treats you like dirt, you’re going to hate it.
Like my friend, if you’re planning to start a family one day, your people leader is going to decide your flexibility and decide how much or how little they adhere to the company’s flexible working policy. (In a survey done by American Express, 75 percent U.S. millennials said that businesses should “be flexible and fluid” regarding work environment and “not enforce a rigid structure on employees.”)
The same applies if you want to flex and build your entrepreneurial muscle. You’re going to want to work for a leader that lets you do that and doesn’t see your side-hustle as a threat to your employer when it’s not.
While I don’t have a baby, I have a writing career that behaves like a newborn baby. Some days my writing is crying out for attention and on other days, my writer’s brain sleeps with its blue blanky and lets me work in peace and quiet.
The only reason I can take care of my writing baby is because I chose leaders first, not companies. A big part of my career choice was based on the leader I’d be working for and the leaders that surrounded them.
Even if your direct leader is amazing, if they move on and the other leaders in the business act like bosses with a stopwatch, you could be in trouble.
Here’s what to look for in a leader.
Do they see your potential?
All of us have hidden potential that is often blocked by fear or our insecurities. A great leader will see potential inside of you that you don’t.
They will put you in situations that scare the crap out of you and simultaneously unlock your potential. One of the best leaders I have ever worked for saw my fear of public speaking and helped me to move past it and sign up for Toastmasters so that I could crush it into tiny little pieces.
They saw my potential to inspire and knew that I’d have to master public speaking to go further. When I tried to say no, they coached me through it.
A leader who sees your potential can unlock your ability to create more value and that could mean faster promotions, bigger incentives, or my favorite — a meaning that is assigned to your work, which makes showing up easier.
Will your leader protect you from the wolves?
Let’s not pretend that every leader is best friends and gives each other a high-five while walking through the corridors. The world of business is full of office politics and strategic games of chess played out through emails and PowerPoint decks.
There are always going to be outside leaders who seek to influence your career for their own gain or to cover up their insecurities. When an outside leader wants to influence the decision to take you away from doing work you love or that you’re suited for, a great leader will step in and save you behind closed doors.
They won’t tell you what they’ve done for you or seek payment. They’ll look after your career because they have learned that what is best for you is best for them and that equates to being good for business.
I’ve had phenomenal leaders protect me from restructures and pivot my role towards being customer/innovation-focused many times. It has defined who I’ve become and my ability to think differently. As a millennial, this is yet another reason why I’ll choose a leader, not a company.
Show me a good leader and I’ll show you work that will inspire you for the rest of your life. That’s the subconscious deal we make when surrounded by a brilliant leader that keeps the wolves away.
Will they show you your flaws?
You might have been getting all comfortable and thought leaders all saw the world through rose-colored glasses. That’s not quite true.
A life-changing leader will show you your flaws. They’ll tell you what you don’t always want to hear and point out when you’re being an entitled piece of sh*t and proving the millennial truisms about being lazy or ungrateful correct. Great leaders have done this for me.
When I made $25,000 in a month from being a blogger, great leaders told me to slow down and give a little of it away.
When I got my first people leadership role in a long time, great leaders told me, honestly, where my challenges would lie.
When I got fired and was embarrassed in front of millions of people on LinkedIn, they told me to keep going and act with courage (so I did and shared the whole story on LinkedIn, much to their amazement).
When I was acting like a brat because I didn’t get the salary I wanted from a job opportunity, they told me to calm down and remember that I was born in a lucky country and had more than most people.
These are the humbling harsh truths one needs to hear every so often to avoid getting caught up in one’s ego and selfish tendencies. If it weren’t for great leaders, I wouldn’t know when I was lying to myself and the areas to work on so I could take my career to the next level.
Your leader determines your fate, not the company
Millennials like me choose leaders, not companies because we have evaluated the evidence and seen that a leader makes the decision about us.
The company can act in one way and stand for a set of values, but it’s the leaders we choose to work with that shape our careers and help us to derive meaning from our work. A legal entity, such as a company, is nothing more than a bit of paper with a registered trading name. A company needs leaders to define its mission and its treatment of people.
A leader is a human being with a beating heart and blood running through their veins that can change your career and make you look back one day on it all and smile.
Choose a leader first.