The People Who Have Taught Me How to Lead

“Don’t wait for feedback that comes in the form of a formal review or discussion,” a mentor once told me. “When you give me a draft of something and I send it back to you covered in red pen, that’s feedback. When I send it back and say this is in good shape, that’s feedback.”

That advice—that feedback—has shaped the way I think about learning and development my entire career. Insightful, useful feedback is everywhere if your eyes are open to it. When I think of the best learning experiences I’ve had, of the best training I’ve received, I don’t think of classrooms or coaching sessions. I think of the people I’ve worked with.

I think of the busy leader who always found the time to write thank-you notes for great work because “building a great work environment isn’t an addition to your job. It is your job.” I think of the person who created such clarity in goals that the leader of a frontline team in a back office function told us, “This is the first time I understand not only where we’re headed as a company, but exactly what my team needs to accomplish in order for us to get there.” And I think of the one who created such a force field of positive energy in the office that the team really believed they could do anything.

And as much as I’ve learned from leaders, I’ve learned from my peers and team members as well. I’m inspired by the team member who always speaks up when he or she spots a potential issue, even and especially when no one else has. When I’m trying to bring a team together, I’m aiming for the happy cohesion I’ve seen some of my coworkers instill through silly awards ceremonies and upbeat messages in Zoom chats. I’ve even learned about learning—about curiosity—from the person whose book recommendations are always as good as her fun facts, and about innovation, from the two perennially finding new ways to improve our workflow with AI and automation. These people, and others like them, have taught me how to lead.

We can and must think of ourselves as both learners and teachers—looking everywhere for feedback, being open-minded to the many forms it takes, and creating space for our teams to learn from each other. If we wait for a formal conversation, we’ll miss out on the best opportunities to grow.