My advice for anyone striving for a leadership role is to trust your instincts, behave with unwavering integrity, and leverage your listening skills. We all know that we can’t lead effectively if no one will follow! People want to believe in their leaders and they want their mission to be clear and good. Good. That’s the test I give to any new venture—will this do good? Will this make our world a better place?
I have had some marvelous opportunities in my life to add to the greater good. As VP of market development for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, I helped launch Touchstone Energy®, an initiative that set the national standard through which energy cooperatives provide quality service to consumers, many in rural America. It made the world better for millions of people.
As President of AARP Services, I’m focused on improving the quality of life for everyone as they age. That’s a terrific mission and a great reason to get to the office every day. The work we do now will be helping people for a long time to come.
Doing good is what I believe in. And I firmly believe that our core values shouldn’t fade into the background when we sit in the corner office. If anything, who we are should be under more scrutiny when we lead—and it is. People want to believe in their leaders, and they can’t believe in someone they don’t know and trust.
Connect with people, listen to them, learn from them. And return the favor by being accessible and open with those around you. Making connections is a lifetime project and will enrich your days. I’ve learned some amazing lessons from my son, my assistant, our Board members, and from AARP members I meet on planes or in hotel lobbies.
Along with things we should always do, there’s the flip side. Don’t compromise yourself for a win—ever. Don’t agree to a course that you doubt. Don’t ever hurt a colleague to make a point. Don’t shrug off a mistake. Don’t stop being yourself.
Our careers should be an active part of our lives. It shouldn’t be “either/or” with our lives and our jobs. Trust yourself to be yourself in all aspects of your day, from the breakfast table to the boardroom. Trust yourself—and that inner voice that guides you.