I’m mentoring a young woman who has great potential. So one day I told her about a seminal moment in my early working life. A vice president to whom I reported had made a passing remark about a strategic initiative. Afterward, I realized that not only was his comment inaccurate, but it could adversely affect the initiative. So with no small amount of nervousness I picked up the phone, called him and told him so. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. Even though it was intimidating, I had taken the initiative to be heard.
I continually encourage my team to take initiative and flag issues when they see them and speak up. Even if there are louder people in the room, keep at it. Be respectful but be persistent. It’s amazing the difference you can make.
There is an art to this kind of risk taking, one that is grounded in a clear sense of how you want to advance in your career. Think about the projects or roles you take on. Some might be low-profile, grinding or just plain tough but perfect for your career. Give them strong consideration. I once took a position that moved me from Texas to Toronto. It was a challenging assignment but exactly the right role for my professional development.
And then there’s relationship building. It’s essential to have a trusted group to help advance your career and improve your leadership abilities, from those who sponsor your initiatives to others you can turn to with tough questions. But it’s not always easy to find them, and it’s sometimes a little nerve-wracking to make contact.
I continually look for opportunities to build these relationships. Recently, I was at a major conference in Amsterdam. I was new at Harris Corporation and hadn’t yet met our European team leaders. After a week of long hours, I could have gone straight back to the U.S. But I knew I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet the U.K. leaders in person for another five months. So I flew to London, stayed an extra week, and as a result accelerated my relationship building with them. These kinds of gestures go a long way.
There are numerous professional rewards to be gained by this kind of goal-driven risk taking. I encourage you to take yours!