I believe that identifying and following a set of personal guiding principles have laid a professional foundation for me to be successful over the course of my career. These principles have shaped my career and helped me in the decisions I’ve made.
My first guiding principle: always choose what you are passionate about. The first choice that impacted my career was my decision to study physics. I liked mathematics and physics, but had no clear picture of what I would professionally become with a physics degree. I chose it anyway because I had a passion for it. When I decided to get my MBA, I was faced with a few job offers, and I again followed my heart. Instead of choosing the top-ranked strategy consulting firm, McKinsey, and a potentially high-powered career with them, I chose the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which was new to the Netherlands (where I was to work) and was less renowned at the time. My passion about joining BCG was mostly driven by the people I had met and the philosophy of the company. As it turns out, life at BCG was a fantastic choice, as I was immersed in a variety of intellectually challenging projects and had the opportunity to work with very diverse teams.
My second guiding principle: learn from your mistakes. Learning from what went wrong is so much more powerful than learning from what went right! In fact, most people don’t learn from successes at all, they just celebrate them. I learned from a number of mistakes, and will illustrate what I mean with an example. Not so long ago I made a presentation for a large group of coworkers, but I failed to understand my audience. (Cargill is a large company!) I ended up doing a presentation that was too complex for my audience to follow. I got a bad review, but more importantly, I failed to use that moment to connect with my colleagues and get an important message across. I guarantee you that I more than thoroughly prepared for my next presentation.
My final guiding principle: embrace people leadership. During my career at Cargill, I have learned the difference between managing and leading. It is not about executing projects and delivering results, as much as it is about developing people and inspiring them to work towards achieving their goals. In order to be successful, I try to make an authentic connection with people, to really understand what drives each and ever one, and to coach them on their choices. And if they ask me which choice to make, I preach the one you are passionate about!