8 Timeless Lessons I Learned As A Young Leader In Way Over My Head

There comes a point in a man’s life where he stops judging his work by the circumstances that surround it and begins surveying his character development as a by-product of the work he puts in.

I had lofty goals back in my early twenties — nothing more than surface-level desires but when I shared with others what I was after, I made sure it sounded promising.

Goals are important. Without them, the overexposure to certainty would slip us all into deep depression.

But my goals back then were purely outcome-based, completely ignorant to the potential for me to become a better man through reaching my target.

Below are the lessons that would’ve interrupted my self-serving charade of chasing meaning and significance.

“Leaders know the importance of having someone in their lives who will unfailingly and fearlessly tell them the truth.“ — Warren G. Bennis

1. Chasing Perfection Is A Fool’s Errand

In my early days of leadership, I was severely limited in my mental toughness. Like an OCD-plagued pedant, the only way I could function optimally was if every aspect of the business fell into perfect alignment.

As such the case with life, there will always be something left undone or open-ended when managing a business. Leaders must learn to live outside the possibility of perfection and step into the arena of growth, contribution and gratitude.

Perfection breeds relief.

Progress breeds satisfaction.

2. Care Trumps Credentials

Every career move I made during my first five years of full-time work was enacted at the mercy of my resume. I tried to protect it like a newborn child, often at the expense of my own happiness.

I felt a laundry list of experience with powerful titles and accomplishments would be my gateway to finally building a team that would run through a wall for me.

While a solid background and an array of accolades can produce quick sprints, truly caring for your people will cause the start and finish of multiple marathons.

3. Responsibility Equals Freedom

While this statement seems completely backwards, there’s plenty of truth to it.

When I was a young leader experiencing challenges, I was quick to point out everything outside of my control that was affecting me— of course, to make myself look better.

Regardless of whether or not that worked, the reality was I felt a substantial loss of power.

When responsibility is assumed, ownership is immediately assigned. When you own something, you control what happens to it. By taking as much responsibility as you can in every situation, you not only give yourself room to create a better outcome — you give everyone in your organization hope for a better future.

“Leadership starts with understanding responsibility, not ability. Leadership is a stewardship, not a show.” — Rick Warren

4. I Will Forever Be A Work In Progress

Not possessing the formal education I felt I should have resulted in a very prominent feeling of insecurity towards my leadership. I was tricked into believing the leader had to be the smartest guy in the room and a tumultuous path of “fake it till you make it” resulted as profit.

Despite noble acting efforts, the house of cards invariably falls down. The greatest showcase of fearlessness a leader can deliver is his own authenticity — the good and the bad.

Knowing that the leader is a work in progress gives a team hope — that their leader will become even more inspiring and should they wish to take his position someday, they don’t have to be perfect, either.

5. Burnout Is A Construct Of The Mind

Stress relates to what’s already happened. Anxiety relates to what hasn’t happened yet. Burnout lives in between the two.

Burnout ensues when we stop taking action related to the outcomes we desire. It happens when we stay in our heads, watching the game from the stands.

The only antidote for burnout is to get on the field — and take deliberate action in the direction of what we wish to occur.

6. I Must Resist The Temptation To Make This About Me

What makes people strive for leadership roles or platforms in the first place?

In my case, it was self-promotion. I wanted the credit and to reap all the benefits — anything to inflate the ego.

When you start a business, you give up your trumpet call. You are no longer the all-star performer your last occupation saw you as. You’re a servant of the golden goose. If the business falters, everything associated with it crumbles — including your livelihood. It is at that point, your personal agenda must take a back seat to the business’ health and prosperity.

7. My Word Is My Bond

I threw my words around so loosely as a young leader. I had to work myself into submission to even have a chance at restoring the team’s confidence in me. Lessons overlooked and promises broken were my existence as a young leader.

Followers hang on a leader’s every word. It is with my word that I either create a possibility for truth and triumph, or a hollow reality of cynicism and mistrust.

8. Today Is A Victory

I thought there was honor in never being satisfied with what is. I felt my unbreakable commitment to “Where can we improve?” would generate admiration from onlookers.

What I forgot was so critical in navigating the journey of improvement, was the necessity to be grateful for what’s already ensuing.

Each day produces numerous victories. Someone distances themselves from who they were yesterday. Someone takes a step closer toward their fears. Someone hones a conversation that opens up another eloquent pathway of their mind.

To miss these moments is the ultimate failure for a leader. Appreciation is fuel for belief — both for that of the leader and the follower.

Despite the temptation for attaching to displeasure during tough times, it is the duty of the leader to spread hope like wildfire.

This isn’t done via a grandiose oration.

This is accomplished through simplicity, by bringing attention to the little things — effectively communicating to the team that they matter.

Oh, how they ever matter.