This post comes in two parts. The first discloses a change in my mindset regarding my career choices. The second recaps five key concepts I’ve learned through my leadership classes. I’ve decided to combine these two parts into one post, as the leadership classes are what caused me to reevaluate my perspective on careers. It’s important to take a step back and to reevaluate one’s life, as it’s easy to think you want something, when it turns out you really don’t.
Part 1: I’ve been thinking a lot about careers lately, and I’ve realized something about myself that really defines what I want to do with my life. I realized that I don’t care what project I’m working on, as long as I’m on a passionate team and am solving a problem that impacts the end user. This could be anything from social solutions to user experiences to mechanical design. How did I come to this realization, you might ask? Well, as a student at a top research university, many of my peers are applying to technical jobs at aerospace companies. While I decided a long time ago that aerospace wasn’t my jam, I only recently noticed that designing behind the scenes technology wasn’t my passion, either. I want to make things that people use, and they don’t have to be physical. I want to empathize with the customer and to truly create a product or solution that improves their life. Designing a new wing flap isn’t going to do that for me, and neither is designing a random mechanism on a surgical robot.
Part 2: This brings me to the leadership lessons I’ve learned this semester. I know that I’m not necessarily the most qualified person to be handing out advice, but here are a few main ideas that have stuck with me.
1. If it can’t fit on one half of one side of one sheet of paper, it’s not worth saying. Academic writing is so heavily focused on quantity and complex language that is very difficult for people to read, and the reader often misses the point. In business writing, ideas should be compact and clearly worded, otherwise no one will read what you wrote, and no one will take action as a result.
2. A great leader gives praise to her employees when things go right, and takes the blame when things go wrong. How does one build up trust in a relationship? How does one motivate employees to work harder? By giving them the praise, and taking the blame on their behalf.
3. Make sure your team is aligned toward a common vision. If your team members have different concepts for what the final product should look like, nothing will work the way it should. The leader needs to communicate her vision to the team, and the team must acknowledge that they have internalized that vision and know how to work towards it.
4. Consensus leads to mediocrity. Sometimes, you just have to make a decision. If you wait for everyone to agree on a solution, then you have wasted valuable time, and you will have a much less innovative product. At some point, the leader needs to choose a direction, acknowledge the risks of that action, and get the team moving in that direction.
5. Make yourself a little better every day. Leaders need to improve themselves, too. Learning something new every day expands the leader’s mind, introduces new perspectives, and develops new skills. Today, I am writing this blog post to refresh my ability to consolidate ideas, write in an engaging manner, and reflect on what I’ve learned and how I can apply it in my everyday life.