Self-Leadership for a Successful Career: Advice from John Baldoni

Feb 21, 2013
7 Min Read

John Baldoni is a leadership development consultant, executive coach, and author of twelve books on topics such as communication, managing your boss, motivation, inspiring results, executive presence, and personal leadership—he has expert insight into the issues top leaders face at work every day.

His most recent book, The Leader’s Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips, and Techniques for any Situation, has a fantastic quote on page 50 that is relevant to many of our readers:

“Exert your ownership. If your boss is not giving you feedback, ask for it. If your teammates are driving you crazy, talk to them. If you are struggling with an impossible workload, find ways to lighten it. Proceeding as you are is inefficient; failing to address the problem may even be worse. Bottom line: You have a responsibility to do the job for which you are paid. Do it.”

Here is his advice for six of the most common questions we receive from readers on The Fast Track.

1. “Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Questions about workload are so very common for early career leaders: “I have too much work to do, I don’t have enough work to do, I don’t like the work I am being given, I am being given more and more responsibilities, there is a crunch to do more with less for same pay.” We’ve all been there at one point or another, right?

John Baldoni: “Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do;” that quote is from a legendary basketball coach who died at the ripe old age of 99. In other words, stop focusing on the negatives and instead look to what you can accomplish.

2. Hold to your values, but you will not win every battle.

Sooner or later, we all encounter a trust issue, an interpersonal conflict, or a simple disagreement with our boss or a higher-up. What shift in perspective is required to deal with it well?

JB: Young people have a strong sense of right and wrong. Trust your instincts. Hold to your values. At the same time, understand that the world does not orbit around you… unless of course you are a self-absorbed celebrity. You need to be straight with people. Understand also that you will not win every battle. Also life is unfair. You will be misunderstood as well as judged unfairly. No excuses for that but it is the way the world works.

At the same time you owe your employer and your boss deference. You commit to the job and you do your best. You and your boss may disagree and you should always be able to voice your ideas as well as your concerns. At the same time, you likely will not win one tenth of your arguments. Learn from this. And if you are not comfortable with the boss’s ethics, then sooner or later you must leave. Find where your values and your employer’s are compatible.

3. Assume that you must prove yourself.

Unfortunately, some people are difficult to work with. What is the professional way to react when someone feels they are not being treated with respect at work?

JB: First of all, you act like a professional. Assume that you must prove yourself. Take the high road and do not get into the gutter. At the same time consider the source. If it is your boss, maybe he or she has a point. You are still learning. Ask for feedback on your performance. Consider how you can make positive changes to improve.

4. Never act like the smartest person in the room.

What are mistakes that young leaders tend to make?

JB: See my Forbes column article, never act like the smartest person in the room. No one likes a show off. Let your example – your competence and your work – speak for itself. No need to brag.

5. Focus on getting things done the right way.

What should leaders know about office politics?

JB: Politics is the art of possibility. Things are accomplished by working through and with colleagues, even people you may personally not want to spend time outside of work with. Focus on getting things done the right way.

At the same time, politics as it relates to gossip and back-stabbing is deplorable. Don’t engage in it. Again stick on the high side of the road. And if people come at you with it, refuse to play. You are not in high school any more.

6. If you pay attention you will become wise.

What is your advice for young professionals hoping to develop their leadership skills and have a successful career?

JB: Give yourself a big pat on the back. You have accomplished a great deal. What you lack is experience. That only comes with doing the job over time. If you pay attention you will become wise. Wisdom and age are not synonymous, but if you pay attention you will learn a great deal.

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