Last blog, I shared a list of ideas for how to continue your education outside of school. For today's blog, I have decided to share a story from my days as an intern as an example, a story which I have alluded to a few times. Back when I was an intern at Sterling Health Plans (which has gone by several names since then and has since been absorbed into WellCare), I realized that I had a golden opportunity in my hands; I had access to industry professionals who I could learn from. What better way to learn about being a leader than from people actually leading?
I created a list of who I wanted to talk to in the company and then created a list of questions I wanted to discuss. The questions I asked were:
- What school did you go to and what did you study?
- What's your work background?
- What is your definition of success?
- What did you do to work towards your definition of success?
- What is your definition of a leader?
- What is your leadership philosophy?
- What have you done to become a better leader?
- How did you get to where you are today?
- What was it like when you first started your position? How did you get people to follow you?
- What are you responsibilities in the business?
- What is the best part about your job?
- What is the hardest part about your job?
Once I was ready, I kicked off my informal project to learn from the company’s leadership. I talked to (either on the phone, via email, or in person) my list of C-suite executives/VPs/managers.I also arranged a meeting with the CEO for all of the interns to get a chance to talk to him and ask him questions.
Virtually every single person I reached out to was excited to speak with me. People generally want to help people, and I encourage you to put yourself out there no matter where you are in your career!
WHAT I LEARNED
Admittedly, a lot has changed since I interviewed all of these professionals (2011), but what I learned has held up over time. Here are my original notes on the key takeaways, with some new comments included:
- The number one thing stressed to me by multiple people was networking. Each of them got to where they are through developing and MAINTAINING a network of people.
- I have continued to hear this same piece of advice over the years and have striven to adhere to it.
- GOALS! Have a goal that you have a passion for and have a real desire to achieve it. Set your goals high, but make them achievable. This was another one stressed a lot.
- I still strongly believe in this and have also heard this advise repeated numerous times.
- Let people know what you want and listen to them.
- Enhance your marketability- diversify.
- Always volunteer for projects.
- I would like to add a caveat to this: do not take on more projects than you can effectively handle. Biting off more than you can chew risks things slipping through the cracks. It is, however, very important to volunteer for as many as you can.
- Read and study your industry a lot.
- Continuous education!
- Expose yourself to different parts of your company and industry.
- Be self-aware. Know what motivates you and what your strengths/weaknesses are and use/improve them.
- I definitely agree with this still. I recommend that everyone list out what their personal/professional strengths and weaknesses are. Then, determine how to strengthen your weaknesses and how to best leverage your strengths.
- Determine how what you do supports the business and understand the business as a whole.
- Plan for the future, but perform excellently at your current job, even if it’s boring. “Grow where you’re planted” and gain full mastery of whatever position you’re in.
- Don’t always take the safe/easy route.
- Remember what I learned at that recent women's conference? Take risks!
- When you see an opportunity, take it. Never close an opportunity.
- Always look for a way to add value- don’t wait to be asked.
- The people you surround yourself with are key. Hire people that are better and smarter than you and help them achieve their potential.
- Enjoy what you do.
Thank you for stopping by! I would like to note that if you decide to start a project similar to mine, make sure to thank everyone that took the time to work with you. I was going through my old notes while making this blog and found my list of who to send thank you cards to and the address for their office; I suggest you do something similar. A physical card is more meaningful and shows more appreciation than just an email, and I encourage you to send one wherever possible.