Some of us specialize early in life. Others work different jobs, as a matter of necessity or exploration or both, and we come to appreciate the advantages of diverse experience.
Perhaps we pursue a set of goals out of resolve to achieve a certain lifestyle. We dig in, we persevere, we fulfill our expectations of ourselves and possibly, the expectations of others. Maybe the intensity is the result of passion, pure and simple. Maybe we’re following in a parent’s footsteps, our path guided from childhood.
Maybe we’re purposely taking a different path, with the intention of realizing a different outcome.
Whatever our reasons for narrowing our experience — and yes, I’m spinning specialization as potentially limiting when we do so too early — some of us will find ourselves 10 or 20 years later regretting the road not taken. Would that be the case anyway?
Maybe. But doesn’t it make sense to dabble a little when we’re young?
How Is Leadership Learned?
I was in a heated discussion recently on what constitutes leadership, whether or not leaders are born rather than made, whether charisma is a must, the importance of confidence to successful leadership, and whether one who motivates others may be deemed a leader, “traditional” or otherwise, even if exercising an idiosyncratic style.
I believe there are natural leaders. I also believe that leadership skills can be acquired.
Suffice it to say, the perspective I bring to the conversation is one of varied experiences that include large, multinational corporations (on two continents), a decade of work as an independent consultant or freelancer, and the fact that I have performed many types of tasks in a many different roles.
I also bring my experience as a mother of two sons — one of whom I might label as a “natural leader” possessing, among other things, what we generally associate with such a term:
- communication skills, including persuasion
- organizational skills, including ability to see long-term (“vision”)
- excitement / enthusiasm / energy
- takes initiative
- curiosity / open-mindedness
- ability to “read” people and situations
- respect for others and their opinions
What other attributes do successful leaders exemplify, whether “learned” or natural to their temperament and behavior?
I would add — the ability to inspire.
Roles, Stages, Team Challenges
In considering the topic of teamwork challenges, several issues come to mind. First, what happens when one or more team members don’t pull their weight?
What do you do? Bitch to a manager? Jump in and help? Try to mentor the individual who is dragging the team down? Doesn’t it depend on why he or she isn’t performing?
What if motivation is an issue? Are there ways to use peer pressure or provide additional incentive? If the team is floundering, do you step in and do the work while keeping silent, or do you step up and attempt to manage it?
Without managerial training or real world experience, is this nearly impossible for the very young? Isn’t this precisely where exposure to a variety of jobs and problem-solving methods assists?
I’ve been raising the issue of working different jobs with my son who is still in college. I’ve made a point of referencing the confidence that comes with the years, and the evolving work models in our current economy. Gone, for most of us, are the days of two or three employers in a lifetime (at most), a single career path and industry, or a sequence of relatively stable wage-earning jobs.
An increasing number of us are, have been, and will continue to experience gaps in our working life (for many reasons) as well as periods when we are juggling more than one job, periods when those jobs are contracted or freelance, and times when we are creating a hybrid arrangement as we go, fully aware it may be tweaked or traded in at some point in the future.
Don’t generalist skills then become essential? Don’t we hone these skills from working different jobs?
Isn’t it in taking detours — planned or of necessity — that we discover new interests and aptitudes, make unexpected connections, and gain invaluable insight from both wins and losses — at any stage?
Advantages of Different Jobs
I wouldn’t consider myself a “natural” leader per se, but rather one who picked up leadership skills over time. I chalk early reticence up to youthful lack of confidence, and certainly confidence was born of trying different fields, working different jobs, and recovering from my share of mistakes in judgment. And daily, I rely on a breadth of experience that informs my decision-making, and as appropriate, leadership.
When possible, holding a variety of positions in a single organization can be a terrific way to learn. Once upon a time, management training programs insured that we did just that, rotating employees through departments in order to have a hands-on, holistic understanding of how the business functioned.
In my own experience, the best managers and consultants are those who have performed a wide range of tasks in a broad range of roles.
- types of work
- ways to mediate and resolve those challenges
I will add that we develop flexibility and adaptability as the result of everything above. Moreover, these days, what was once viewed negatively — “job hopping” — is now more the norm.
On a related note, there are advantages to working overseas, an experience I had in my twenties. Not only did this lead me into an international career that lasted more than 20 years, but I gained greater understanding of workplace dynamics as influenced by culture.
Types of Organizations
I’ve had the good fortune to experience not only those Fortune 100 multinationals I mentioned, but much smaller organizations and in a variety of sectors. As a teenager, I worked summer jobs in the offices of two very fine universities. Also in the summers, but in my twenties, I worked internships of two very different sorts — one on Madison Avenue and the other in Europe, in the public sector.
In my years of freelancing and consulting, I’ve worked with people and organizations in the arts, in legal services, in healthcare services, and in early childhood education. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs, sole proprietors, start-ups, and small teams. This is in addition to working for larger, more traditionally structured for-profit organizations.
What has this exposure done for me?
It has encouraged me to acquire new skills, to contribute in new ways, to understand evolving models of leadership, to see what works in some environments but not in others, and the diversity keeps me interested and marketable.
As for my son, who has yet to embark on his career — or careers — I wish for him the ability to pursue his passions, and the freedom to explore as he sees fit.
Have you held a variety of jobs? Have you found it beneficial? Has it helped you recognize the environments in which you will thrive, and the roles that are best suited? How do you advise your children when it comes to their work lives and careers?
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