What’s Your Foundation?

If I were able to go back in time and meet myself as a twenty-something that has finished college and, for the first time, about to enter the full-time working world, what would I want to tell this younger version of me? After 30 years of building a career, I can think of a lot of things to share but I would start with these three:

The first would be to always deliver bad news fast. No one likes to disappoint their customers, colleagues or their manager, but believe me, it is more disappointing when we “hold off” delivering bad news. We are reluctant for a number of reasons – it could be that we think perhaps whatever the “bad” is can be corrected and so we naively think that the other party will never know or need to know; or it could be simply that it is hard to deliver bad news so we delay because it is unpleasant. Whatever the reason is, believe me, it’s not a good one. Whoever is impacted by the bad news would rather know about it as early as possible than be blind-sided later. Speak up! As the actor Sir Alec Guinness said in the 1980 movie Little Lord Fauntleroy, “I’ve never known bad news to improve with keeping.” Good business leaders don’t sit on bad news. It is delivered quickly.

The second important thing I would share would be to take responsibility. Have you ever worked with someone who was “Teflon” and never seemed to be responsible for anything? No matter what it was, they always had someone or something to blame except themselves. It is so important – whether it is for the bad news that you just delivered above or for anything else that is your responsibility, take ownership of it. This can have such a great impact on those that work with you. Leaders who take responsibility are respected. Those in leadership positions who do not take responsibility erode the trust of those who depend on them.

The third thing I would seek to impress upon the younger version of me is to always keep your word. If we are not careful, we will the “little things” to hold less importance – we’ll nothing of promising to respond to an email or follow up with someone and then fail to do it in the time-frame we had promised. For some reason, we don’t place the same importance on those kinds of promises as we do the promise to do the more “important” things. Don’t become the kind of person that promises to “get back with you” and then fail to follow-up and follow through. People who are known to never follow-up as they promise are known for not being dependable. On the other hand, people who do follow-up when they promise, even in the little things, are known for being dependable and trustworthy. It may seem like such a little thing to the person who promises, but it is a very BIG thing to whom it is promised.

These three things are a rock-solid foundation upon which to build a career. Being a person of integrity will help take you far, no matter what the pursuit.