In my first week at my new job, I put my title in my email signature. According to me, I was no longer plain old "Robbie." I was now "Robbie Abed, J
In my first week at my new job, I put my title in my email signature. According to me, I was no longer plain old “Robbie.” I was now “Robbie Abed, Junior Analyst.”
My career coach at the time emailed me with a recommendation. Take out the word “junior,” he said, and just put “analyst.” I asked him why.
“So clients won’t immediately dismiss your advice or your work deliverables,” he said.
“Sure thing,” I told him. “I’ll be CEO soon enough!”
That’s about as naive as someone in a new job can get, right? But in my defense, I was totally green and as optimistic as any new hire could be. But I soon realized that unchecked optimism wasn’t going to get me far in my career. I needed to face the realities of my career progression first.
In every leadership position I’ve held since those days, I’ve approached optimism from a realistic perspective. By that, I mean that I’ve taken an objective look at what’s happening in my business and my career and often that means facing the brutal truth head-on.
The brutal truth could vary from not having the right team in place to execute your vision, or even understanding that you may not be the best person to lead this company. Recognizing the honest truth of your situation, you can make better decisions.
Once I recognized the truth that I was a better creative marketer than a marketing leader, it changed my leadership style overnight. I purposely stepped down out of a role and instead asked someone to replace me so I can do a different role within the organization. It takes a lot of guts to do that, but in the end, it made others respect my work.
Acknowledging reality, however painful it might be, has made me a better leader by anchoring my natural optimism in the truth. Genuine optimism begins with humility and that means seeing your life and work in the cold light of day.
Here are three ways you can become a more optimistic leader by starting square in the middle of reality.
1. Set milestones every six months.
Companies set benchmarks so they can evaluate their progress. You can do the same thing, checking in twice a year to see where your career is advancing and what needs extra attention. Your milestones don’t have to be major achievements. They could be money in your bank account, a number of LinkedIn connections, awards received at work, or something else that’s meaningful to you.
Establishing markers for your business and your team is just as important as setting personal milestones. A lot of us know we should do it, but we get caught up in other things and forget to take time to analyze our team’s progress. The few hours you invest in checking your business’ growth against pre-established milestones will pay off in spades, though. Taking time to look at where your business stands can keep you grounded in reality.
2. Interview as many successful people as you can.
You can learn a lot by talking to the winners in your field. These are the people with battle stories from the trenches. They know where the traps hide and how to avoid them. And they can give you a realistic picture of what it means to succeed in your industry. I interviewed a ton of successful technology marketers. Once I got an idea of their entrepreneurial path, I realized that overnight success would not be mine.
If calling up successful people you don’t know and asking to interview them scares you, consider starting a podcast. Your show gives you the ideal excuse to reach out with an interview request. Plus, knowing they’ll be recorded and published on the internet gives your interviewee a compelling reason to say yes. Make sure you ask pertinent questions (nothing your listeners could Google) and shell out the money for pitch-perfect audio so you sound professional. Then invite all the most interesting people in your world to have a conversation with you on your show!
3. Celebrate your successes every month.
I like to take a half-day once a month and recognize the achievements I’ve made. It keeps me grounded so I can understand what success really feels like. Frankly, it doesn’t feel a lot like being the CEO of a major consulting company. Most of the time, it looks like meeting benchmarks for my clients, securing new business, or getting feedback from readers of my column.
By celebrating your successes, you keep your optimistic philosophy firmly staked to reality. Celebrating your successes means being happy about the things that are actually happening in your life and business, not the things you wish were happening. Recognizing that difference is key to being an optimistic and successful leader.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.
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