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In 1985 my career path started when I accepted a part-time secretary/data-entry person in a start-up organization.   I wanted to start my career path slowly since I was married and had two young children ages five and three.  I wanted to prioritize my role first as a wife, then a mother and then as an employee.  I never realized how impacting just focusing on being a leader in each step along the way would be until about 30 years later.  

I spent a few years coaching high school volleyball realizing how just believing in young girls and watching them feel confident because they recognized that each one of them were leaders on the court no matter what position they played, or if and how long they were on the court.  The main thing was to realize that every contribution that they made impacted the team and the outcome.   We competed in games and tournaments that we should have never done well in based on statistics and talent, and ended up consistently doing well.  At that time in my life, I realized that coaching was something that I loved and more importantly I recognized how instilling leadership in each girl made them view the experience differently and the outcomes showed it.  

The outcomes were not just about winning, but more importantly about no matter what the outcome of the game was that if they were leaders and owned their role in the game that they could learn how to win and lose and still be okay.  Isn’t that really what we all hope to be able to achieve in life, because the longer you live the more you realize that you will not always win, and learning how to lose and still be okay really is the key to success.  That really is the journey of life, sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, and it is not about how many times we fail, but it is about how many times we get back up.  What I realized from coaching those girls was that if I taught them how to be a leader that no matter what experience they might have in life while reaching for their dreams or tackling everyday life they could be successful.  If they focused on one thing by striving to be a leader in each situation and manage themselves that they will always make it through whatever situation comes before them.   I know that it is has worked for me.

So what does having a leadership mindset do to your career path?  Back to 1985 when I started my career, within 12 months I had two promotions into newly created positions with the growth of the organization and by 1990 I became a part owner of the organization by invitation.  I was employed by this organization from 1985 to 2002.  In 2002 we decided to sell the company and I stepped back while the other partner stayed on with the new owner and I went to work for another totally different organization in a totally unrelated field.  Within 3 months I received a 20 percent increase in salary and within 6 months from that point I was promoted to a Regional Manager and received an additional 20 percent increase.    

Within 20 years of the start of my career progression, I received 12 promotions with 9 of those positions being newly created positions.   Throughout the journey there was one constant focus on my career track and that was a consistent emphasis and drive of mine to prioritize being the best leader that I knew how to be in every position and situation that I was in along the way.  By setting that as my goal, I received continuous rewards in promotions, opportunities and salary increases with each company and field that I worked in.  

When I started my career in 1985, I didn’t realize how much Stephen Covey, the author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, would impact my life.  What I realized early on in my career is if in whatever role I was in, if I could focus on one thing, and that was to be the best leader that I could be in every situation no matter what my title or role was, that I would be sure to be on the right track.  

Thirty-two years later, I can tell you that by placing my focus on being a leader permitted me to achieve greater success and salary compensation levels then I could have ever have sketched out for myself if I were to have sat down and planned out that journey.  When you focus on being a leader, opportunities present themselves to you.  Today I serve as the Chair of an accrediting body in Washington, DC and again when I began this chapter in my journey, I came on the commission and I was invited within two years to serve on the Executive Committee and now I serve as the Chair of the organization.  There is one common practice and that is “just be the leader in each step” and from there just let the progression evolve as it has since 1985.  

One final thought, focusing on being a leader is not about your role, your position, status, or number of direct reports; it is someone who takes responsibility for their behavior, actions and performance in all situations.    Being a leader is as important in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives.   

As quoted in the book of 13 Secrets of World Class Achievers by Vic Johnson “The rewards we receive in life come as a result not of your potential, but rather are a result of your performance”.

As Richard Leider states so clearly in his chapter (“The Leadership Mirror: Why Should I follow you?”) in the book edited by Marshall Goldsmith and others titled, Coaching for Leadership (2000), the real difference between success and failure can be traced to internal reasons and not external reasons. In other words, how well do leaders engage the hearts and souls of their followers?  It’s about what’s inside you and not outside you that really counts.

If we all become leaders what a powerful nation we would be!  Would you like to be coached to become a leader?