Recently, I had the opportunity to attend “Forward: Tales from the Young CEO”, an Indy Chamber event. This was my first professional event, besides a career fair, so I had almost no expectations going in. My green “first-timer” ribbon proudly displayed, I fumbled around nervously for the first 20 minutes of the networking portion of the event. I was at the mercy of my mentor, Nicole Bieker, as she introduced me to all the people she knew at the event.
After what seemed like an endless number of handshakes and conversations, finally the program started. The keynote speaker was Max Yoder, co-founder and CEO of Lesson.ly, an organization that produces learning software for companies. Being a CEO, I expected Max to be an old executive in a young person’s body: cool, calm, composed… that sort of thing. Boy, was I surprised when he walked up to the microphone in jeans and a t-shirt, and spoke transparently. He was just a guy with really good ideas. I could write a whole book about what I learned from Yoder by listening to him for an hour, but I’ll keep it to three points:
Show vulnerability as a leader.
I think we often hold this misconception that when we’re a leader, we need to be composed and display only our best attributes so that our subordinates will respect us. Yoder flipped that idea upside-down. If you’re vulnerable and show your team who you are and what you’re afraid of, they’re going to want to work harder for you and you’re going to want to work harder for them.
You’re not going to grow while you’re inside your comfort zone.
We’ve all heard it time and time again: “Get outside of your comfort zone!” or “Push yourself to do uncomfortable things!” I think this is something that we all need to be reminded of repeatedly, because after a while the phrase loses its sting. It’s true; to become a better person and to grow, you need to put yourself in a position where you’re uncomfortable, and then excel. Rinse, and repeat.
Yoder talked a lot about his failures. One of the things he emphasized is that while you’re working on something, don’t just hide in your basement until whatever you’re developing is ready for the public. Odds are there are still going to be a million things wrong with it when its released, so might as well not waste your time working on a part of something that isn’t desired by your intended audience. Bounce your ideas off other people and see what they think. Don’t waste your time on something that won’t work.
About a week after I went to the event I sent a handwritten letter to Yoder, thanking him for speaking at the event and letting him know that I would be blogging about my experience. A few days later, I received an e-mail from Yoder in which he said he was excited to read my blog. Writing thank-you letters and following up with a quick email can open you up to new opportunities that you didn’t know existed. I highly encourage anyone and everyone to remember how important people are to the success of your career, no matter which position you fill or what industry you’re involved in.
The experience I had going to this event was amazing and terrifying. But hey, I was outside my comfort zone! I learned a lot about networking and how to better prepare myself for future events, and I’m excited for the next opportunity I get to practice what I learned… which is next week at the Indiana INTERNnet’s Intern Meet & Greet with Pete!