In the 1980s, Liz Smith joined LG Davis, the printing firm established by her father and uncle. Now, as MD, she thinks about all the things she’d say to her younger self as a struggling new leader.
Dear 20-odd year-old me,
You don’t think you’re up to this leadership thing. But you are. Here’s some advice from someone who knows you well…
- Shake off your baggage. You’ve got good leadership traits – you just don’t recognise them yet. You’ve taken over from your dad and soon you’ll step out of his shadow. One day you’ll see you’re even better equipped to survive in business than he was.
- Don’t fear failure. You excelled at school; you never experienced failure and that’s why you fear it. But try to embrace it. One day you’ll look back on your failures as your biggest growth experiences.
- Don’t aim for perfection, aim for excellence. You’ll go through tough times financially. You’ll see the print industry struggle. You’ll be afraid for the business. Don’t let that fear seep into everything else, keep it separate from your life outside work.
- Be honest with people. When you go through the scariest times, talk about it as much as possible, don’t keep it in. Don’t pretend it’s all ok. Have one-to-ones with directors. Make your staff meetings open and honest. You’re all in it together.
- Don’t take criticism personally. You’ll ask for feedback, which is the right thing to do, but sometimes it’ll be the hardest thing to hear. Try not to be defensive, let people say what they’re unhappy about and show them you’re listening.
- Ask for help. You feel like you’re supposed to have all the answers. You’re not. You’ll meet some amazing people that will help you become a better leader. If you see someone you admire, just introduce yourself, people love to help.
- When you go home, let it go. You work too many hours. It’s not helping: you’re tired and you can’t see the wood for the trees anymore. Go home earlier, relax, get some sleep, don’t turn the computer on, even if you think you’re doing strategic planning. You’re not.
- Have some fun with colleagues. Get to know them. Budgets will be tight but try to socialise together. Relax in each other’s company and create memories as a team, that’s what will make the company feel real and strong.