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When I stepped into a new leadership role less than a year ago, it prompted a time of reflection, as most career changes often do. Did my past experiences truly prepare me for leadership at an emerging food-tech company? The answer is yes: A combination of serendipity and unexpected life lessons have been a welcome, guiding light.
I’ve learned that there is no finite set of qualities that create a good leader, but rather, a number of experiences that contribute to a leadership style that fits each individual. Here are my tips for tapping into those experiences and lessons.
1. You don’t need to be the top of the class
When I was young, being a perfect straight-A student was not my main source of motivation. I was more interested in things happening outside the classroom — my social life and extracurriculars were more exciting.
I began playing competitive sports at age 13 and became an avid cyclist, which taught me a lot of life lessons that translate to being a leader today. I still draw a lot of parallels from my athletic experiences to my leadership style today, so my advice to other entrepreneurs is to look back at the areas you excelled in your early years — whether it be academic, athletics or otherwise — and uncover the experiences that shape your character. Did you learn self-discipline and mental toughness, how to cope with pain and bounce back after failure, or how to remain confident and never quit when met with resistance or opposition? Those are your leadership strengths.
2. Embrace your culture and surroundings
Before beginning my senior year of high school, I participated in a foreign exchange program and was lucky enough to travel to the U.S. to complete high school in America, affording me an experience assimilating into a new culture and meeting lifelong friends. After a year, I was required to return to Israel to join the military, given it is mandatory for all men and women. It was time to embrace and adapt again to the next experience my life had in store for me. In a sense, the military was really an extension of my time cycling. I had to remain regimented and structured, eat healthily and maintain sleep schedules so that I could keep up with the physical demands of being a soldier and then an officer with the special forces. I experienced a strong sense of community and a team-focused atmosphere. It taught me the importance of maintaining strong bonds and relationships with your peers, and always standing in someone’s corner.
The advice here isn’t that you need to move to a different country or join the military to become a leader, but instead seek inspiration from your surroundings — whether cultural, societal or geographical. View your time in new places or having new experiences as an opportunity to grow and learn, and embrace your surroundings as a means to draw meaningful skills that will likely prove to be invaluable someday. These experiences may make you more adaptive, well-rounded and accepting of the change.
3. Find your motivation and establish your target early on
When I first started my career three decades ago, I was an entry-level employee with no direct industry experience. I was very eager to enter my first job but quickly learned that I was pretty low on the totem pole. I didn’t like that feeling and it helped me determine what I wanted to achieve. I wanted to be the CEO. I wanted to be invited to important meetings and make major decisions.
Determining your motivation as a leader or entrepreneur is essential — for me, it was the harmony of creativity and responsibility, and for others, it could be a whole host of things. If you can tap into that driving factor in challenging times, you’ll be reminded of what set you on your path in the first place.
4. Trust your gut, even if you aren’t ready for a change
One of the biggest challenges of being a leader at any level is sitting in the discomfort of a new experience. Making a career change or diving into a new business opportunity can be intimidating in executive leadership roles. We often ask ourselves, “why would I leave the stability of my current role” or “what if this doesn’t work out?”
One day, I came across an article about DouxMatok, a food tech company based in Israel that was developing a sugar reduction solution, and I remember thinking, “that’s really interesting.” Two weeks later, I received a serendipitous call from a headhunter who was looking to fill a CEO position for DouxMatok. I didn’t have any intention of leaving my current job, but something in my gut was telling me to pursue this new leadership role — so I followed my gut. And that’s my closing advice for other leaders and entrepreneurs: Follow your gut. Whether it’s battling the uncertainties of working for a startup or working through challenges that a more established, large corporation may present, you can’t only refer back to past leaders or situations as a blueprint for success. To be an innovator in your field means to make your own decisions and trust that your gut will lead you in the right direction.
Being a successful leader looks different for everyone. What’s important is tapping into your life experiences and your strengths to develop a leadership style that suits you, and build a team that compliments your strengths by exceeding where you fall short.
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