5 Lessons for Leaders

I've had a lot of different jobs in my life. I don't have a long life so far, but I've had some great experiences (positive and negative) that have taught me fantastic lessons in leadership. And so if you're hiring, or firing, or building an empire, here are some of my experiences that have shaped and will continue to grow my style of leadership.

Lesson 1: Stand up for your employees 

I'll never forget the time of day (1:30), the booth (7), or the man's face who informed me that he wasn't going to be waited on by a boy. Except, I put that politely. He used what I think is perhaps the most derogatory term in the English language because in his mind, only females could wait tables. I was 14. I simply said "okay," and went and told my boss that he wanted another server. She was 70 some years old at the time, five foot zero, and a woman you wanted to stay on the right side of. She came out, politely walked over to the table, asked if he preferred another server, and then took his drink, poured it on him, and told him to never set foot in her restaurant again. 14 years later, I have never forgotten this lesson. Customers aren't always right and you can't build a business if you don't back the people who work for you.

Lesson 2: Don't be a jerk

I was in my sophomore year of college, working at a fine dining restaurant and about to leave for a winter semester abroad. The owner lost it, called me a liar, and told me he never would have hired me had he known I was leaving for a little over a month during the busiest time of year, which, in a college town, is apparently Christmas break when no one is around. We had an "I-quit-no-you're-fired" conversation and I finished up my shift and never came back. But as a result, two other servers quit and the owner was left to train three new people on a 400-bottle wine list. Losing your cool doesn't serve anyone, kills morale, and leaves you in a bad position. No one wins.

Lesson 3: Show compassion and recognize good workers

The call came four years ago and was one of the few times I've been brought to tears over the phone. "Do you want to come back?" I had left my contract at the Senate to pursue other opportunities and found myself in the middle of the worst professional decision I had made (or have ever made). And 3.5 weeks in, my former manager offered me my old position back without a second thought. He wasn't simply having a heart because he's a really good man, but he did recognize my previous work and the fact that I was in a terrible situation. He saved me from something awful and I spent the next 3.5 years back on the Hill. I won't ever forget it. See value where it exists and don't remove emotion from every decision you make.

Lesson 4: Be understanding

"Are there any XXXX majors in this group? Okay, so I feel comfortable telling you that you should not take XXXX as an elective...it's just a bunch of [insert sarcastic comment about class topic here]." I get a sinking feeling about this to this day. I was a campus host and I LOVED being a campus host. One time I stepped over the line, got too comfortable, made a joke about a course, was overheard by the department chair, and came back to the office to be questioned about an email they had received. It could have been any of the guides out at the time, but I confessed. I didn't get fired. I made a mistake...a really stupid one, and it was used as a learning opportunity rather than a reason to be punished. People make mistakes. People can hurt your brand. But we're all human--it's bound to happen. Forgive. Forget. Grow.

Lesson 5: Take chances

"Are you ready to move to Connecticut?" I said it with a smile because I knew she'd support me even though it meant leaving our friends and family behind. 2 months later we had sold our home in Maryland, bought a new one, moved, and started the next chapter in our lives. It has been a phenomenal ride so far and while it might seem like I'm the leader in this scenario for being the reason for the move, it wouldn't have been possible without the support of my wife--and so in fact the tables are completely turned. It's so cliche, but sometimes in order to lead, you truly do have to follow.