Back in college, I was chosen for the national leadership society Omicron Delta Kappa (which was also founded at my school over a century ago). This showed not a small bit of courage on the part of my electors because while I was captain of a sport and did okay in my classes, my friends nicknamed me "homeless" because I wore the same blue sweatsuit around for the better part of my last two years on campus.
Anyhow, this evening I have the chance to pay it back--or pay it forward, I suppose--in speaking to the next circle of initiates. What would I tell today's college students and graduates about leadership? Well, for starters, the way you dress matters. Dress for the job you want? Yes, yes, yes. I've seen this play out time and again over the years. No more blue sweatsuit, believe me (no comment on my weekend wardrobe, however).
But there's much more to it, of course. I've never actually thought of myself as a leader (nor sure that I've been one) so much as someone who's willing to take the initiative. What do I mean? When I walked by the big boss's open door days into my very first post-graduate internship (at The Wall Street Journal), I hesitated just long enough for him to say hello, and I said hello back. And then we chatted for a moment, and that was it. Seems insignificant, but I walked by that door often on my way to the cafeteria, and we developed a rapport that paid off in many small ways for me career-wise--but would have been a joy even if it hadn't.
A few years later, as a reporter, I saw a job posting for a gig in Europe. I desperately wanted the job, even though I was underqualified. I mentioned this to my editor. He said I should tell the overseas editor. I found this almost laughable. But I took his advice, spoke to that editor about it, and wound up not getting the Europe job, but a completely different columnist position that became one of the best learning experiences of my life. Later, in a different capacity, he did hire me to work in Europe--and that is how I came to work in TV.
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There were other ways I took the initiative too, along the way; the Journal asked if I'd shoot a video for them as part of a fledgling initiative, and I said sure, even though my palms got clammy at the prospect. This was never a formal ask--I just got talking to the people involved (I actually think it started in that same cafeteria line). Later, they launched a live news show and asked me to stand in for it until someone was hired for it permanently. That's also how I developed the skills to be ready to work in TV.
And I say all this to remind you--and myself--that so much of my career "development" has really been the result of many, many serendipitous encounters in the office. There is going to be a great temptation to work remotely as you start your careers right now. But there is nothing serendipitous about a Zoom meeting. Maybe chat apps like Slack or Teams offer some of that, but nothing in my direct experience has ever come close to replacing the in-person networking that happens at work (or at the bar afterwards).
I am all for Work From Home once you've established your career, when you have kids and work to juggle and it's really hard to do it all effectively and live somewhere comfortably. Even then, it can be a risk, depending on the field. But especially when you're first starting out right now, I'd say take the initiative everywhere it is offered to you--and spend as much time as you can in the office.
And now to you, my newsletter readers, you have six hours to send me feedback before I deliver this message tonight!
See you at 1 p.m!