9 lessons learned after 25 years of having the same job

August 10, 2015

It’s that time of year when millennials are starting their first job out of college or, perhaps, continuing the search.

It’s that time of year when millennials are starting their first job out of college or, perhaps, continuing the search. I’ve been in my job for 25 years, which is rare nowadays, especially for CEOs. I’ve managed to stay in mine so long in large part because it’s been more than a job – it’s a career built upon the nine lessons listed below. These lessons are timeless, universal, and applicable to any position or industry. Let’s call it the Career List. Give it a read, and then give the lessons a try.

1. Listen, observe and learn – This is not LOL as today’s generation knows it, but instead the very first rule to follow when joining any new organization. When you start that new job, get to know the people and the culture before you start offering expert opinions. Your new colleagues will appreciate the respect and humility.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do – Now that you’ve got the new job, absorb this rule. It is the simplest lesson of all, and yet the one that too many people fail to follow. If you say you’re going to do something – make a phone call, write an email, visit a customer – then do it. Always, always, always follow up on your commitments. As my colleague and friend Gerry Benjamin likes to say, “It’s all about the details.”

3. Be flexible – Markets and technologies always change. Successful people change at least as fast as the markets they serve. Embrace new opportunities and focus on the greater good of the organization. In a successful, forward-thinking company, you will be rewarded.

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4. Move up and around, not always out – The notion that it’s a bad idea to stay at one company for your entire career is nonsense. At successful, “intrapreneurial” companies, people have opportunities to move up and around within the organization, which keeps everyone engaged and reinforces the culture. Don’t regard longevity as a turn-off but as a privilege.

5. “Anticipate where the puck is going” – Another colleague and friend, Jim Breslawski, is a hockey fan, and he likes to cite this quote from the hockey great Wayne Gretzky. Jim has taught me that the best hockey players anticipate where the puck is headed next instead of skating to where the puck is at that very moment. Do the same in your career. Figure out where the markets are going and get there first. Once you’re there, focus on where you can really succeed. As Jim also likes to say: "We can do anything, but we can’t do everything."

6. Be a coach, facilitator and mentor – The best leaders bring people together, like the camp counselors of our youth. People don’t want to work for bosses; they want to work for leaders who have a vision and the energy and determination to make it a reality.

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7. Be transformational – Static organizations fail in markets that are dynamic. To avoid that fate, transform the place you work in whatever way you can. Everything can be made better. Do not accept the status quo. Repeatedly ask yourself and your team: “Why not?” Embrace the words of Nelson Mandela: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

8. Balance is key – Our work matters, of course, but family matters most. You must find a balance so that work and family are mutually reinforcing. This lesson is increasingly critical in a world that’s busier than ever. Again, Mandela’s words guide us: “You must find your own garden.”

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9. It’s always all about people – This is the greatest lesson of all. People – good, honest, smart, hard-working people – are at the root of every success. Engage people, expand your network, and maintain professional relationships throughout your life. You never know when you’ll need a friend. 

I humbly submit that after 25 years of CEO, whatever success I’ve enjoyed stems from following these nine rules more often than not. If you do the same, your best years are yet to come.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared here on LinkedIn.