7 Lessons I Learned in Corporate Life

Eight months into my entrepreneurial endeavor, I’ve had some time to put my eleven year career at a Fortune 500 company into perspective. My decision to try to make it on my own was based on factors that are common to many entrepreneurs. I suspect that I differ in one area- I was not compelled by disdain for the corporate environment. I enjoyed my time at the company. I interacted with a countless number of talented and fascinating people. The experience I gained there is the foundation for my business. A major factor in the success of my business will be my ability to contribute to my corporate clients within the context of their respective organizations.

If you are reading expecting to read an anti-corporation rant, you will be disappointed. Rather, I will be using this post to share some observations that should benefit both employees at large corporations and entrepreneurs who offer products and services to corporations.

  1. Many individuals are unwilling to fill leadership vacuums, as each suspects someone else will take charge. Stand out from the crowd by filling the void. Don’t be overly concerned about overstepping your bounds. Many times the people whose bounds you may be stepping on are so busy on other high priority efforts that they have no problem with someone making their lives easier.
  2. For most persuasive efforts within an organization, success hinges upon nuances of semantics and approach. Ever notice how successful leaders have books on communication on their shelves? This is not a coincidence.
  3. To be an effective leader, you must believe in your company’s ability to execute upon its strategy.  This conviction generates the excitement you need to make the utmost contribution to the organization. If you don’t believe, find other work. A related lesson is that you should not associate with non-believers, particularly the naysayers. You will be viewed as one of them.
  4. True role models present a consistent personal brand–both verbal and non-verbal–to colleagues. Variation in this message inevitably leads to confusion that affects how people perceive you and interact with you. Know what comprises your brand and act accordingly.
  5. Assume that others make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of the company.  While this assumption may not hold true, you will be better equipped  to resolve conflicts. By giving people the benefit of the doubt, you will be more open to identifying underlying concerns that may be poorly articulated. You may realize that another group or individual has valuable ideas that should be imparted to a more broad audience.
  6. Never lose your composure. Composure is a sign of strength, not weakness. While a person might feel amusement or short-term gratification by lashing out, the individual is damaging his or her reputation in the process. Trust, once lost, is very difficult to regain.
  7. Challenge people who claim that everything in the organization is dysfunctional. Ask them to explain why and how they would do things differently. In life, there people who thrive in negativity and pessimism. I had a mentor who introduced me to an apt term for these folks: net negative contributors. Some of these people may be very intelligent and skilled; however, they are poison to the organization and should be immediately corrected or dismissed.

Eleven years in a nutshell? Not quite. I could say that I spent that much time writing this article, as I’ve distilled these lessons from notes I recorded during that period. I hope you found at least one lesson insightful such that you adopt it into your thinking.