Below CEO Today hears from Aparna Mahadevan, Senior Solutions Architect for Amazon’s Alexa Skills Team, who has worked in senior leadership roles in Singapore, India and the UK. Here she breaks down her top tips for those striving to become a successful leader at work.
1. Identify your strengths
All leaders have their own talents, which are used in different ways to bring out the best in themselves and others. Write down what you believe are your strongest assets and skills. Keeping these in mind, decide what the best steps are for you to progress your career. Try not to compare yourself with others, but do approach people who inspire you to ask for their best advice.
2. Develop existing skills
Focus on developing the skills you already have. Exercising and building upon what you are already good at will allow you to efficiently work towards reaching your full potential. Becoming an expert in your field can give you more value as a leader, opening up new avenues for your future and teaching you how to be more receptive to new opportunities that arise.
3. Find a mentor
A coach or mentor is invaluable in guiding you towards the best career path. A mentor will also teach you how to avoid common and recurring obstacles. Mentoring can be incredibly valuable for both parties, so try not to feel intimidated when approaching people. When looking to make your next career move, it’s worth investing in a mentor, even if you are fairly senior in your field.
4. Get a different perspective
Leaders need to be right, at least most of the time. To do this, you must not only have strong judgement and good instincts; but also seek out and act upon advice from people of different backgrounds and diverse perspectives, listen carefully and work to disconfirm their beliefs. Opening yourself up to different perspectives will help you make more accurate decisions that are driven by long-term thinking and experience, rather than emotions. Leaders are externally aware and they look for new ideas and inspiration from everywhere.
5. Network, network, network
Networking can be difficult, especially if you’re naturally introverted, or in an environment where you are in the minority. However, networking can be pivotal for career advancement and achieving success as a leader. It helps you gain a greater understanding of the landscape outside of your own workplace and in turn, helps the outside world know more about you.
Be curious (actively ask for somebody’s insight, most people love sharing their stories and giving advice), keep in regular touch with your network (you’ll be amazed by how much help you can receive throughout your career and even your personal life) and be yourself.
When networking, it’s easy to just focus on discussing business, but remember that the people you meet also need to remember YOU. So try to inject your personality everywhere you can.
6. Take risks
Leaders must feel comfortable taking risks. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said recently, “To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organisations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.”
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. At Amazon, we value calculated risk taking and a bias for action – it’s a key attribute we look out for when hiring leaders.
7. Say ‘no’ more often
Saying no isn’t just freeing – it’s necessary. If you disagree with a decision, explain your stance and give evidence. Every boss is unique, but as a rule, honesty is always the best policy.
One of Amazon’s core leadership policies is “have backbone; disagree and commit”. Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Brilliant leaders also have conviction and are tenacious, refusing to compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit to it wholly. This is what we look for in leaders at Amazon.
8. Insist on the highest standards
Natural leaders have relentlessly high standards – a lot of people may think these standards are unreasonably high. But it’s so important that leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. The best leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.
Insisting on the highest possible standards also means accomplishing more with less, rather than just throwing resource at a problem. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency and invention – all of which are key leadership qualities we look out for at Amazon.