NextGen Know-How: 15 Lessons for Leadership and Life

glasses and colored pencils with office supplies in front of notebook that reads LESSONS LEARNED
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

5 minutes

Being a leader today doesn’t require the same skills as it did 15 years ago. Here are some lessons learned to help you grow.

Last month, I celebrated 15 years in business as a leadership consultant, facilitator and speaker. There have been many lessons and learnings along the way, and my life looks very different than it did 15 years ago.

In 2008, I left my executive position at a credit union in Maryland to start my own business. I was engaged to be married and had no children. A month after I left the credit union, I got married, went on an amazing honeymoon to Greece, Turkey and France, and returned excited to begin a new chapter. Then the economy crashed. I got through it, but it wasn’t easy.

This month, I’m about to celebrate my fifteenth wedding anniversary, and I have three children. Parenting is the toughest job I have ever had, and requires me to learn, adapt and try again pretty much every day. I have gained perspective and wisdom, both personally and professionally. I have had the opportunity to work with many leaders and organizations in credit unions, manufacturing and other industries.

It was hard to narrow it down, but these are the biggest lessons I have learned in leadership and life.

15 Lessons Learned

1. Life is full of ebbs and flows; that is the human experience. I have had many wonderful highs in my business and several challenging lows (like the economy crashing in 2008 exactly six weeks after leaving my job to start my business). You can’t always control what happens in the world, but pausing and taking a breath (or two or three) before making decisions helps you gain perspective on the best path forward.

2. Everyone has a front stage and a backstage. Things may look great on the outside, and most people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds show the positive experiences. But every single person has a backstage too—the things they don’t necessarily share with the world (or their leader) that is impacting them, both good and bad; the struggles and grief of losing a parent, a sick child, a marriage, a divorce, a child graduating high school, etc. We are human beings living a human experience, and sometimes that experience is hard. The best leaders understand their team members have a life outside of work, care about them personally, and cultivate an environment of empathy and support.

3. Leadership continues to evolve. Not everything that worked 15 years ago works now. Our world and society are constantly evolving, and what it takes to be an effective and successful leader evolves too.

4. Self-awareness and self-development are two of the most important areas to invest time and energy in as a leader. Knowing how your style, personality and preferences impact other people is crucial for effectively leading. Understanding and owning your strengths and weaknesses helps you to seek out other perspectives, opinions and support when needed.

5. It’s never been harder to be a leader than in today’s environment. Leaders must consistently be open to learning, listening and adjusting their style to be influential and effective. What is required to be successful in leadership in this pandemic era is very different than when most managers and executives started out.

6. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Many transactional managers and executives could be fairly effective in a traditional environment that was common for many years. But as our society has evolved, most employees want development, coaching and a more relational leadership approach where they can bring their talents to work each day. This sort of leadership requires a different set of essential skills. (And in my opinion, these skills are not “soft” skills—they are essential skills.)

7. Well-being will continue to be an important focus for organizations to thrive. High-performing organizations prioritize caretaking the culture by creating an environment where people feel safe sharing their ideas, feel heard and have managers and colleagues who support them. The leaders of thriving organizations model boundaries and make health, wellbeing and rejuvenation a priority.

8. Employees no longer want to work for companies at the expense of their personal life. They want to work for organizations where their work contributes to their personal fulfillment.

9. Being effective is less about managing time and more about managing your focus and energy around the key result areas of your position.

10. Sleep is an important element for being effective in almost everything. You need energy to be your best at work each day so you can be impactful and influential in a positive way.

11. Confidence is not a destination. Many of us search for how to become confident or see others who appear more confident and wish that was us. Confidence builds by taking action despite the discomfort that is required. It’s also situational; I can feel confident in one area of life and not confident in another. The way to build confidence is to step into the discomfort to build the skills that are required to increase confidence. No one is 100% confident all the time.

12. Discomfort is good. If you are learning, growing and developing, there will always be discomfort. If you are comfortable, it’s most likely a sign that you are stagnant (unless you are watching a Hallmark movie in your comfy pants, which is a great type of comfort). When you set goals and strive for something you want but don’t yet have, discomfort is part of the process.

13. The direct manager has the biggest impact on the employee experience. A toxic leader has a negative impact on an employee inside and outside of work. How we lead, and the cultures we create, impact employees well beyond the office.

14. We never reach our full potential in our lifetime. Every time you achieve the goals and dreams you created, a new level emerges.

15. Often the things worth doing are hard. Building a business has not been easy, but it has been totally worth the time, challenges, effort, success and failures. Most things that are fulfilling and rewarding are not easy. 

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear some of the lessons you have learned in your career. Let me know in the comments or on LinkedIn.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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