AT&T: 6 Lessons I Learned Along My Journey to the C-Suite

Originally Published by Linkedin.com.

By David Huntley, Senior Executive Vice President – Chief Compliance Officer

I had the honor of addressing the incoming class of full-time MBA candidates at SMU, my alma mater. After sharing how the continuous reinvention of my career parallels that of AT&T’s, I provided 6 lessons I’ve learned along the way. At the encouragement of others, I’m sharing them with you. Regardless of your industry, profession, personal background or career aspirations, I hope you find value in them.

#1 Seek out and identify mentors and sponsors No matter where your career path takes you, you’ll always need the assistance of others, whether that’s sponsors or mentors. To realize your fullest potential, you must seek out people who can help you throughout your journey. Some will be mentors: people willing to lend advice and help you find your way. Others will be sponsors: people that won’t simply mentor you, but advocate on your behalf and champion your efforts. Having both will help you reach the career aspirations you’ve set for yourself.

#2 Persevere Never give up. At times, you’ll experience what you may see as roadblocks. They’re not. They’re simply speedbumps that require more introspection to help determine the right path forward. You must have the resolve to persevere. Struggle leads to progress. Just think, what would happen if Steve Jobs had stopped the first time he was fired from his own company. We probably wouldn’t have the iPhone and Apple probably wouldn’t be the first publicly traded trillion-dollar company. Instead, he persevered, stayed true and reached his goals.

#3 Be flexible and embrace change Greek philosopher Heraclitus is cited as the source of the saying “change is the only constant in life.” Joining AT&T as a junior lawyer almost 25 years ago, I expected to practice corporate law through retirement. That wasn’t the case. I’ve spent roughly half of my AT&T career in the Legal department, the other half in operations. And while I’m not a practicing attorney today, I still lean on my legal background on a daily basis. Bringing a foundation in the law to an operations role has only increased my value. So, if change is constant, you must be able to embrace it. If you can’t, you’ll limit your career options.

#4 Stay relevant and be proactive Always be learning. You can’t stay relevant if you keep your head down. Identify your strengths and continuously develop them. If you have an interest in something, but lack the knowledge, do the work. Always be learning. Whether that’s reading, attending training or going back to school, the only way you’ll stay relevant is by knowing the latest trends. If you don’t remain relevant, then the tools you possess will dull and your value will fall.

#5 Compete the right way Who doesn’t like competition Healthy competition makes us better. It’s when we compete by cutting corners, cheating or sabotaging others that we lose, even while “winning.” Because those that you undercut will always remember. They may forgive you, but they’ll never forget. And you never know who you might work with, or work for, in the future.

#6 Exercise humility Admit that you don’t have all the answers. The best leaders surround themselves with the best people, so they know who to go to when they don’t know the answers. Every great leader also has great people behind them. No one gets to where they are on their own. The sooner you recognize this, the more effective you’ll lead. And, one last thing, boldly recognize the great work of others. Give credit where credit is due. Who doesn’t want recognition from time to time. This accomplishes two things. It shows your humility, endearing others to you. And it shows others you value their contributions and they’re deserving of praise.

The Wrap Up

The last thing I left the MBA candidates with was the importance of character. You can do all the things I’ve shared above to help position you for success, but character is key. Reputation is what others think of you. Character is who you are. It’s something you own. If you haven’t started to really focus on it, you must. And while you do, keep integrity at the center.

After all, how do you want to be remembered

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