29 Leadership Lessons That Will Guide You Into Your Thirties


I recently turned 29. Thinking about the whole growing older thing more deeply made me think about which career goals I’ve achieved already and why, so I wanted to share some of the things I think have had direct impact on my success so far – as well as some philosophies I think will guide many of us into the future (and into our thirties!).

  1. Hard work beats traditional education. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s no point in a traditional education, but rather that if you have not had a formal education, hard work still pays off. Don’t limit your options based on schooling alone – if you want it, fight for it.
  2. No job is too insignificant. From the start of my career, I wanted to learn every set of skills I could. Even though I didn’t get paid for the tasks I took on that fell outside my job description, I advanced more quickly as a result.
  3. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Things won’t always work out the way you expect, but freaking out won’t help. Try to take a measured look at an unexpected situation and say to yourself, “Well, here we are. Now what?” and make the best of what you’ve got.
  4.  It’s lonely at the top. Sounds clichéd, I know. But it’s true: the harder you work toward career goals, the less time you may have for keeping up with friends and making yourself available for short-notice plans. It can be more difficult if your peers begin to feel challenged by or jealous of your growing success. Don’t worry. It may feel lonely for a while, but it won’t stay that way. Keep working.
  5. Take your management position seriously. When you’re working with people who are dissatisfied or frustrated with their work environment, it makes a world of difference for them to feel heard. Take the time to listen.
  6. Put your employees first. If you’ve got your employees behind you (because they genuinely want to be) you’ll have far more positive experiences than negative. And when things go wrong you’ll have a dedicated staff that’s got your back.
  7. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Listen to your instincts, and take your time making hiring decisions. On the other hand, fire quickly. If an employee commits a fireable act, there’s a high likelihood it won’t be the last. If it’s a bad fit, there’s bad performance, or your staff or reputation are on the line, pull the bandage off quickly.
  8. Know that it’s not always the early bird that gets the worm. It’s always the tenacious one. If you fail, try again. Keep trying. Keep improving. Keep learning. Staying with the problem, working to conquer the insurmountable, will result in success.
  9. Read "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi. This book teaches you how genuine relationships help make life work. Rooted in a philosophy of generosity first, it can help you open new horizons and make connections that last.
  10. Stoking your passion is a must. Don’t love what you’re doing? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re feeling burned out, do something different. If you’re feeling unsupported, talk to people you trust. Staying engaged is a non-negotiable factor in success.
  11. Think outside the box. Remember, just because nobody has done something a particular way before doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea; conversely, just because people do things a certain way now doesn’t mean it’s the best way. If you can do it better, rewrite the rules!
  12. Have a plan B. It doesn’t hurt to have a plan C and D as well. It’s important to keep your vision realistic, or at least in the neighborhood of realistic. There will be high-stress times and low-stress times, so be prepared.
  13. Keep going. It will all be worth it: the stress, the long nights, the time spent questioning whether you’re doing the right thing. You’ve got this.
  14. Give back to your community. The most successful communities are those that create and then maintain a synergy: all parties giving a bit and taking a bit when necessary. Volunteer when you can. Support them, and they’ll support you too!
  15. Learn to evaluate tough choices. Weigh your options realistically, then diplomatically. Practicality is usually your best course of action, but don’t hesitate to seek the advice and support of trusted mentors and peers.
  16. Love your parents. I’ve found that in my toughest and my most celebratory times, my parents have been a great source of support, knowledge, encouragement and comfort. You’ll never get another set — love them!
  17. Make time for love…romantic and platonic. We need love and companionship, and it’s a must to keep ourselves in balance.
  18. Save. You never know when you will run into unexpected expenses. Don’t fall victim to the urge to save “later,” after the next paycheck or tech upgrade. Save, even a little bit, when you can.
  19. Be grateful. Things can change at a drop of a dime. Enjoy every minute and know that life is ever-changing. If your business is up, enjoy it and work hard. If your business is down, know that it will get better and continue plugging away.
  20. Stay healthy. Stress is inevitable, but when you take good care of yourself, it’s easier on your body. If this means taking a day or two off, take them. Eat well and consciously, drink plenty of water and remember to let your shoulders down now and again.
  21.  Don’t let naysayers get in your way. There are lots of reasons for people to talk down: general pessimism, jealousy, misinformation — ignore it. Naysaying for its own sake is usually about the person talking and rarely about you.
  22. Every obstacle is an opportunity. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. If you take every situation as a learning opportunity, you’ll get something out of it almost every time. Don’t be afraid to take your time. Just be open to new understanding.
  23. Set clear goals. This helps you stay motivated, focused and moving in your intended direction. I recommend breaking larger goals into batches of smaller ones. Make task lists and check on your progress fairly regularly. Seeing your progress can help you stay focused and positive as well.
  24. Accomplish your hardest tasks in the morning. You’re the freshest first thing in the day. It’s also a bonus to have succeeded at the hardest stuff first – it can make the rest of your day feel like smooth sailing and provide a boost of confidence.
  25. Create a to-do list the night before. This will keep you on track. Part of your brain may even be preparing you for the following day’s tasks, thereby helping you hit the ground running. If you forget something the night before, you can always add it to the list later.
  26. Don’t bring work stress into your personal relationship. Personal relationships can help relieve stress, soothe frazzled nerves, solve extant issues and recharge. Do your best not to drop your work stress on the people closest to you.
  27. Hire people smarter than you. I’ve seen this time and time again: the most successful people hire staff that are smarter than them, in the areas for which they are hired. Much as it doesn’t make sense to ask fish to climb trees, there are always people smarter than you at something. Hire them, watch them shine, learn from them. Prosper.
  28. Learn daily. Whether you’re reading articles written by thought leaders in your field or learning how to refinish a table, keep learning. It helps your brain stay flexible, and can help you make connections faster.
  29. Delegate. There are likely people on your team who are great at some of the tasks you’re facing. Don’t be afraid to let go of things. Biting off more than you can chew can be detrimental to the work’s quality, to your sense of well-being and ultimately, to your company’s success.

Nicole Smartt is the Vice President and co-owner of Star Staffing. She was awarded the Forty Under 40 award, recognizing business leaders under the age of 40. In addition, Nicole co-founded the Petaluma Young Professionals Network, an organization dedicated to helping young professionals strive in the business world. Nicole can be found on twitter; @StaffingqueenN.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.