The path to leadership and growth isn’t always linear – in fact, it’s often more of a jungle gym.
Our own Oliver Schabenberger has experienced this firsthand through his own “accidental” journey to leadership. After studying and working in forest management and then academia, he began his career at SAS as a software developer. That was 18 years ago. Today, he leads almost 11,000 people as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer at SAS.
Recently, Oliver sat down with Tim Salau, CEO of Guide, to talk about his journey to leadership, lifelong learning and how he connects the dots.
Read on to hear five of his key takeaways for your own growth journey.
1. Never stop learning
For Oliver, the interconnection of lifelong learning and leadership is critical. Despite going to school for 25 years – he’s earned four degrees, including a Ph.D. – he doesn’t have a degree in most of the things he does today. “It’s OK not to have that,” he says. “There was an important realization that these degrees are an important part of our growing and learning, but they are waypoints on your trajectory through your professional career and your life.” For Oliver, the real learning started after his time in the classroom – and hasn’t stopped.
His advice for skilling up? Embrace the digital revolution to fill in the gaps. “It doesn’t have to come from a degree – start talking to people!” he suggests. “Download, go online, try new software. There’s a lot of opportunity to train up quickly.”
2. Choose to lead
Just like other skills, leadership can be learned. “You’re not a ‘natural born leader,’” says Oliver. “It’s something you can learn and exercise.” Leadership isn’t a function or title – it’s a choice we make every day.
If you’re in a certain position and have a certain title, you’re expected to be a leader – but leaders exist at every level of a company. “We have many leaders in non-managerial and individual contributor roles that lead and push SAS forward,” says Oliver.
3. Adopt a growth mindset
Instead of focusing your energy on retaining your current role, spend your energy on growing out of it. “Your talents and abilities are not limited. They’re not limitless either, but they are expandable,” Oliver says.
None of us know what’s next, but if you approach your skills with a growth mindset, you can identify your boundaries - and push beyond them.
“It often takes you outside your comfort zone a little bit and feels strange and uncomfortable, but that’s part of growing,” he shares. “If you associate yourself with organizations, with mentors, with people that have that growth mindset, good things will happen.”
4. Strive for progress, not perfection
“You don’t have to be perfect. It’s great to be perfect, but you don’t have to be a world-class expert at everything to do a good job,” says Oliver.
Rather that comparing yourself to other people, he suggests setting goals and focusing on your own continuous improvement. “Surround yourself with other people who will help you do your job and give you honest feedback,” he shares.
To stay on top of your progress, ask yourself, “What am I doing today better than I did two months ago?”
5. Lead with authenticity
When it comes to his leadership philosophy, Oliver applies the good ol’ golden rule. “I don’t have a particular person I’m trying to emulate,” he says. “Ask yourself, ‘Who am I, and how do I want to lead people?’”
To make good on this, he compares the answers to these questions to how he sees himself and how he operates. “We can all strive to be great leaders,” he says.
To hear more from Oliver, check out his full conversation with Tim below. And let us know in the comments – what does leadership mean to you? And how has lifelong learning impacted your career journey?