I am currently a junior at Claremont McKenna College. Over the past six months, I have been inundated with career decisions that have forced me to question who I am, what I value, and where I would like to see myself post-graduation. Daunting, especially since I’m making these decisions in my bedroom.
During this time of social distance, I came across the book Principles, in which famous hedge fund manager Ray Dalio records and discusses his own principles, and how they have been instrumental to his success in business and in life. Dalio encourages young leaders to reflect on their own experiences, and the lessons taught by others, to consciously define their guiding principles; he believes doing so will result in the ability to set clear goals, make good decisions, and live a meaningful life. So, this past summer, I took on Ray’s challenge. I used the COVID quarantine as an opportunity to reflect, discover, and define my own principles to help me better understand the person I am and want to become.
I reviewed numerous podcasts and interviews by corporate executives and read several books by some thoughtful leaders. Then, I amalgamated their advice on leadership into values, principles, and habits in the hopes that I would be moved to identify and adopt the principles that resonate with me and, in turn, practice them in my life. This process was so valuable that I decided to share it with my college peers. You can find my full document on LinkedIn.
What are principles? Dalio explains how each day we are faced with a new set of situations we must respond to. Without principles, we are forced to react to each challenge independently, as if we were experiencing them for the first time. With principles, we are able to recognize our situations as ones we’ve seen before and use our principles to guide our actions and make good decisions.
Why is it important to develop principles? Having established principles allows you to learn from your mistakes and make better decisions. Making decisions is hard, and we are bound to make mistakes. The key is to manage this regret, or pain in a way that produces progress, so that you will not make the same mistake in the future. Many of the individuals I studied encouraged taking risks, despite the possibility of failure, saying what makes a great leader is how you react when things go wrong.
How do you develop your principles? Dalio would agree that the best way to learn your own principles is to reflect on your experiences, particularly in times that you failed. The truth is, no one develops when they are comfortable. Ray explains how he trained his brain to embrace his challenges and learn from them. By doing this, he gained a “principle” that helped him tackle a similar problem in the future.
Ray Dalio advocates that the best way to develop your principles is to follow a 5-step process:
- Have clear goals.
- Identify and don’t tolerate the problems that stand in the way of achieving those goals.
- Accurately diagnose the problems to get to their root causes.
- Design plans that will help you get around them.
- Do what’s necessary to push these designs through to results.
What did I learn? Having studied in-depth leadership principles from over 20 business leaders, I began to see commonalities. Above all else, the great leaders of today tell us to adopt the following principles:
- Take strategic risks and be adaptable. Though you are bound to fail, your failures will enable you to learn and grow. Successful leaders are able to learn from their mistakes and do better in the future.
- Pursue what you are passionate about, regardless if you see a clear path to success. Become both a master and a lifelong learner in the area in which you are passionate.
Great leaders stand firm in their principles. I invite you to reflect on your own experiences and to recognize and craft your own guiding principles. Continue to refine and evolve these principles as you learn about yourself from your experiences. Hold these principles close as they will be essential for successfully navigating the next chapter of your life.
1. Develop and track progress of your goals.
a) Every moment of pain is an opportunity for necessary growth.
2. Foster friendship with people you trust.
3. Be committed to being a lifelong learner.
a) Actively pursue things that interest and excite you.
b) Curiosity is a gift, be engaged and ask many questions.
4. Focus on the task at hand, without worrying about the future and what you cannot control.
a) Be decisive. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have (and can acquire).
5. Know yourself.
a) Be strategic and true to yourself.
b) Know when to say no. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it’s probably not right for you.
c) Know when, and when not, to ask for help. Seek advice from those you trust.
d) Your internal dialogue determines your reality. Be reflective of your thoughts and feelings.
6. Prioritize your time. (You can have anything you want, but not everything you want.)
a) If you don’t have enough time to go for a run, you are probably too busy.
7. You tend to gravitate to what is familiar to you; don’t be afraid to try new things and take intelligent risks. You’ll never know who you might meet, or what you might learn about yourself or the world around you.