Some professionals spend their entire career working in the same industry. There’s definitely value in becoming an industry-specific expert; knowing every nuance of the field gives a business leader an operational edge when managing everything from inventory to sales negotiations. But, in terms of leadership, single-industry-only experience doesn’t necessarily shape the best, most versatile, or most dynamic leaders, at least in terms of managing a company’s most valuable assets – its people.  

An industry pro who has the bulk of their career in a single industry might find it difficult to step into an entirely different industry and lead a business successfully, but someone who has led organizations reflective of various industries and sectors has likely amassed the skill sets required to jump into new territory with a high degree of finesse and lead the charge, so to speak, to goal achievement. Often, it comes down to a people-focus rather than subject-matter focus, and that can make all the difference.  

Experience and Leadership Style

My leadership experience bears marks from many industries, including mortgage brokering, technology, SEO, insurance, and telemarketing. In terms of leadership, every industry is slightly different, so there’s no such thing as cookie-cutter leadership styles because the industry microcosm has evolved some unique way of doing things. As I’ve learned, however, those unique traits transition to other industries quite well.  

Working in other industries has given me a broader perspective on leadership, allowing me to adopt and carry one industry’s best leadership practices to another industry. One of the most notable advantages of a diverse industry experience is that it makes it easier to lead many different personalities, to adapt a style or practice to a different team that is eager for a change in leadership methodology.  

In short, being in different industries and wearing different hats gives you an open mind for listening and seeing how people react. You find that you are able to effectively lead different people, open up more doors, and apply those new perspectives in different and exciting ways. 

Leadership Style vs. Values

Shifting from one industry to the next might make some people feel like a rudderless ship, but when you have a handle on your values (and for the sake of this analogy, let’s assume that the ship is the conveyance of these values) you’re able to maneuver through storms that involve some management crisis or another. Your leadership approach may change and change back again depending on the situation, but your values remain unchanged. 

Of course, it will sound cliche, as so many leaders pay homage to the same values – honesty, integrity, strong work ethic, etc. – but good leaders really do pay more than lip service to these ideals. These are certainly my core values, but one value stands above the rest. I have valued transparency in both myself and other leaders as the ultimate guiding light of leadership. As a transparent leader, my other values are readily on display. The people around me, whether other executives or board leaders, know what they’re dealing with, which then also speaks to the value of honesty. 

When you are working in a situation where you can prioritize transparency, you can bridge many limiting factors like fear of the unknown or even failures. We all stumble, but when you can own mistakes and admit them readily in a supportive and transparent environment, you can more easily grow from them because you’re not mired in poor business culture. My professional values don’t just shape how I operate, after all. They have the power to shape the company’s entire culture and a healthy business culture is very often one of the most reliable keys to success.  

Personal and Professional Growth

For me, crossing over from one industry to another has been an impetus for growth. One can view this conglomerate of cross-industry experience as the makings for a jack-of-all-trades, which makes sense, but there’s another way to look at this in the context of leadership. One industry provides a singular take on company or project leadership, but a collective range of industries offers a broad number of leadership styles and practices that, in my view, nurtures more dynamic leadership growth. You borrow the best practices, leave the others behind, and move on to accumulate more leadership experience somewhere else.  

So, for executives or management professionals who might feel apprehensive about transitioning from one industry to another, it’s important to remember that there is incredible value to diversifying your leadership experience. Learning the facets of another industry means your professional life will never be dull and you’ll be quite busy getting the hang of new operational procedures, but you’ll find that those elements that make you a cross-industry leader are the same skills that can make virtually any role you step into as a leader a success. You’ve honed those skills from many different angles and developed a style that is likely unlike anyone else’s. When you understand how to market your cross-industry leadership skills, you’re apt to find that your fresh perspectives are just what many businesses are looking for.