“This is the year that my – insert “life,” “apartment” or “long-awaited vacation” – gets organized.”
“New weight goal – finally lose that 10 pounds. That means I have 25 pounds to go.”
“Time to pay it forward and pick up that volunteer job.”
As the new year rolls around, we all summon up that inner resolve and proclaim with great sincerity what we commit to do in the coming year. To help us along, we review a cavalcade of advice columns, blogs, “listicals” and more to help us decide how much self-improvement we can stand.
Like most, my resolutions veer in the direction of weight loss and exercise. My record for accomplishing my goals could be charitably described as streaky, with brief episodes of success against the all too familiar forces of age, gravity and chocolate.
I fare much better when it comes to resolutions about my leadership practice. I highly recommend leadership resolutions as a career building technique. It’s easy, creative and fun – and involves much less guilt than blowing off a trip to the gym or deciding that it’s a night made for a pint of Haagen Dazs.
When considering what you may do in the coming year to build your leadership practice, think of the following dimensions: upward, downward, across and inward.
Looking upward, you may reflect on where you stand with your boss or the leadership of your organization. “Managing up” are things you do to improve that relationship. Start by asking yourself whether you believe your boss has a true reading of you, your strengths and weaknesses, your contribution to the work of the organization and your career trajectory. Many organizations conduct annual performance reviews around this time of year; a review may offer the opportunity to start or continue that conversation.
Looking downward as a current leader gives you a chance to take stock of where you stand with your team. What have been the year’s highlights for the team? Are there accomplishments of which you are particularly proud? Are there times when you felt particularly effective or “in the zone?” What behaviors do you want to dial up that enhance team success? What about the more challenging areas? Where do you think you’ve fallen short as a leader? What skills or relationships need attention?” Do you have the resources you need (training, time, etc.) to begin to address these issues?
One approach advocated by Marshall Goldsmith is called “feed forward.” Unlike feedback, feed forward focuses on future behavior. It is clearly identified, described as a commitment and is subject to accountability. For example, staff may identify weekly team meetings as a pain point: too long, unfocused and unproductive. As team leader, you can use “feed forward” as follows: i) I hear you about the weekly meeting and I want to work on this; ii) I have some ideas about meeting management like having an agenda, honoring time limits and having a timekeeper. I’d also like your ideas as well so we can get more out of these meetings; iii) I want to circle back in 6-8 weeks to see how we’re doing. Used in this way, feed forward conveys to the staff that you are listening, that you are prepared to take action and that you want to be held accountable. The key at this point is to make sure to follow up.
Much of my own leadership practice has been built by looking across, meaning identifying similarly placed peers on whom I rely heavily for advice, mentoring and moral support. In the coming year, you may want to think about whether your peer network is strong, vibrant and available in the ways you need it to be. With one of my peer mentors, we recently realized that we have grown from office peers to coffee buddies when we worked in different offices, to cellphone mentoring during our commutes to “virtual coffees” now that we live in different cities altogether.
Along the way, we have supported each other through budget battles, presidential transitions, personnel complaints, reorganizations, tough press calls and GAO investigations, promotions and multiple job transitions. Those conversations were full of advice, laughter (and some tears) and huge insights for both of us. Simply put, my career would have been quite different without close peers who helped me navigate my career.
Lastly, looking inward speaks to the need to practice reflection as a leadership skill. Senior leaders recognize that their time is their most precious resource but so few take the time to re-energize and reflect as a source of renewal and inspiration. In so doing, they risk the so-called “tyranny of the inbox” where the urgent always crowds out the important.
A daily mindfulness or spiritual practice can help maintain balance in a life of heavy responsibility and the accompanying pressures. Finding the time to decompress needn’t mean taking an extended vacation (although that may be desirable) but can easily be incorporated by finding five or ten minutes for simple breathing or relaxation exercises. When the demands of leadership pull in every direction, looking inward may be the source of sustenance you require.
Leadership resolutions are not just commitments to yourself but to others who count on you. To increase the likelihood of your following through, write them down. Then share them with others. Your leadership resolutions for 2018 are ones you’ll want to keep.
Neil A. Levine is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.