Some Thoughts On Setting New Year Goals

Given this time of year is busy and stressful both in our careers and in our personal lives it seems impossible to even begin to think about next year when there is so much crammed into the end of this year. But it is really never too early to start thinking about the future.

As a leader it is your job to set the tone. When looking at your end of the year numbers, keep in mind that you’ll want to budget both time and resources to invest in the professional growth of your time. You’ll want the best quality training you can get. Whether it is keeping up with new technology, changes in regulations that affect your business, or changes to products, services and branding you’ll want your team up to date for the challenges ahead.

Pep talks, metaphoric speeches and rallying the troops is all well and good, but you’ll want real, concrete goals for the new year. Vague New Year’s resolutions like ‘getting the business into shape’ are useful and it is hard to make your team accountable for such vague goals. You want to set goals that are specific and achievable—if you set goals too high you are setting your team up for failure. You also want to set goals for which you can measure you and your team’s success. Also, give yourself and your team a time frame for achieving these goals.

At some level all successful businesses depend on quality data. Whether your team collects this data for the organization or you organization outsources their data acquisition make sure you are acquiring data that is not only accurate, but the data you actually need. Look back at your year and decide where you data was lacking.

 

 

The Power of Storytelling

Human beings have always been storytellers. We’ve used stories to bring ourselves together, to explain what then could not be explained and to inspire ourselves to be better than we are. Beyond this kind of storytelling we all tell our inner-selves’ stories. Our subconscious and conscious selves select facts and experiences from the stream of life to create a narrative that informs who we, the protagonists, are.

If this is beginning to feel a little Jungian, you aren’t far off. Stories can shape people and those people help sculpt the groups of which they are a part. Many great leaders throughout history have been storytellers. President Lincoln, for example, in the Emancipation Proclamation described an American in which all men truly were created equal. FDR in his fire-side chats described an American ideal for all citizens to live up to.
A leader’s unspoken inner narrative (those of the subconscious that are not often verbalized) are part of what create the shape of an organization and influences its team members.

These stories drive our decision-making process and ultimately our actions. This is the lens through which we see and analyze anything from a customer’s reaction to our products or services and through which we decided whether or not to hire a new team member.

If a leader tells themselves stories about unrealistically positive future this is in turn what their team will believe. Likewise, if a leader’s inner narrative only blames others for the failures of an organization their team will also follow these kinds of stories when analyzing their own and other’s behavior. If a leader’s inner stories are only filled with strife and failure this will affect the leader and the team’s ability to perform.

The wisdom here is not to try and use or misuse narrative, but to understand that the human mind needs coaching to be objective. Leaders should try and recognize how their inner narrative is filters and distorts everything the mind takes in.

Reducing Holiday Stress for Team Members

During the holidays keeping your team stress free is more out of the leader’s control than normal. On top of that team members may be doing more harm than good on themselves working extra hours to earn money for the holidays while end of the year deadlines creep nearer and nearer along with the holidays themselves.

Here is a quick list of tips that organizations large and small can try out to reduce holiday stress in employees.

Try to schedule holiday events for your organization during regular business hours instead of asking team members to spend even more time away from home and family.

If you have a assistance program of any kind whether it be monetary or otherwise remind team members it exists and encourage them to use it.

Make sure you show extra appreciation, even if it is only verbal and whether they worked voluntarily or by request, when team members work on a holiday.

Encourage more casual dress during work hours nearest the holiday and at holiday parties.

Provide holiday food. Again, whether this is at a party or near a holiday don’t add stress by asking team members to provide the eats.

If you give annual or quarterly bonuses of any kind, give them early so your team may make use of it during this financially stressful time of year.

Provide floating holidays so your team members can take time off whenever it is their family and friends celebrate.

Reduce hours or extend lunches to allow your team to run errands during regular shopping hours.

Provide time-off for your employees who choose to volunteer during the holidays, or better yet work volunteerism into your work environment.

For shift based and hourly team members, try to provide opportunities for additional work.
Some organizations even provide child care, gratis, so team members can run errands.

A final, but important note: remember that some people do not celebrate the most common winter holidays or may not celebrate at all. For some, the holidays can be a painful reminder of lost loved ones or a difficult family life past or present. Don’t push employees to participate in your organization’s holiday events and programs if it makes them uncomfortable.

Avoid the Pitfalls of Decision Making

Mistakes are unavoidable but we can avoid making “dumb decisions.” There are things that all people with different kinds of intelligence do to themselves that lead to these dumb decisions.

One classic mistake is overthinking. Intelligent people often make the mistake of over analysis. Especially as a leader we will have both external and internal pressure to make the right decision. More than like there is no way for us to turn down the external pressure, we can only control the pressure we put on ourselves.

No one will ever make the right decision always—so we must stop putting that pressure on ourselves. We will make mistakes, but we are prepared for that. Don’t over analyze your every move or you will paralyze your decision-making ability.

Something we can do to streamline decision making is to make small decisions and often. The further we put off making single, small decisions the more they grow into monsters pending on our to-do list. In business and often in life decisions have a due date. Keep up with the small ones to avoid to-do list full of monsters on down the line. Additionally, making a bad decision on a small matter is more fixable than the alternative.

Not making a decision is also a decision and getting caught in that feedback loop can be dangerous.

Some Words to Subtract from Your Professional Lexicon

Any good writer will tell us that a single word can totally change the shade or tone of a sentence or passage. This is true of conversation as well. A single word can act on the subconscious of subordinates and peers alike and could change the level of confidence they have in your communication.

One of these words is “think” especially used in the phrase “I think.” But who doesn’t use the phrase “I think?” While it may sound as if you are taking possession of the idea with this short preface, but in reality when one says something like “I think I have a good idea” this will often lead the listener to believe that you are unsure of whether the idea is good or not, that you are still mulling it over.

In casual conversation, “I think I’ll have lunch with George,” it is essentially a throw away phrase. But you might want to drop this phrase from your professional lexicon.
Another trouble word is “need.” While it may seem to emphasis an obligation on the part of the subordinate or peer it can also come of as, well, needy. “I need this project finished by the due date” might make it sound as if you are dependent on the person or obligation.

Similar to “need” is “want” which can be taken as an emotional appeal rather than a statement of fact. “I want your reports to be of a higher quality” is not as definitive as “These reports need to be of a higher quality.” Or try “I want a raise because my work has been good” sounds emotional compared to “The quality of my work this year is worthy of a raise.”

Other words like “guess,” “hope,” and “suppose” all work in likewise fashions. Using “hope” can add an element of uncertainty or even doom. “Guess” and “suppose” both, again, could lend an element of uncertainty to an idea one is proposing.

Leaders. Look Forward.

History has not been kind to leaders. Many we that we might claim to be successful (outside the context of our morals) were autocratic and aggressive: Lenin, Alexander the Great, Mao Tse Tung. And often the rewards of leadership are severe such as in the case of Ghandi, JFK or Lincoln.

So if we cannot look to history what does the modern leader look like?

For one, they should always themselves and their organization be looking toward the future. First and foremost, the leader needs to realize his role is never permanent. Look at the UK Football Champion ship s an example, managers often last less than a year one a single team.

A good leader is always building a succession of talent—really a leader’s job is to prepare the path forward and teach those who will one day lead.

But this isn’t just planning for the future. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, surround yourself with smart people and let them tell you what to do. Recognize these people and allow them to move the organization forward while you facilitate their talent.

These smart people need the infrastructure provided by the organization and the ability of the leader to bring each expert together to solve problems and get projects done. They should see that current leadership is preparing future roles for them.