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.

How to Approach Finding New Team Members

However new your organization is it will have automatically have a “culture” to some degree—this will largely be created by the mix of team members you have already assembled. From here there are two things that need to happen—first look at your team and decide what the core values of the culture are.

What is it you want to promote in your culture? What do you want to dissuade? There is no one right answer and despite changing trends and unfamiliar even unusual types of workplaces there is always a small contingent of people who like doing things the old-fashioned way.

It is important to find out what is important to your current team members and come to consensus on what kind of dynamic you want to create in your shared space and in the work you do together. Once you do that you should begin to look for new people to add to this team.

It should be clear that skill and ability are not the only factors to consider. If you are interviewing a potential new team member who seems pretty straight laced and traditional and you run the kind of organization that likes to take random dance breaks or have ping pong tournaments during work hours you might want to ask about them about the kind of organizational culture they feel they thrive under.

Knowledge v. Wisdom

One can read a hundred articles about the best leadership traits or ten mistakes new leaders make—and this is written with the irony understood that this is yet another article on leadership—and if one took notes they would probably find that there is, out there in the ether, generally accepted knowledge about leadership.

Think of leadership in terms of the order in which on takes college course work and earns a degree. As an underclassman many of the classes one takes, the 101s, cover the history and best practices of the subject matter. Students memorize pertinent facts and theories and get to practice them on a small scale. As an upperclassman, students begin debating and testing theories, the projects include real-world application. Grades are based more on how you use what you know than what you know. You start build wisdom, not just knowledge.

As we know wisdom comes from experience. Talk to other leaders, share your experiences. Ask each other how you have put knowledge into practice and what were the outcomes? While anecdotal evidence doesn’t make for the most scientific data, discussion and sharing lets us share wisdom, which in the world of leadership is probably more valuable than another article which sites several studies that conclude praise is most appreciated on Tuesdays after lunch time.

Once you have become a student of the knowledge of leadership, the next step is to share wisdom (experience) among your peers and learn from each other.

 

“Classic” Leadership Mistakes to Avoid

There are some common mistakes that all leaders, new and veteran, should avoid.

First and most importantly, many leaders do not trust their team members and either micromanager the team or take on too much work themselves. Focus on outcomes, not how things happen. Don’t insist on being kept in the loop on the minutia—no one likes feel like they are being spied on.

Next is a symptom of the modern world and that is being overly connected. While often the characteristic of new leaders wanting to seem “in on” the digital revolution, many veterans may see over-connectivity as a way to make themselves seem still relevant and with the times.

Modern technology encourages not just leaders but employees to be tuned in all the time and never shut down from the work day. This can lead to what is being commonly called “hurry sickness”. This “disease” makes us feel that because of technology and being constantly connected we continually have to do more and do it faster.

For the leader, stretching oneself too thin over digital communication actually makes them less accessible, not more so. Likewise, do not expect this from team members, set clear boundaries for everyone and let the team know that the work day has a clear beginning and end.

The last mistake we will address is a “classic” in leadership discourse. That is, needing to be liked. Even in organizations that are almost 100% “just for fun” whoever is in charge is going to have to make decisions at times that are not popular among all team members. Even if this is your adult softball team or a Fortune 500 company.

Many new leaders misinterpret the respect and understanding they see team members giving other leaders as “being liked” or even friendship. While respect and understanding are not mutually exclusive from friendship or “being liked” they are far from the same thing.

More often than not in trying to please everyone, leaders will please no one. But if they make logical decisions that are best overall for the team and are based on the available facts of a situation that leader will earn respect and understanding even if a decision is not popular.