The end of the year is a natural time to reflect and then to plan ahead. Accordingly, I facilitate reflective conversations with my clients during our annual planning sessions to help them look back on the previous twelve months, acknowledge their accomplishments, and affirm the lessons learned.
I begin the process by asking the following questions:
Seven lessons emerged from the dialogue with my clients this year. The leaders I coach clearly learned and benefitted from them; it’s my hope you can too.
A reporter once asked heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson before a title bout if he was worried about his opponent’s plan for the fight. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” Tyson replied.
This wisdom applies to the business world as well. In order to succeed, you must remain flexible and roll with the punches. Being flexible doesn’t imply you’ll abandon your plan when the going gets tough. Rather, it involves adjusting to reality by continually course correcting along the way. To do this, you need to have a clear view of reality—the objective truth of your situation. The objective truth is easier to find when you check your cognitive biases, use hard data, and pay close attention to others who possess the most relevant experience with the matter at hand.
How can you become more flexible?
Start by relying on smart structures like meeting rhythms, prioritization, and a culture of accountability to operate your organization. These structures somewhat counterintuitively increase your ability to be flexible on demand by reducing the cognitive and behavioral demands of running and working in the business. Like having extra money in the bank during a recession or spare oxygen tanks during a high-altitude climb, those with the most cognitive and behavioral resources at their disposal have more options to exhibit flexibility when it counts.
Key Question for Leaders: How can you become more flexible in the coming year?
The primary role of a leader is to point to what matters most. To do that, you must create clarity and focus on a small number of very important things.
Here’s the problem: most leaders I meet have a priority list that’s a mile long! As the old saying goes, when everything’s a priority, NOTHING is a priority. When you lack focus, you cannot point to what matters most, and your team lacks critical guidance regarding how to make decisions, allocate their time, and expend other resources of the firm.
My advice is to pare your priorities down to a maximum of three. From there, assign one person to be accountable for each priority and have them complete my Priority Planning Tool to ensure you’re on the same page with regard to the scope and a clear measure of success for each initiative.
After that, you must honor your priorities in execution—that is, actually treating your priorities as priorities! Make their achievement a non-negotiable—what I call a “dogmatic zone” of your leadership. Read more about dogmatic zones here.
Key Question for Leaders: How can you more effectively narrow your priorities and then truly honor them as you execute?
Information is the lifeblood of your organization. Think of your organization’s communication structures as your circulatory system and think of yourself as the heart. If you are not constantly pumping information throughout the firm, it cannot operate anywhere near its full potential. Just as your heart pumps blood throughout your body with a predictable, steady beat, you need to be as reliable with communication rhythms including daily huddles, weekly and monthly meetings.
Don’t be afraid of feeling like a broken record with your messaging. This is one of the most difficult lessons I help my coaching clients learn! This is challenging because we often fear sounding “stupid” when we think we are repeating ourselves.
But effective communication is never a “one and done” affair! The consequences of “one and done” communication are FAR worse than any fears about repetition. If you are not repeating yourself, you’re not giving your team a chance to learn and internalize what you’re saying.
For a more detailed explanation of how leaders can communicate more effectively, read my article on the topic here.
Key Question for Leaders: How can you improve communication rhythms and repetition in the coming year?
Very few people get out of bed in the morning with the intention of ruining someone else’s day. And yet, when we’re faced with conflict or a problem, our default assumption is often to question the intentions of those involved!
Failing to assume positive intent is one of the most drama-inducing, costly human behaviors out there. Here’s why: Context overpowers content.
When we question someone’s motives (context), the content of their message is reduced to near-zero value as we focus on the newly apparent threat to our ego, project, business, livelihood, relationships, etc. And of course, in the moment, all of this is simply a story we make up for ourselves without any concrete basis or evidence.
The good news is that it’s just as easy to concoct a story that assumes positive intent instead! Assuming positive intent means handling situations with the assumption that others are just like you: they do the best they can at any given moment with the resources they have available to them.
This simple reframing—that everyone has positive intentions, regardless of the outcome they’ve produced—will lead to more productive relationships, less drama, better execution, and greater accountability. It’s also quite contagious!
Key Question for Leaders: How can you begin assuming positive intent?
As coaches and leaders in every domain know, successful teams require a deep bench and a succession-focused mentality. In a business context, this involves cultivating next-level leaders both internally and externally so that when (not if!) the time comes, they’re prepared to step up and/or into a new role.
You can do this by creating growth opportunities for your team. Raise your expectations of them by assigning “stretch” projects that challenge them to learn and grow.
It’s also wise to consistently invest in networking with outside talent to develop a “virtual bench”—a short list of prequalified, talented people you can call when the need arises.
The benefits are clear: just imagine if every manager in your firm maintained a short list of talented external people who’d be a good fit for your firm—regardless of your current staffing needs.
Although these steps don’t guarantee you’ll ever necessarily have the next hire in-hand, they do stack the deck in favor of finding higher-quality, more qualified candidates more quickly.
Key Question for Leaders: What are the right moves for you to build more bench strength in the coming year?
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of conflict within groups and among teams, and the source is often a lack of understanding where everyone is personally coming from. Simply put, these groups and teams lack empathy.
Empathy is at the core of deep relationships and high-functioning teams. Here’s why: The way you show up today is the sum of your entire life’s experiences. The same is true of everyone else—how they show up is the sum of THEIR life experiences. So, unless you more deeply understand someone’s life experience, you can’t understand why they show up the way that they do.
You must make a deliberate effort to break down the barriers of your differences by understanding one another’s stories and experiences. This always includes making time to talk about non-business things. I’ve found team cohesion exercises very helpful to accelerate this important process.
One team cohesion exercise I use with my coaching clients is to gather the team in a circle and go around the room answering one question at a time. You’ll find the questions I ask here.
The things you’ll discover about your team through deliberate cohesion work deepens your understanding of why each person looks at the world the way they do. They’ll see you and one another differently as well, which builds empathy and more effectiveness as a team.
Key Question for Leaders: How can you build more empathy and improve team cohesion?
Tolerating mediocrity has devastating effects on any organization over time. It repels top performers, poisons work environments, burns out managers, and slows (or kills!) growth. Yet I often see clients who continually justify keeping low performers or non-fit staff around much longer than they should.
Deep down, most leaders know these individuals need to be sent packing, but the details of how and when dominate and delay the process. Even worse, leaders justify the delays with reasons (excuses) they manufacture to convince themselves why firing low performers or non-fit staff isn’t a good idea. Trust me, I’ve heard them all!
As a result, hard questions remain unaddressed, and your culture (and employees) continue to suffer at the hands of toxic or underperforming colleagues. In these situations, you must compartmentalize the elements of your decision and start with the WHAT—determine the right action to take without regard to how or when to act.
Make the decision. Then tackle the logistics of WHEN and HOW you’ll execute over time.
It’s critical for leadership teams to constantly talk about and calibrate on the quality of their people. My coaching clients and I have this conversation in a deep, deliberate manner each quarter. You should too.
Key Question for Leaders: How can your team improve the rigor and timeliness of their people decisions?
Periodic reflection, learning, and realignment are critical to the success of your business, and now is as good a time as any to begin. You can look back on your wins, losses, and lessons learned and use them to construct a roadmap for your future journey. The wins identify the processes you want to repeat; the losses shine a light on the pain points that need to be addressed; and the lessons serve as a reminder that no matter how successful you become, there’s always room for growth and improvement.
As you close out the year, consider which of the seven lessons from my clients will help you become a more capable leader. You’ll be set to begin the new year with a fresh outlook and a new set of objectives to accomplish on the road ahead.
As French novelist Marcel Proust once said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”
Here’s to clearer vision and continued success in the new year!
Live Online Class – Create Independent, Empowered Employees
Imagine how great it would be if your employees were more independent, better decision makers, and did the “right things” more often without needing much guidance. Although we intuitively know that these attributes eliminate countless leadership headaches and set the stage to create scale, it’s shockingly easy to elicit the exact opposite behaviors from your team.
Together we will:
Class Date: December 21. 2022. Learn more and register!
Live Online Class – Creating a Culture of Accountability
The best strategies and market opportunities in the world mean nothing if you’re not able to execute our plans and get things done. And yet, accountability remains a recurring, frustrating issue for business leaders around the world. Organizations with a culture of accountability execute smoothly and without drama, retain high performers, and have an improved sense of collaboration, accomplishment and fun at work.
Together we will:
Expose the #1 mistake leaders make to destroy accountability and engagement
Class Date: January 30, 2023. Learn more and register!
More Options to Accelerate Your Leadership Growth and Success…