Leader’s New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year, everyone.

It’s that time of year when we look back at the year just past, andI find myself a bit bi-polar. I spend time looking back at the previous year and analyzing how things went:  what went right, what didn’t go so well, and what I should have done differently. At the same time, I use this personal feedback as I look towards and plan for the new year, 2014 in this case (isn’t it funny how those numbers just keep going up?).

I’m sure I’m not much different than most in that I really do make New Year’s Resolutions. They usually come in at least two types: resolutions for my personal life (husband, father, community member, etc.), and resolutions for my professional life (primarily related to striving to be a good leader).

Thinking about setting New Year’s resolutions as a leader, I believe one of the most important resolutions I can have is to create the optimum work environment where people feel safe and valued; where they have the freedom to learn and stretch and hopefully create an environment where they can go from good to great.

A recent article by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, in the Harvard Business Review, Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, helped me think about what sorts of resolutions I need to concentrate on if I want to create the best possible workplace. Goffee and Jones asked hundreds of executives to describe their ideal organization.  What they found is that “the organization of your dreams” has several attributes.

This dream organization is one that values and nurtures individual differences.  Great workplaces have and respect diversity, whether that means gender, race, age, ethnicity, AND the authors suggest that great workplaces also nurture “differences in perspectives, habits of mind and core assumptions.”  We must recognize that, as one executive said, “great retail businesses depend on characters that do things a bit differently.”  My resolution is to understand that in valuing and celebrating individual differences that the process of getting to our goals can be a bit chaotic, can be a bit messy, and it may not be as straightforward as we hope — but if we keep our eyes on the prize and bring the best that everyone has to offer, we will not only exceed our goals but also help everyone to be more than they thought they could be.

This dream organization is one where information is not suppressed or spun.  The authors use the phrase, “unleash the flow of information.”  In terms of a resolution, I think this may be one of the most important in creating and maintaining a great workplace.  First of all, if we parcel out information on a need-to-know basis, what happens is that you create a dichotomy, those who know and those who don’t.  (Not a great recipe for having a great workplace.)  Second, information is power and for me I believe people have more ownership of an enterprise when they have more information whether it’s good or bad news.  The authors suggest and I agree, “that executives should err on the side of transparency far more than their instincts suggest.”

This dream workplace adds value to employees, rather than merely extracting it from them.  Many times we call this professional development and for those of us in higher education we have the good fortune of having either free or greatly reduced cost credit and non-credit opportunities.  The authors suggest that it needs to be more than this, we can meet this goal by providing networks (in our case we can encourage our teams to be affiliated with appropriate national and regional associations).  In addition, providing stretch assignments recognizes and rewards great work and great potential.  Related to stretch assignments, providing opportunities for individuals to work on projects that reflect their passions is also a way of adding value for people.  This resolution is to create ways to “make the best employees even better—and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be.”

This dream workplace makes the work itself intrinsically rewarding, and there are no stupid rules. The authors remind us that “people want to be part of something bigger than themselves, something they can believe in.”  One of the great things I’ve found with my chosen field, professional continuing education, is that my work is my passion.  I believe in the power of access to education and the positive impact it can have on individuals and communities.  And I have been so lucky to have been surrounded by individuals who have a similar passion.  It is a wonderful fit that our personal passion reflects perfectly with our organizational goals.  My resolution is to continue the passion and foster the passions of everyone on our team resulting in pursuing a united vision.

As for no stupid rules, I begin with the notion that everyone wants to do good work and that by doing good work we will all succeed.  If there is a rule I believe in it is that everyone wants to make a positive difference and they can best accomplish this in an open and honest environment.

The authors close their article reminding us that “As you strive to create an authentic organization and fully realize human potential at work, do not underestimate the challenge.”  In a phrase, it isn’t easy; it is hard work to create the greatest workplace on earth.

So as you make your New Year’s resolutions, I would pass along advice I picked up from the app Unstuck: while we often make resolutions related to what we want to fix (loss weight, exercise, etc.), we should put a twist on it as well and recognize what we do well, and then make a resolution to go from being good to being even better.

I’ve taken that advice and have resolutions that I want to fix, and some that I hope to take from good to being better.  I’ve also heard that one way to stick to your resolutions is to share them with friends who will help keep you accountable. So my friends, here is one of my resolutions: to be more reflective about what I read and do. I am hopeful I can beg your indulgence as I share my reflections on Shaeffer’s Forays.

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2 Responses to Leader’s New Year’s Resolutions

  1. grahammb says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. So wish everyone approached leadership this way. Thanks, Jim. Great post!!

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