The Only Leadership Resolution You Need to Make in the New Year

By: Guy M. Beaudin

Last January, RHR's Guy Beaudin wrote about New Year’s resolutions for leaders. It is still relevant today and we are reissuing the post.

I love the holiday season for many reasons—being with friends and family is at the top of the list, of course—but I also love the sense of renewal that comes from a break from work and a chance to reflect on the past year and make resolutions for the next. To help you with this task, you will by now have been bombarded with “top 10” lists and how to make and keep resolutions in all areas of our life. So, for my contribution to the leadership file, I wanted to keep it very simple and narrow it down to what I think is the single most important resolution for your career.

The only resolution you need to make in the new year is to look for ways to improve your self-awareness, both in terms of your understanding of the skills you bring to the table and your understanding of the impact you have on others. That’s it. Nothing else even comes close in terms of helping your career or influence inside an organization.

When we at RHR are asked to assess an executive for a given role, we are looking for a consistent picture of how the individual fits with the skills and attributes required for that person to be successful. When we find ourselves in the situation of not recommending someone for the role, it is most often related to gaps in one or both of these areas.

Get a handle on your core skills
The biggest mistake individuals (and organizations) make in career management is mistaking strong technical skills for leadership or managerial potential. Good accountants, sales people, and actuaries get promoted every day to leadership roles within those functions without a proper understanding of whether that person’s technical skills are also accompanied with leadership skills. Consequently, people seek—and get promoted to—roles they are not suited for, which creates a great deal of frustration for everyone.

So, this year, before you put your name up for a promotion, take the time to review your life and career to date for evidence of your leadership and managerial potential. Many leaders are identified as such by their peers early in life, in school, sports, or other fields of endeavor. Early in their work careers others come to them for guidance, advice, and direction. If the universe has not given you any signs of your leadership abilities yet, then ask yourself if you really are motivated to do the hard work needed to become a leader. Ask for a course or training, ask to be put in charge of a project so you can test out your abilities. If ego and money are driving your career decisions, I can guarantee it will not end well for you. Only skill and genuine motivation for the task of leadership are predictors of success. 

Hold a mirror up to how you are perceived by others
This is a tough one. Many organizations are poor at giving their employees honest feedback on how they come across to others, especially if there is a problem. Most bosses skirt the issue until it becomes so serious that they can’t ignore it anymore. By that time, it is too late for you—the damage has been done, and once the perception of you has gone negative, it is really hard to recover.

What signs should you look for? If your projects are stalling, if your ideas are consistently getting rejected, if you are being passed over for assignments you think you are suited for, these are all signs that you should dig into what others think of you. There might be an issue with your style, approach, and behavior that others are not telling you about, but it is coming out in your inability to have the influence and success you want. If you see any of these signs, find someone you trust and who will be honest with you. It might be hard for that person to do so, but getting an accurate read of how others see you is the first step to building the kind of self-awareness that will allow you to make progress. If your company supports it, ask for a 360 exercise, or sit down with your boss to express your concerns and your willingness to address honest feedback without being defensive.

If none of these avenues are open to you, start journaling. Every day, write about your interactions and conversations. Identify the situations where you are able to meet your goals in a given situation and the situations that were frustrating for you. Look for patterns—there are likely types of individuals or situations that are more difficult for you. Look at your behavior in these interactions—don’t look to assign blame on others, but instead look for other strategies you might use in these scenarios to be more effective. Others have a role to play, of course, but the only way to improve is to look instead to what you can do differently.

Happy New Year
None of these are easy to execute, but they are fundamental to any personal leadership journey. Good luck and best wishes for a great new year.



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