Time for New Year resolutions

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Compliments of the season to you all.

Sam Hlabati

I had a restful festive season, hope that was also the case with most of you.

We are in a new season, a period which is usually associated with making new resolutions. I am one of those people who err on the side of caution, thus deciding not to make resolutions on the very first day of the year.

I believe that one has to reflect on what was not achieved in the previous year and then make plans to reach those previous goals, adding onto that any new goals that have to be executed.

In the first few days of the year, I had any opportunity to be on my own for close to five hours driving on the smooth freeways of South Africa as I trekked my way back to the land of our forefathers, as my brothers are fond of saying.

The “quiet” time gave me a chance to reflect on what New Year resolutions are all about, and what they could mean for leaders. I came to the thought that everybody sucks at something, and everyone knows what they falter on, yet there is a temptation to cover-up the blemishes with patchwork.

As ideas about what could be my resolutions in 2015 passed through my mind, I soon came to the realisation that I was getting comfortable with things that would be easier to achieve, I guess that was being driven by the fact that I was unconsciously trying to avoid a repeat of my previous years’ disappointments when I failed to achieve some goals.

I believe that people naturally want to work on things that are easy to accomplish, but addressing the struggles is what brings real benefits.

As a leader, it is in the long run up to you to solve the pain points within your organisation. Here are a few pointers that came to my head as I drove quietly, on the roads that showed no signs of potholes.

It occurred to me that leaders are often so busy leading the day-to-day activities of running their organisation, leaving them little time to work on building relationships with their own team, customers, suppliers, and shareholders among other stakeholders. Developing relationships requires presence of mind; one has to be thoughtful in their interactions with others. Leaders should make it a new year resolution to build better relationships with their stakeholders.

While we are busy making resolutions to better ourselves for the coming year, an area that usually does no receive enough emphasis is to be unwavering about becoming a better leader. Sure people will make resolutions for weight loss, cessation of bad habits, and getting more organised.

However, very few leaders actually resolve to become, better leaders. Many leaders have the desire to achieve more success in 2015. For any leader in a leadership capacity of any kind, there are few things that one can control that will help to achieve those goals as much as improving one’s leadership ability.
Let us look at some of the things leaders could resolve to do better in the new year.

Before you list the weaknesses that you would want to resolve, it would be self-motivating to list the things you know you do well in. It would be prudent to make resolutions about improving on one’s current strengths, lest one is too busy with correcting weakness so much that the existing strengths do not receive attention, and end up being future weak areas. Remember best leaders stand out because of the presence of their great strengths.

That is not to say that correcting a weakness or fixing imperfections is not useful, but one needs to think about the best leaders they have worked with and odds are, they were excellent because of something they did profoundly well. One should consider their strong points and how to leverage and build on them. If you do not know your strong points, ask your consigliere (also known as consigliori) who is your advisor, and if need be, you could use a 360-degree feedback with your stakeholders.

Another resolution that a leader could make is to learn to give the people they meet in face-to-face interactions their undivided attention; congratulations if you are already good at that. But for the rest who need to improve on the habit, you can start by stopping the bad habit of multi-tasking when engaging with another person.

The habit of having multiple windows open simultaneously while working on a computer will not offend other open windows. Anyway computers and smartphones are given good technical reviews for their multi-tasking capabilities; it is their unique selling point. Guess what, people are different from software application windows, multi-tasking when engaging people leaves them feeling as they have been taken as less important.

Here is a tip;, when engaging with someone in a face-to face interaction, do not email, text, or pay attention to someone else, rather provide the person in front of you your undivided attention. This could be a resolution when considering if you are keen to engage people into meaningful cordial relationships in the new year.

Great leaders know how to communicate more powerfully than other leaders. The primary tool a leader has in the organisation is communication. There is nothing that dampens team motivation as a leader who communicates with the flat tone of a newsreader chronicling the events of an airplane crash. Leaders should do themselves a favour, there is a need for one to improve their own vocabulary; integrating new words and phrases would make a leader more interesting and even exciting to listen to.

Leaders should not forget their tone, the need for emphasis and non-verbal communication as well. All these play a part in how powerfully leaders will be received.

Another area that could make it to a leader’s resolutions list is assertiveness, thus one needs to step up and be visible. Whether one is advocating a new point of view, supporting a customer’s view, one should not feel they are being pushy, as long as it is done with politeness. It does not help for a leader to default to a deferential position when working with superiors and even peers; one should state their case. However, this does not mean one should not allow for other perspectives, but means that one should actively promote his/her own.

Leaders always believe there are key behaviours they expect from their team and this applies to all leaders. I have always said in this column that leaders should always remember they are being watched in everything they do. There are no Big Brother cameras following you, it is just that leaders are looked up to by everyone; for people end up watching leaders as they look up to them. The team is always paying attention to the leader; paying close attention to their behaviours to determine what is acceptable and what is not. Irrespective of the corporate values banners that hang on the walls in many organisations, the team will do as their leaders do, and not necessarily as the posters on the wall say. Leaders should just ensure that their own behaviour, which will be imitated by the team, is healthy for the organisation.

Whilst on that, it is important to point out that a leader’s level of energy is copied by the team. A leader’s emotions are a special kind of “behaviours” that have a highly contagious effect on the team. Whilst it may be impossible for a leader to be fired up all the time, unless they are always under the effect of some behaviour altering substance such as cannabis, it is important to increase the incidents of “happy moments”. By having a high positive energy level, a leader will increase the positive influence they have on the team that will promote stronger levels of engagement from everyone. Hope efforts to be highly energised make it to every leader’s resolutions list.

It occurred to me that most leaders will get stalled in tasks and too often forget why the tasks are even being done; it could be time to make a resolution to spend more time thinking strategically. The speedy test on how strategic one is as a leader is checking whether one is focused on what to do or how something should be done.

Strategy is about what to do and tactics are about how to do it. Every leader should take out a little time each week to think about what needs to be done; rather than spending time evaluating alternatives to do the current tasks. Take my word, if this thought is not a leader’s resolution list; then it could be time that leader relinquish their roles.

I challenge every leader to jot down on their new year resolutions list that they will take a leadership role in at least a few change initiatives. This can be done by the leader taking the lead, thus taking the reins, and be in charge of something that brings about a positive change in their organisation.

What else would be true great leadership than the act of leading a positive intentional change for an organisation that results in some kind of improved chances of success? There is a reason why literature talks of the need for leaders to be change agents; it is because there is not a great deal of leadership effort required to maintain the status quo.

Taking a role of significance in a change effort will provide any leader with the platform to do their best work in 2015. This resolution should be mandatory for every leader.

Let me wrap up by saying that every leader should enter 2015 with an intention to dream audaciously.

There is need for the leader to associate with people who will believe in them and their big audacious dream. Think about who you will share your dream with and what support you need from them, and then start the sharing. My East African relatives say “When a big iroko tree falls, even elderly people, the lame and children will come to it for firewood”. Let 2015 be the year that you, as the big iroko tree, do not fall, but rather continue to grow. Dream Big. Wish you all the success in 2015.

Sam Hlabati is a senior professional in Human Resources (SPHR®), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). Email samhlabati@gmail.com; twitter handle; @samhlabati

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