Just as quickly as it came, 2022 is coming to an end, which means it is time to think about how we want next year to be different. When choosing your New Year’s resolutions, leave room on your list for ones that will help you become a better leader. Consider these suggestions to get you started.
Your team consists of individuals who think for themselves; they do not share a common brain. This means that no matter how determined and capable your team members are, they may go in opposite directions if they do not have a common vision to follow. For example, if your mission is to dig a big hole, you may work for hours only to find that half of your team has been dumping their dirt into the other half’s side and vice-versa. The result is an exhausted team and nothing to show for it.
Every team needs a leader who defines and simplifies the vision and clearly communicates it to every team member. There is no such thing as too much clarity or too much communication of clarity. To help guide you in creating clarity for your team, focus on three key questions that should have the same answer for every team member:
- Why are you doing this work? (Purpose).
- How should you behave? (Values)
- What do we need to achieve? (Goals).
In addition, each team member should be able to answer another individual question: Where do I fit? (Roles).
Leadership comes with great authority, meaning you can make decisions with virtually nothing in your way. The obvious danger of that is that almost every decision impacts everyone on your team, so if your team members have no say in the matter, they start to feel powerless, especially if it happens routinely. That’s why it’s crucial to offer your team opportunities to provide input.
There is another, arguably more important, benefit to getting everyone’s input. It is quite simple: the best team members have the best ideas. No leader (not even you) is capable of singlehandedly making the best decisions possible on behalf of the entire organization. Indeed, it is up to the leader, in the end, to distill the various inputs into one coherent decision. But foregoing this process simply because it’s easier (or worse, you just don’t care) will stifle your team. Done the right way, you will build a solidly loyal team that always finds the best possible answers.
We all only have so many hours a day, and leading a team is certainly time-consuming. Despite this, we as leaders should strive to interact with team members at all levels of the organization. If you are leading the entire organization, you likely work directly with your leadership team but might not come in contact with most people in your company. You should find creative ways to get in front of your entire team, like walking the halls, taking them out to lunch, and attending department meetings. Of course, when you have employees that work remotely, this may require a bit more creativity and thinking outside of the box, but it’s still possible.
You owe it to your team to create a human connection with them. This is not just about getting to know your people but also about your people having the opportunity to get to know you. I genuinely believe that if your team feels a stronger connection at a human level, they will be more dedicated and do better work.
There are other noteworthy benefits to having higher engagement in your organization. I discussed previously the importance of communicating clarity. Every time you make an effort to interact with different levels of the organization, you have yet another opportunity to help communicate clarity (remember, no such thing as too much communication). Also, when you get to know new employees, you may find hidden talent you didn’t even know existed. You may just wind up meeting the next great leader of your company.
A statistic often shared in business and psychology classes states that somewhere between 70%-90% of all communication is nonverbal. So, when speaking to someone, the words you choose only account for a tiny fraction of the message the other person hears. I remember the first time I heard a professor share this statistic and ask if I believed him. I hesitated, raised an eyebrow, and in a puzzled tone, I replied, “Yes, I believe you.” Needless to say, the professor saw right through my words and could sense my evident skepticism.
My experience working with people has made this point crystal clear to me. Words are important, but your true intent and sentiment come through more authentically in your tone and body language (facial expressions, stance, hand movement). Tone and body language can so easily and subtly communicate how you truly feel. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you falsify your tone and body language to sell something you don’t really believe. Instead, you should reflect on your thoughts properly and speak from a place of truth because when you do respond, it will be obvious if your words do not reflect your true feelings. When you are a leader, all eyes and ears are on you, so you must be acutely aware of what you are communicating nonverbally.
If you actively seek out reading materials and podcasts and other ways to learn about better leadership, it tells me that you are a great leader. But I believe that you still have room to grow. Your job as a leader is to look inward and find ways to make improvements continuously. This process never ends. While this may be a popular time of year to think about and make New Year’s resolutions, your journey of leadership growth should be year-long. With the right attitude and approach, I know that we can all end 2023 as better leaders than when we started.