This article is by Nathan Bennett, a professor of management at the Robinson College of Business at George State University.
The time for resolutions is rapidly approaching. You should take deciding what to resolve seriously, so it’s not a bad idea to begin thinking now about what you might want to accomplish as a leader in 2013.
To help you focus your self-reflection, I conducted a strictly unscientific survey of my social network on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’ve been a professor for more than 20 years, so my networks are made up largely of former students. I’d guess the preponderance are working individuals between 27 and 47 years old who have MBAs. I suspect that makes them quite a bit like the teams you lead. I simply asked them what New Year’s Resolution they’d like to see their bosses make—and keep—during 2013. Here are their top five.
5. Resolve to be the kind of leader we want to follow.
Be consistent. We can tolerate even a poor leader if he isn’t channeling a different sort of poor leadership each day. Be real. Let us see how you as a leader effectively manage emotions and frustration at work. Show us what excites you about the challenges ahead. Help us celebrate when we overcome a perplexing challenge. Set an example. Everyone watches you—how you dress, how you treat others, when you come to work, and when you leave. Your behavior is the best argument for how you would like us to behave.
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4. Resolve to help us understand how we can develop.
This helps us be better in many ways. It allows us to understand our future with the company; it gives us a way to structure our efforts to learn more about our jobs, our company, and our industry; and it shows that you have a personal interest, because you have made an effort to know our individual strengths and weaknesses.
3. Become a better listener.
We have ideas. They won’t all be great ideas, but if you listen to us you can coach us to develop our ability to better vet and sharpen the next one. Listening is one of the most considerate things one person can do for another. What better way to earn loyalty and respect than by being a genuinely interested listener?
2. Hold the micromanagement. Let’s talk trust.
Nothing is more frustrating than to be prevented from just doing the job you hired me to do. We understand that it can be uncomfortable to delegate work. We understand that in many cases it is your reputation on the line when our team fails to produce something to our standard. We get the risk to you. But when you micromanage, what you are saying is that you don’t trust me. Was I a hiring mistake? Did you get stuck with me on your team when you really wanted someone else? These are not thoughts that are going to help me become a better employee. Instead, let’s get the issues of risk and trust on the table. Let’s acknowledge what’s real and then work together to find a plan that allows me to make steps every day to earn your trust. And let’s make sure that plan gives me room to contribute and to grow.
1. Hold poor performers accountable. If they can’t improve, pay the price necessary to cut them loose.
What could be more damaging to the morale of the team than the struggle associated with carrying dead wood? We understand that you may not want to lose a position, that you may have some hope that you can magically restore someone’s motivation or suddenly implant some talent, or that politics may provide the poor performer with protection. We don’t care. Those are your problems, not ours. Our problem is that we see the ironic truth in the expression “addition by subtraction.” We would all be better with this person gone. The fact he or she remains does a lot to erode your credibility, and broadly, not just in regard to what you might consider an isolated situation.
These top five resolutions are not that surprising. They are frustrations I hear repeatedly in class and have heard for more than 20 years. So they are formidable challenges. But I don’t think they need to be destiny. Let’s make a start this year. I invite you to take some time during this last month of the year to think about the resolutions above. What would your team think if you were to announce that your goal for 2013 was to improve on one of them? How much might a real effort to improve make your life as a leader more enjoyable?
What will make your resolution work? We know that promises that are made publicly and negotiated with others involved are the most likely to be kept. You can talk with your team about the list above. There may be one item that will provoke smirks and chuckles around the table because it clearly is your Achilles heel. Or maybe your team would prefer you work on something else. Once you’ve identified your assignment, work with the team to agree on what success looks like. Make sure that process includes agreement on metrics and milestones. You all know how to manage a project. Make this a project. Your team will thank you, and I expect you will be surprised at how much easier they become to lead.
And, team members: This doesn’t have to begin with the leader. The conversation can begin with you. Make it one of your resolutions to share this article with a leader you’d like to see get better.