There’s much to look forward to in 2016. Here at Leadership Akron, we’re looking forward to several newer efforts such as Diversity on Board and the Civic Solutions Lab. Even as we look ahead to much anticipated progress, we know that, like its predecessor, 2016 will bring much that we don’t know to expect yet. Back in early January, 2015, none of us expected all the things that made it a remarkable year, and we know the same is true of 2016. As we prepare for the anticipated and unanticipated changes that 2016 will bring, I’m humbly suggesting the following five resolutions as ones that will help leaders remain adaptable through twists and turns of 2016:
For servant leaders, the art of listening is a fundamental building block. It is hard to know how to best serve unless we understand those served. Listening rigorously means getting to the root of the other’s perspective, using fundamental questions to understand. Often, we ask our peers informational questions, just enough to get the data we need to complete the task we’re finishing. Fundamental questions go deeper and help us understand core purposes and patterns of working together. The challenge for busy leaders is to focus in the moment amidst the distractions or demands that tempt us to just get the information we need and move on. Listening rigorously will help us connect with our customers and teams more deeply, and give us the understanding how we can best serve them when faced with the unexpected.
If giving full, focused, face-to-face attention is the gold standard of verbal communication, the written note is the gold standard of written communication. The good news is that each of us has the gold standard literally at our fingertips. Resolve to write two to three handwritten notes a week, and rejoice that writing one a week will improve on your current level. Handwritten thank you’s show the recipient that you cared enough to take the time to write, and will solidify or deepen that relationship. But the secret is not what it does for you but how it helps you grow: you’ll find that you have a greater gratitude as you pause to encourage people that bring goodness into your life and work.
There are thousands of leadership titles on Amazon. Many of these reads are valuable, and many are bunk. And there is only so much to be gained from those who study and write about leadership. Give yourself a set rotation that assures well-roundedness on your reading list. For me, it’s Faith-Fatherhood-Leadership-Fiction-Biography. Others will have different categories, but the key is to be an intentional reader. I have a Notes file on my phone to jot down titles as they’re recommended in conversation. Leaders are readers; reading widely will give you a broader perspective on your life and work, and you can kaleidoscopically configure ideas from different spheres into insights that apply across the board.
Connect Off Your Beaten Path
Sadly, the 2016 presidential campaign has raised the specter of outright derision for fellow citizens who are different than oneself. The Trump effect is simply an exaggeration of an already disturbing trend among liberals and conservatives alike, to surround ourselves in echo chambers of people and media sources who share our thoughts and beliefs, rather than the more difficult territory of testing and refining them with those who may not agree. The need to build relationships with those of different perspectives carries beyond politics, though. Make it a point to get together and build relationships with a few individuals whose life is completely different than yours. This will make you a more well-rounded leader by shedding new light on your perspectives and adding humanity to your perceptions of others.
Kill a Sacred Cow
As the year to come brings some unexpected twists, these may create “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” moments that help dispose of longstanding but outmoded approaches. Whether in crisis or in equilibrium, we must always be on the lookout for the things that reflect the phrase “we’ve always done it that way” and consider whether they add value. This is certainly not about willy-nilly jettisoning anything that’s been happening for more than twenty years. It’s about de-cluttering the traditions that don’t matter, so that the ones that do will mean that much more.
It seems to me that as we strive to keep these resolutions, we’ll finish 2016 better leaders than when we started; and the people and organizations we work with will be stronger as well. As it turns out, taking part in a learning experience with Leadership Akron will fulfill any number of these resolutions for you in 2016! Undoubtedly, 2016 will bring much that we don’t know to expect yet. But one thing is for sure – it can be a year that sees us grow as leaders as we respond to its opportunities and challenges.