In 2016, resolve to be a more effective leader by trying out these four practices:
Pause more often.
When it feels as though demands are being thrown at you non-stop, taking the time to pause feels counter-intuitive. The natural instinct is to increase your own pace to keep up with the external world—but this results in hasty decisions and ill-conceived ideas. And that’s exactly where your effectiveness as a leader begins to crumble.
A better option is to notice when you’re getting caught up in the momentum of frantic activity, and pause for ten seconds. When someone demands an answer, pause. When an important decision has to be made, pause. Taking this time to relax will prevent you from responding from a place of stress. Make it a practice to never open your mouth until you feel calm. You may feel awkward at first—a ten-second pause in the middle of a presentation, for example, might feel like a long time—but it’s worth it. What’s more, you’ll give your team permission to do the same by demonstrating the practice in action.
Seek the stories of people not like you.
One of the key qualities of effective leaders is that they don’t operate in a silo. They listen to multiple perspectives and gain the input of all stakeholders before making a decision. Likewise, one of the most common failures of leadership is neglecting to hear other voices and consider new ideas. Sometimes managers say, “I asked for everyone’s perspective, but no one chimed in.” But it’s a mistake to think that a failure to include multiple perspectives belongs to anyone other than the person in charge.
So expand your own concept of the world. Read books written in different cultural settings. Ask people in other age groups what they think of issues you care about. Notice how gender, culture, race, and authority influence ideas. Take the initiative to learn what other viewpoints there are, and listen to them carefully.
Find silver linings.
Optimism is often misunderstood as a false cheeriness in the face of trouble, but in reality a positive state of mind is practical and effective. An optimistic leader recognizes challenges when they arise and believes that with some creativity and patience, things will work out. This is a refreshingly different approach from the typical panic-and-blame mode we often find ourselves stuck in. Even if things don’t go according to plan, relieving yourself of the stress of negativity opens you up to more creative problem solving.
To be a silver-linings kind of leader, make it a practice to ask this important question when things get difficult: What’s good here? If a valuable employee suddenly resigns, contemplate how delegating their work (and taking on some yourself) is a good opportunity for building relationships with your team. If a project goes over budget, consider it a valuable lesson in resource management. Stress and challenges will inevitably arise in your organization—that’s a given—but how you respond to them is your choice.
Learn a new skill.
The brain likes to learn new things. It’s fun, energizing, and helps bolster problem-solving ability and memory. But at a certain point in adulthood, especially mid-career, it’s easy to coast into a plateau of routine and stop learning new things altogether. You can avoid that by picking up a new hobby or skill that you’ve always wanted to learn.
The key is to make sure it integrates in your life, rather than adds stress—so listen to French lessons during your commute, whittle while watching television, or roller blade during your lunch break. Learning a new craft, while sharpening your mind, has the added bonus of relieving stress—an essential for anyone in a position of leadership.
The best way to change your life is by integrating new habits into your routine. So consider each of these resolutions a new habit that you’re trying out—and pay attention to the results.
For more on creative strategies, check out these blog posts:
It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Are: The Experience of Embodied Leadership
Is Your Training Effective?
Conflict Management for Leaders