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Resolve to Be a Better Leader in 2017

It’s that time of year. A time for new beginnings. A time for renewal and resolution. Like many, you may be feeling inspired and committed to a set of New Year’s Resolutions. But have you committed to any that will help you be a better leader in 2017?

Maybe you’re not sure where to start, what leadership resolutions to choose. John Farmer, one of our engineers, and I developed a list of “Leadership New Year Resolutions” to help you start thinking about this. We recommend picking one, at most two, and truly resolving to do it better.

We’ve organized these resolutions around the 3 core responsibilities of a manager:

  1. Giving and receiving feedback
  2. Building a high-performing team

Which are both in service of:

  1. Driving better results

Feedback Resolutions

1. Listen more and be comfortable with silence

Have you ever counted how many ears you have and compared that to the number of mouths you have? For most people that is a 2:1 ratio – twice as many ears as mouths.

When you talk, you only repeat what you already know, but if you listen you may learn something new.

(Dalai Lama, big hitter.)

Resolve to listen more so that you can truly hear and learn more from the people on your team. Here’s an Andy Grove inspired process for soliciting their feedback. You must adjust your mindset and truly believe that the people on your team have a lot to teach you, and then you must listen!

2. Embark on a listening tour

It’s not just the people on your team that can teach you a lot. You probably work closely with peers as well, those who share your boss or cross-functional collaborators. Have you heard from them recently?
Resolve to ask ten peers how you can improve. Buckle up. I recommend specifically steering clear of “what am I doing well?” and just ask the question, “what can my team or I do better?” Remember to truly listen.

And here’s the trick – Don’t get mad, get curious. Understand going in that you might hear some difficult-to-hear things. That’s GREAT! Would you rather have those things whispered behind your back or show up suddenly on a peer review? Or would you rather go out there and hear them face to face and get a chance to improve?

get-curious

3. Give more praise

Too many managers do praise poorly, if they do it at all. Praise is not about making someone feel good. Praise’s purpose is to show people what success looks like, what to do more of. Roanne Daniels at Bain Capital says beautifully, “Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.”

Every time you praise someone you tell them what you value.

Resolve to give (approximately) 3 instances of praise for every instance of criticism. This will be easy once you form the habit. Think about this: you’re not walking around firing everyone on your team, which means they’re doing an awful lot more well than not. Take the time to see and immediately communicate those good things in 1-3 minute, informal conversations.

4. Ask your employees how happy and productive they feel at the end of each week

One of the great services you can provide to your employees is being a blocker eliminator. Sometimes your folks experience real blockers and sometimes they perceive blockers. In both cases, it will be hard for you to be helpful if you don’t know how the person is currently feeling.

Resolve to ask, “how productive were you this week?” to uncover and discuss blockers. Also ask, “how happy are you?” to understand the things either frustrating or enriching your team members. This will give you a chance to go all Darth-Vader-in-Rogue-One on those frustrating items and the opportunity to double down on those sources of happiness.

darth-vader-rogue-one

Resolutions for Building a Stronger Team

1. Let your directs fully own the agenda for your 1:1s

Not long ago, we posted an article about holding effective 1:1s. The idea that your employee owns the agenda is a simple, symbolic practice that helps them feel ownership and autonomy for their work and their time.

Resolve to give your employees this responsibility, as a way of saying, “You tell me what’s important.” Of course, you can coach and guide them over time to help refine their thinking about what’s important. Remember that Steve Jobs said “we hire people to tell us what to do, not the other way around.”

2. Understand your employees’ long term career aspirations

Part of your job as a manager is to help your employees grow. Have you ever asked yourself the question, though, “grow into what?” How can you hope to offer a shred of relevant career advice to your people if you don’t understand their dreams?

Resolve to ask your employees, “What do you see yourself doing at the pinnacle of your career – when you are happy, challenged and not longing for anything else?” And then listen. And listen. Ask clarifying questions. Push for a few dreams, not just one. Do not accept incremental steps that don’t sound like dreams. ONLY AFTER you understand their dreams – blurry, foggy versions of the dream – use three questions to bring them into focus. What’s the role? What’s the industry? What’s the size of company? Write these vision statements down. They’re gold.

fuzzy-lighthouse

Check out this video for a bit more on helping your employees grow.

Resolutions for Achieving Results

1. Delegate decision making

Your team will execute better and faster if you devolve decision-making responsibility deeper into your organization. You’re probably less likely to do as good a job as the people closest to the facts. Also, every time you make decisions for your team, realize you are robbing your employees of a chance for both growth and visibility. Finally, you can never scale as a manager if you continue to act like an individual contributor. Let it go. They will deliver.

Resolve to delegate more important stuff to your team. Focus more on what, not how, by making sure that your team has clear, measurable goals each quarter. Push decisions “into the facts”– explicitly identify who the decider is for key decisions, and make sure that person has what they need to decide.

2. Tighten up your meetings

The more time you and your team spend in ineffective meetings, the less time you spend on achieving important results. Ever felt like a meeting had way too many people in it, or that it was taking much longer than it needed to? Ever been a part of a meeting where half the room is trying to make a decision and half the room is just debating? These situations are a huge waste of time and a source of frustration for everyone.

Resolve to publish an agenda for your meetings. (Google Spreadsheets is great for this) Make it clear exactly what the objective is for each agenda item. You might use these objectives:

  • Relate = pass on information, ie “there will be fire drill today at 1:30PM”
  • Solve = brainstorming and problem solving. Debate lives here.
  • Decide = make a decision.

Clarifying the objective of an agenda item helps all attendees know what you’re trying to get done and can help identify who needs to attend. You can also set a time limit for each agenda item. Meetings should only take the time that they need – if a meeting is scheduled for 60 minutes and you are done in 45, CELEBRATE the fact that everyone gets back 15 minutes.

meeting-ended-early

The Gimme/Candor-plug Resolution

Of course, we all know that resolutions often only last about six weeks into the year. It’s hard to change your behavior. And we want to help you continue your commitment to being a better leader throughout the year.

Resolve to listen to the Radical Candor podcast for weekly leadership lessons, inspiration and tips. Subscribe in iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or sign up here to get email notifications.

Also resolve to read Candor’s monthly newsletter for more stories and advice. Subscribe here.

 

Which of these resolutions will you commit to in 2017? Do you have other leadership resolutions? Tell us about them in the comments below, or reach out on Twitter or Facebook. We’d love to hear from you!

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Russ Laraway

Russ is a co-founder at Candor. His career has been uniquely 100% in management, at places such as the Marine Corps, Google, and Twitter. As a 22 year manager, his focus has always been on the underlying people dynamics, and now at Candor he gets to focus on that full time. Russ received his MBA from Wharton.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. David / @ihaygood:

    Our pleasure and thanks for the input!

    I always struggle with the advice “cut down on number of meetings.” Everyone is Silicon Valley ***loves*** to say something like that. My problem with this advice is that this can be arbitrary and can be a specious argument. I have – true story – been in a professional environment in which we tried so hard to have so few meetings that we were collaborating poorly. It was actually less productive AND less efficient to not convene the right people to debate and decide the things. Meetings are surprisingly important.

    I think the first answer is to tighten up the ones you have. Once they are tight – agenda published, objectives for each agenda item clarified, time budgets for each agenda item – I think many meeting will become more productive (get more done) and more efficient (take less time).

    If you can’t cite objectives for your agenda items, or all of your meetings are ‘Relate’ heavy (see article), the candidates for which meetings need to die will show themselves.

    Thoughts on that thinking?

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