If you’re like the majority of the adult population, your new year’s resolutions might already be waning.
Why is the failure rate so high? Because most resolutions are based on wishful thinking — they don’t reflect the important motivational reasons for your current behaviour.
But if you’re in a CEO or leadership position, there’s little room for angelic resolutions.
Here is a list of pragmatic practices that leaders can start to help secure business success in 2018:
1. Develop a very short list of clear priorities
Too many leaders develop too many priorities. It’s hard enough to achieve one goal, so if you have 10, it almost immediately becomes impossible. As no lesser genius than Leonardo da Vinci said: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Your goals should be clear and memorable. If you can’t spontaneously remember what those goals were 90 days later, their value is more or less zero.
It’s obvious, but these goals must express what matters most. To help get this right, consider your desired end-state. What would most constitute success by the end of this year? Even if other things don’t go so well, what would make you feel as though it had been a brilliant year?
These goals should be bold, even audacious. If your goals equate to only marginal improvement, that’s all you’ll get. For big results, you need big goals.
2. Stick to that list
Some leaders do quite well at #1. However, the majority then either add more goals as time goes on or drift away from those goals as other issues emerge. To help you stay true to these goals, make them public, make them the basis for meeting agendas, inculcate them into everyday activities, or wire them into end-of-month reporting standards. Make the goals as sticky as possible.
Understand what Harvard experts Kegan and Lahey call your “immunity to change”. What is it that you find motivating about NOT achieving these goals? What is it that worries you about succeeding at your goals? You need to be honest with yourself about this.
3. Lift yourself up
Your next opportunity for failure is to become overwhelmed by business-as-usual. Your diary fills up, new issues arise, and you are now too far into the business to be effectively on top of the business.
There are two major tools available to prevent this.
The first is saying no. You must constantly ask yourself: “Is this the work that only I can do?” If it isn’t, you must say no. Keep saying it until it sticks.
The second tool is delegation. If it’s not the work that only you can do, then it is either the work for someone else or nobody else. Identify the best candidate – who is good enough to do the work successfully but will be sufficiently stretched by it to further develop their capability?
Use the month of February to build these “saying no” and “delegation” muscles. If you know that you can be weak on either of these points, get a minder (perhaps your executive assistant) to keep you on track.
4. Invest in human potential as your primary asset
Human beings, when working together and working at their best, can do extraordinary things. They can do much more than you alone, even if you are far more talented than any of the individuals in your team.
When do people achieve these extraordinary things? When five conditions are present: they feel they are psychologically safe and have the freedom to make their own decisions; they are playing to their strengths; they are stretched out of their comfort zone; they feel they are doing something with meaning or purpose; and they feel connected to their colleagues.
Having determined and stuck to your goals, this is how you will best achieve them.
Your role as leader is, in essence, to create these propitious conditions for your people to achieve extraordinary things.
Your role is to ensure the psychological safety, the stretch, the meaning, the connection for your direct reports, and to ensure that your direct reports do the same for their people. Do this and the incredible achievements will come from them, not you.
5. Complement the human potential with exponential technologies
Many of the points above would apply well in any year. But this point cannot be ignored in 2018.
Every year, the relationship between human potential and technology in driving business performance is changing. Quite simply, you will have technology-based opportunities in 2018 that weren’t available to you in 2017.
While your people can do amazing things, don’t waste their time, effort and talent doing things that can now be done ten times more accurately, quickly or cheaply by technology. Their time should be spent doing what computers and robots cannot do: collaborating, creating, connecting with customers.
You don’t need to find these technological solutions yourself and you probably shouldn’t. (See #3 above.) But your business must either create, inculcate or leverage such technologies if you are to achieve competitive advantage or even business viability.
Our world is undeniably complex and, no doubt, so is the business you lead. However, if you can simplify the picture for yourself as you take on 2018 and maintain that focus throughout the year, your chances of success have been massively magnified.
Steve Jobs said the following: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Make 2018 the year you clean up your thinking and keep in clear. Clean house now, before you get mired in complexity. Move some mountains.
(Anthony Mitchell is the co-founder and Chief Potential Officer of Bendelta, focusing on designing organisations and leaders for the cyber-physical age. He is also Chairman of the Aurora Education Foundation, providing accelerated development opportunities for Australia’s most promising Indigenous scholars, and a member of the Amnesty International 2020 Council.)
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