Having made New Year's resolutions in previous years only to abandon them weeks later, this year I decided to abstain from the annual ritual. Perhaps I’m opposed to the idea of committing to do this year the very things I spent much of last year trying to avoid. Had I wanted to do something, I would have done it by now, right? Whatever the reason for my reluctance, I decided to try a completely different approach this year.
I decided to continue doing the things I already do, except in 2017 I will do them more consistently and with a renewed sense of purpose. Rather than forcing myself to make fleeting resolutions, I decided to double down on lifelong development.
1. I will live intentionally.
Each of us begins life like a book with blank pages. Our lives are written page by page, one day at a time, until eventually we reach our final chapter. Rather than writing our own life stories, however, we sometimes allow fate or others to define who we are and direct where life takes us. We unintentionally relegate ourselves to minor characters in our own storyline and hope the next chapter will be better than the last. My parents recently gave me a paperweight with a quote by Benjamin Franklin that says, “Either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.” That quote motivates me to live each day intentionally, as if I’m the author and central character of an exciting life adventure – because I am. What’s your story? Whatever it is, live it with meaning and purpose and let me know how it works out. Write your story!
2. I will remain hopeful, despite circumstances.
As an executive coach, consultant, and facilitator I’m in the practice of helping leaders work through difficult challenges. And while each situation is unique, the one constant is that every leader needs hope to succeed. Without hope, leaders lose influence and employees lose faith in them. In an article titled Preparing Employees for Disruptive Change, I made the case that leaders should help employees anticipate, embrace, and adapt positively to disruptive change – primarily because leaders are responsible for not only demonstrating hope, but instilling it in others. Napoleon once said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” As a leader, I will choose to remain hopeful. I will live by faith, not by sight, and remain confident in what I hope for – even when I can’t yet see it, yet. What do you hope for in 2017? When the going gets tough, the tough believe.
3. I will see good in others and assume positive intent.
A quick glance at the nightly news would convince even the overly optimistic Pollyanna Whittier that evil is real and bad people exist. At the same time, the rest of us must prevent current events from making us so cynical that we overlook goodness in others or begin questioning their motives without cause. John Knox once said, “You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.” Influence being the very essence of leadership, this quote helped me realize that any antagonism I harbor toward anyone undermines my ability to lead everyone. As a leader and influencer I am fully committed to looking for the good in others and presuming their intentions are pure. I may not find good in everyone, and I might even be taken advantage of, but the positive connections I’ll make with others will far outweigh any potential consequences. How might being more gracious help you make positive connections this year?
4. I will ask better questions.
Early in my leadership career I believed that leaders were primarily in the business of providing answers, so I told people what to do. Later, when I began consulting, I realized that people often already know what to do and just need help determining the best way to get it done, so I asked questions that enabled me to help them. As I gained more consulting and executive coaching experience I recognized the importance of asking the right questions; thought-provoking questions that enable others to help themselves. People don’t like playing “50 questions,” so I became determined to focus on the quality of my questions, not the quantity. I adopted Socrates’ philosophy that, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” and began using Socratic Method in my seminars and coaching sessions to help others discover the answers they sought. My renewed commitment to my colleagues, clients, and readers in 2017 is to continually pose better questions. How can you help others discover knowledge on their own?
5. I will listen more and speak less.
I have to admit that I struggle with this one. As a certified speaker I am very comfortable being in the spotlight and speaking for extended periods of time; perhaps too comfortable. And as a consultant and coach it is very tempting to provide advice before fully hearing the goals and aspirations of others. Yet, I’ve come to believe that God gave me two ears and one mouth for a reason, so I can listen twice as much as I speak! The ancient Greek writer Plutarch presented another good argument for listening when he wrote, “Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly.” Speaking and advising are how I earn a living, so why would I want to speak less? It’s not that I want to speak less than I do currently, it’s that I want to listen more than I speak. When you’re in a conversation, do you find yourself doing most of the talking? If so, try asking a thought-provoking question and wait for others to respond. Who knows what you’ll learn?
John Maxwell likes to say, “leadership develops daily, not in a day.” Becoming a better leader is an ongoing transformation, a marathon, so this year I'm abstaining from resolutions and renewing my commitment to lifelong development. Doing so not only enables me to focus on continual growth, it gives me the rest of my life to work on it.