Remember getting lost?
It wasn’t that long ago that road trips meant having at least one folded map on your lap or a set of hand-scrawled directions taped to the dash.
In the days before GPS gear, getting lost was pretty common. Especially if you tended to be a bit stubborn. Worse yet if you were in a hurry. Driving around in circles for a while usually resulted in pulling into a gas station for help or having a spat with your spouse.
Likewise, many leaders—even the sharpest—are not always good at planning out their business journeys in advance. Some set off in the wrong direction, others get confused along the way. Still others run out of gas.
Here’s my advice for the new year: When embarking on a journey, the best time to get good directions is before you begin. To that end, consider three timely tips for improving your inherent leadership skills…
1. Look to the future.
If thinking about the future feels overwhelming, you’re not alone. Plenty of leaders I know have anxiety when the subject of “what’s next” comes up. With the fast pace of business these days, we’re seldom given enough time to think deeply and figure things out. And many leaders are not comfortable admitting they honestly don’t know the best route forward. That’s understandable. Nobody in charge likes to feel confused because they don’t have a clear plan—let alone reveal those doubts to peers and staff.
If the future seems daunting to you, there are several reasons to be encouraged. First, you’re not alone. Nobody in the entire world knows exactly what tomorrow holds. So don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. Peter Drucker said, “Trying to predict the future is like driving down a country road at night with no headlights while looking out the back window.”
Second, you’re ultimately in charge of your own priorities. That means you (and only you) can give yourself space to move through each season of transition at the pace you set, regardless of distracting circumstances whirling around you. If you’re swept along by the chaos, it’s your fault.
Third, there are great strategic planning resources available to help you. Future-focused leaders are committed to learning and growth, both personally and for their organizations. To assist them, I coach executives and their teams on how to foster a development culture with proactive learning goals to ensure employees have the skills needed for the future.
Above all, don’t let the space between where you are right now and where you want to be next year intimidate and overwhelm you.
2. Take inventory of last year.
Every leader needs to look back. Why? So we can keep moving forward. Charting our successes serves as the positive motivation we need to stay energized year-round. Reviewing our failures is not as pleasant, but equally valuable. As leaders, we are wired to think mostly about the future and plan for what’s next. Obviously, this can be a great thing; it helps us set goals and strive for success. However, focusing only on the future causes us to overlook the chance to learn what worked in the past and what didn’t.
● How would you describe the season that just ended?
● What were the biggest highlights and win-wins?
● What were the low points and disappointments?
● What did you learn about yourself as a leader?
● What would you do differently if you could go back?
It might be helpful if you journaled your candid answers to these questions at the end of each year. Perhaps use the notes app on your phone for a brain dump off the top of your head. Twelve months from now, reading them could be a revelation. Looking back at ourselves points out where work still needs to be done and what’s already been achieved.
Beginning a new year provides a natural occasion for self-reflection. It’s difficult to project how you want to grow without considering where you’ve come from. Reflecting on the past provides a foundation to plan your future development. When you do intentionally look back, be sure your reflection measures qualitative performance, not just quantitative benchmarks.
3. Remind yourself of your dreams.
Take time to reflect on your goals, both for the near future and the big picture. The endless demand of daily tasks will try to grab your attention, but keep your dreams at the forefront of your mind as you navigate this season of new beginnings. Let these dreams be the true north on your compass, giving you anchor points for plotting the details of what’s next.
As you implement your dreams, don’t be too hard on yourself. Step back and give yourself permission to take it one day at a time. It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers for next year figured out yet. And it’s okay if you make a few mistakes along the way. None of us gets it right all the time. As Ken Costa writes, “We only grow in wisdom if we learn from our mistakes.” Costa’s first boss described failure this way: “Some name it disappointment and become poorer, others name it experience and become richer.”
As a leader, remember to celebrate your accomplishments, learn from your mistakes, and above all, keep pushing toward your goals. With the right mindset and determination, almost any dream is achievable. Just don’t put the cart before the horse. No desired achievement—regardless of size or complexity—is achieved without first being born and nurtured as a dream.
Somebody once said, “Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.” In other words, fear of failure can be more paralyzing than actual setbacks. When fresh ideas pop into your head, don’t self-talk yourself out of attempting something new just because the outcome is uncertain. I would much rather look back December 31, 2024 and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” instead of saying, “I wish I did that.”
How about a co-pilot?
Today, most new cars have built-in navigation software. In addition, our phones have access to powerful apps like Google Maps and Waze to guide us along. But there’s something even better than satellite navigation. What I love most when I head into unfamiliar territory is having someone in the car with me who knows the directions and tells me—one step at a time—where I should go.
As a leadership coach, that’s my role with my clients. I’ve had the privilege of coming alongside leaders and their teams to guide them, one step at a time toward improved outcomes and enhanced growth. If that’s something of interest to you, then let’s have an informal conversation about that possibility.
Click here to get it rolling.