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Seven New Year's resolutions for better leadership

Francie Dalton
Francie Dalton, CMC, is president of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a Maryland-based business consultancy specializing in the communication, management, and behavioral sciences.

Want your organization or department to be the very best it can be? This past year has been a tough one for many, but 2010 offers a fresh start. Here are seven resolutions to deepen and improve your leadership, not just for your own sake but for the sake of those you lead.

Approachability: An open-door policy, a suggestion box, an invitation delivered at an all-staff meeting to "come visit" -- even a memo promising folksy charm isn't the kind of approachability employees want from their leaders. Get out there! Don't sit back passively waiting for them to initiate contact; YOU have to do the approaching. And make it substantive.

Don't just stop by the desks of those you've never met and make small talk. Institute periodic breakfasts or lunches with hierarchically segmented groups, offering open and/or issue-specific agendas. Task each of your direct reports with keeping you informed about the challenges and achievements of their employees. When you later engage with those individuals, surprise and delight them with your awareness of their specific challenges. Resolve today to step out of your office and into the working lives of your employees.

Creativity: Are you and your employees pretty much depleted from the demands of 2009? Long hours, laid off colleagues, uncertain futures, low to no raises -- this can't go on, you know -- something has to give. Your employees may be assuming that work-flow or job design changes won't be considered; that productivity levels must be sustained despite reduced access to resources. Absent your explicit invitation for creative ideas to reduce workloads, you may never hear such ideas as reformatting deliverables, strategic abandonment, joint-venturing, portfolio workers, job sharing, virtual employment, etc. Resolve today to invite creative ideas from your employees on how to honor work/life balance.

Developing others: For most of us, potty training was our first experience with independence. How proud we were of ourselves when we learned that we could take personal responsibility for achieving a desired outcome! Just as clearing the many hurdles of the maturation process helped develop self confidence, meeting targeted business outcomes nourishes self esteem, enhances careers, and builds leadership capabilities. Are you dwarfing fledgling leaders by absolving them of accountability? Are you depriving them of a sense of achievement by intervening on their developmental flailing? I know it hurts to watch them struggle, particularly when you know the answers. But if you swoop in and save them, the "grown-up pants" will never fit them well. Resolve to develop confident, competent leaders by not providing answers or solutions. Instead, format constructive, critical feedback into Socratic questions so they have to deduce the lesson.

Levity: Humor is the weapon of the angels. Are you alert to and actively seeking "the lighter side?" Nothing shows more confidence under dire circumstances than a moment of wit or an amusing perspective -- so long as it's not at anyone's expense. I'm not suggesting that you become a comedian; just that you recognize the rallying effect of humor, and use it as the powerful leadership tool it is. Resolve to laugh at yourself at least once daily -- or better yet -- share a laugh about yourself with a different staff member every day.

Possibility: Leaders can be so absorbed in moving people and organizations from current state to desired state that they fail to inquire about "possible state." When was the last time you set aside time to just "wonder" together with your employees? Start sentences like "What could we do if...what next big step...what new idea...?" Resolve to engage your employees in possibility thinking.

Responsibility: Nope -- I'm not referring here to P&L, ethics, compliance, and other traditional leadership responsibilities. I'm assuming you're already shouldering those. Instead, I'm referring to an expanded set of responsibilities that require taking action to help the unfortunate, contribute to society, protect the earth, and more. Your role as leader not only requires you to model this behavior consistently, but also to foster it in others. Resolve to be conspicuous in exhibiting a sense of responsibility for the earth and its inhabitants. Better still: Create opportunities for your employees to do likewise.

Unity: This state of being can only be achieved when employees see themselves as essential contributors to shared goals. Every executive I've ever worked with is certain his or her employees know how their daily efforts contribute to larger outcomes, but often those employees say they feel disconnected from and incidental to what's really important. Unity isn't cognitive. Even if born of shared belief, unity is an emotional state, and it is palpable. It is built not through dogma or a series of completed transactions, but through a quality of leadership that resonates with those being led. Are you striving for mere compliance from your employees? Instead, resolve to lead in a way elicits their voluntary, unified commitment.

By Francie Dalton  |  December 31, 2009; 8:30 AM ET  | Category:  Leadership skills Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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To P4POTOMAC - I agree and disagree. My opinion - a consultants' role is to offer advice and expertise to improve an organization. If the organization changes, the advice has to change too. These 7 resolutions relate to an earlier time when jobs were plentiful and long term outlook was prized.

Now, well see what this very paper, the Washington Post, printed on December 29th.


Posted by: shadowmagician | January 3, 2010 1:41 PM

you left out patriotism...
seems too many foreigners and Americans want to suck the riches of my country and send them to their original countries...
as long as we don't have an America first President and house and senate...
we will never recover...

Posted by: DwightCollins | January 3, 2010 12:09 PM

Start small.

I read all the negative comments about Ms. Dalton's seven leadership suggestions. The last few years have certainly been devastating to individuals in for profit and non profit cultures. Leadership concepts and methods should certainly not be applied as band aids to cover corruption or wholesale manipulation of the American workforce. However,
Ms. Dalton's suggestions have great merit for start ups, for ongoing successful ventures, and for individuals entering or preparing for new leadership roles.

All too often, the seven leadership suggestions are add ons for enterprises that have reached a high volume, large staff level of activity. I'd like to see small, even very small, organzizations apply the leadership suggestions. What better way to grow an effective and dynamic workforce? Of course, it implies that we are opefrating with a high degree intergrity, not offshoring or what I now call AIG'ing.

Posted by: P4Potomac | January 3, 2010 11:36 AM

You forgot one important rule. Don't ask of your people what everyone knows you would not ask of yourself. That's one of Obama's biggest problems and will continue to be throughout his administration. He's never risked himself for anything yet expects others to do so on his apparent whim.

Posted by: GordonShumway | January 3, 2010 10:35 AM

Logan1245: Fascinating - what business do you have that nearly doubled in 2 years in this business climate? I trust it's not involved with outsourcing. I heard that even legal work is being outsourced now to India.

Oh, and did you know that there's a 20 year old in Fort Cherry with your same ID?

Posted by: shadowmagician | January 3, 2010 9:02 AM

Hmm, sounds like the comments left here by the grumblers are the people I need to get out of my organization. Thanks Francie for reminding of us of the fundamentals of leadership success. Maybe that's why our organization has grown by nearly 90% and tripled our revenues during the last 8 quarters. We continue to focus on the positive and opportunities that abound in our country. For those of you that just want to grumble and sit around waiting for the government to make things happen for you - good luck!

Posted by: Logan1245 | January 2, 2010 1:50 AM

This is just crap-pap-simpleton doo-hokey. Shadowmagician has said it all. It's embarrassing Post editors either a) believe this nonsense or b) believe anybody else will. This is 2010. Why are you still peddling 1970s advice? Do you think gasoline is 35 cents a gallon? India and China don't exist? Companies even care any longer about workers? It's a loyalty-free workforce and workplace. Why pretend otherwise?

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | January 1, 2010 11:39 PM

Oww. Shadowmagician hit it on the head!

Posted by: eaglepeak | January 1, 2010 6:18 PM

Francie is plagiarizing Dilbert with this kind of reasoning. I agree with shadowmagician that the reality we are facing contradicts these kind of simplistic answers to an economic meltdown.

Posted by: dreese_52 | January 1, 2010 4:29 PM

Well, Ms. Dalton - my previous workplace tried those approaches, with the inclusion of a "Fun Committee". Unfortunately, those approaches to improve morale and procedures, while good in theory, failed.

Why? First I would mention the relentless downsizing and concentration on short term goals and results. Think "Employee Engagement" where you work harder for the same pay.

Second, you assume those in authority are experienced, knowledgable and compassionate types with the long-term company goals as their primary focus. WRONG. The experienced (and thus more expensive) management was the FIRST to be downsized. Their replacements, with no industry knowledge, were informed in no uncertain terms to "meet budget" or seek other employment.

Third, you are correct that employees must see themselves as essential contributors to shared goals. That was not the case in my former company - they were told to be grateful they had jobs, and that they could be replaced.

So how do your resolutions fit in with the reality that U.S. industries have been downsizing for 30 years, 8 million jobs has been exported, official current unemployment is over 10%, there is NO net job creation, and the next generation will have a lower standard of living, unless they are part of the 1% who have 80% of the wealth?

Will your childred be forced to follow in your footsteps as consultants?

(Yes, I'm feeling like the Grinch)

Posted by: shadowmagician | January 1, 2010 3:36 PM

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