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Forget resolutions, try New Year’s aspirations


Hands up who's made a few hollow New Year's promises that have already been broken? Dan Hammond has a better idea.

Happy New Year. Or is it? Our holiday reading was perhaps not as full of as much Christmas cheer as we would like: the papers tell us that 2011 will be a tough year economically with many countries still cutting their way out of the global financial crisis. It will certainly be a landmark year with the first baby-boomers hitting 65 and, in theory, starting to retire in many countries. With the world's population hitting 7 billion and ageing into the bargain, how will the few support the more? 

Leadership requires individuals to clarify their own path and make their own and others luck so it's a good time to reflect on the road ahead. In the spirit of the Roman god Janus, our suggestions below look back for lessons from 2010 as well as look forward to the year ahead. Research (and, let's face it, personal experience) shows that we will be far more likely to succeed by taking something up, not giving something up. Therefore, we have proposed some New Year's aspirations, not resolutions. Enjoy and please share your own aspirations with us. 
"Leadership requires individuals to clarify their own path and make their own and others luck so it's a good time to reflect on the road ahead. "

Get a vision

2010 was an interesting year for elections around the world, but what can we learn from them? In the UK and Australia, hung parliaments and coalitions resulted. Why the lukewarm response from the electorates? The mistake the politicians made was to be politicians – reading opinion polls and adjusting messages to appeal to the marginal voters rather than setting a clear vision for their countries. They got what they deserved and as leaders we have a great deal to learn here. Are you really clear where you are taking your organisation (and why) in the next three years? Is this vision a compelling one that will build a willing coalition around you, who will innovate and give the extra effort to make it happen? In the immortal words of Woody in Toy Story: "If you don't have one, get one!"

Be a force multiplier not a bow tie

Vineet Nayar, author of 2010's 'Employees First, Customers Second', has a vision of there being millions, if not billions, of leaders in the world. This is essential not just for the planet but for all enterprises. If leadership is held close to the chests of the people at the top, there is no way that organisations will have the agility to cope with the accelerating rate of change in their environment. In 2011, what can you do to go beyond delegation to unlock the potential of all those in your team so that everyone in the front-line has the clarity of direction, a positive climate and a common language to make things happen? Get ahead of the curve: become one of these leaders and create more in 2011.

Take some exercise

Not just generally – now. Studies show that we do not put on weight steadily over the year but simply fail to lose the weight we gain over the Christmas season. If you can get back to your Dec 1 weight by Feb 1 you will be on the road to being healthier. So get on the road, or the treadmill, whatever and buck the trend.

Play the ball, not the man (or woman)

Whatever you may think of the issues surrounding Wikileaks, the affair has almost certainly made diplomats a little more circumspect in their communications. Whether you agree with them or not, let's learn from the mistakes of the leaders who have made these statements. If what you are thinking would not pass the 'red face test' of public scrutiny, keep it to yourself. After all, how can personal insults help? They serve only to distract us from what is important, so be tough on the issues, not the people in 2011 and you are more likely to avoid not only embarrassment but failure too. Yes, it's time to get impersonal.

Do your own job

2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the book 'The Leadership Pipeline' by Ram Charan et al. At its heart is the idea that a simple promotion is far from simple: that progress through our careers is not a straight path up the mountain but a series of u-turns. Each step up requires a significant change in how we apply our energy and spend our time. Most leaders we meet have not completed their last turn (and possibly the one before that). What happens then is that these leaders do the work of their own teams. The leaders see this as generous and industrious. Their teams see it as untrusting, interfering micromanagement. Put simply, if you are not an individual contributor, then your key role is to achieve things through others and as you go higher, this increasingly means that your role is to create leaders. Developing a team of effective leaders will serve your organisation and you better than any intervention you alone can make. It is time to make the turn on the pipeline, everyone.

Collaborate – really

This year, put aside the old view of collaboration. In that view, we all protected our own interests and if we couldn't find consensus then it came down to who had the most power to decide what to do. There is another way. In his 2010 book 'One: Changing the world from the inside out' Jon Hinkins implores us to recognise that all things are related: if we see ourselves as one, connected by a single purpose, rather than buying into the artificial divisions that are thrust upon us (you know the ones: black/white; Christian/Muslim; sales/marketing) we will achieve more and have a better time along the way.
"If you are not an individual contributor, then your key role is to achieve things through others and as you go higher, this increasingly means that your role is to create leaders."
The last generation of organisational agility was exemplified by one of 2011's centenarians, IBM. By breaking down the country/global silos and building a global business using the best talent available they not only survived but thrived. The next generation is to shift to what Cisco's John Chambers calls the 'Dynamically Networked Organisation' where the main lines of communication and action are created by the employees themselves as they need them. The result will be an organisation ready to adapt to change and to meet customer needs (even as yet unknown customers) rapidly. This will require a new type of leader: they are collaborative (see below) as well as low in ego and high in influencing ability. They will also be very agile across the old functional boundaries. Collaborate the new way – by eliminating difference and finding shared interest.

Get into social networking

Social networking is here to stay and presents a huge opportunity for leaders to connect and unite people around a shared purpose. Admit it – have you made sarcastic comments about Twitter/Facebook/FourSquare without actually trying to use these services? Who hasn't? Well, it's time for a change in 2011 – so don't be a twit, start tweeting!

Be happy

This sounds obvious, but a 2010 poll by Arthur Stone showed that our self-rated happiness declines in adult life all the way to the age of 50 before climbing to a new high in retirement. The data shows that this increase in happiness is not as a result of money, status or the presence or absence of children: the increase comes not from external circumstances but from internal changes. So why wait?A recent Facebook post read: "The homeless of Britain would like to extend their condolences to everyone currently stuck in airports due to the snow." This biting piece of satire serves to remind us how easy it is to be self-obsessed. Indeed, in 2010, our era was dubbed "The Age of Entitlement" by Jean Twenge. The 'inflated view of self' prevents us from maintaining a healthy perspective but also traps us, ironically, in an unhappy state. Get happy – that means appreciating what you have right now, in 2011. 
So what's a fresh perspective for 2011? Creating an inspirational vision for yourself and those you lead, whether at home or at work creates something bigger to be a part of which taps into the positive side of human nature and often produces results which are out of the ordinary. With the January resolve firming in our minds, it would be a great time of year to ask ourselves the question posed by Robert Schuller: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" 
What would you start doing now? Now, start.

Dan Hammond is a managing consultant at global leadership consultancy, LIW. This article first appeared on

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Dan Hammond

Managing Consultant

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