Three New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by on Sep 13, 2010 in Managing self | 0 comments

Those of you who are regular readers of this column probably already know that I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. They set people up for failure by setting unrealistic expectations that only lead to disappointment and depression. But I am an advocate of managerial reflection, of taking a little time on a regular basis to think carefully about your role and how you fill it.

So this year, I’d like to suggest a different approach to your New Year’s reflection. Instead of thinking about all the goals you want to achieve and things you want to do over the next year, spend a little time thinking about the things that you want to quit doing.

I’ve noticed that what holds many people back is not what they are failing to do but what they are doing. Sometimes we find success not by doing something new so much as by ceasing to do what blocks it.

Here are a few common things that I suggest people quit doing:

Stop judging your current performance by past standards. Most managers got to be managers by being successful producers. We all start out as individual contributors, and those who eventually become managers are those with a good track record of individual contributions. So experience teaches us to measure ourselves, our value, our self-worth, by how much we produce. And as long as we are individual contributors, this continues to serve us well. But once we become managers, we are no longer measured based on the product of our own hands. We are measured based on how much we help others produce.

I’m often startled by the number of managers who, even after years in leadership roles, still cling to their old ways of measuring themselves. It’s not an easy transition to make, but measuring yourself by outdated standards is a setup for failure.

Stop conflating what’s comfortable with what’s best. Everyone has a comfort zone — those things we like to do that we find fulfilling and that don’t cause undue stress or anxiety. I would hazard a guess that most of us have had a boss at some time or another who seemed unable or unwilling to do things that fell outside of his comfort zone. Think about how frustrating it was to try to get him to make a decision he was uncomfortable with or to confront a user who intimidated him. Usually, in my experience, that boss would come up with all sorts of reasons why doing what needed to be done was a bad idea. But they always struck me as phony justifications for remaining in his comfort zone.

So, what’s your comfort zone? Have you been sticking to it and finding reasons why what’s comfortable for you is what’s best for everyone?

Stop following routine blindly. Although most leadership literature seems to focus on great change, great events or heroic efforts, it seems to me that everyday life for most managers is more mundane and routine. The drumbeat of everyday life goes on. We attend our status meetings. We read our reports. We write summaries and updates for our customers and bosses. But which of these are truly value- added activities? Which of these could be jettisoned without the organization grinding to a halt or anyone even noticing?

It’s worth doing a spring cleaning of your schedule to be sure you’re focusing your energy on what will have the best effect on the organization, on your group and on your own career.

So before you decide what you are going to do next year, give a little thought to what you’re not going to do.

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