I’m sure in years past I have commented on my aversion to New Year’s resolutions. I make the same one every year: this year I resolve not to make any resolutions. I find it very artificial and dismissive of something that should be an every day act of re-resolving to work towards our goals, use our passions, be our best, etc. However, it is still hard to let New Year’s Day pass without some thoughts of the year just past and what the next year might hold for us.
With regard to the year that was, I like to look back first for great memories and experiences, but I do also look back for things that didn’t go well.
In looking for these “lesser” moments, one can use a lens of regret where we might beat ourselves up somewhat for our failures, and listen to the old tapes we play to ourselves about how “we always mess that up”, or “we never did well in that environment”. Or one can use a lens of compassion and learning to assess what happened, acknowledging those things that we now know how to do better next time, those things we did well in the midst of something less successful, and those things that just didn’t go our way this time.
Looking forward to the next year can also be exciting. I suppose in some ways that is dependent on our vision for the year. If we think of it as holding future adventures and challenges, we can plan with vigor for how we might meet those challenges and then use those plans as motivations for what we might do today to make those plans come to life! However if we think of it as another year of “more of the same” we might not have a lot of energy coming out of New Years, thinking that there won’t be any excitement or interesting events that we can look forward to.
I doubt I’ve said anything you didn’t know up to this point, but I needed to write all of this as it got me thinking about how this type of thinking might be a way to sharpen our leadership saws for peak performance moving forward.
Let’s start with a look back at our team members performance for the past year, kind of like an annual performance review. What do we see? Do we look for strengths and weaknesses so to better understand how best to utilize this “resource”? Do we acknowledge the strengths of the individual and then turn to fashion a development plan that will address the person’s weaknesses? Essentially an inventory of our experience of working with that team member in a predictable manner that in all likelihood will continue to deliver similar contributions.
Alternatively do we look for times throughout the year of exceptional performance, unique contribution, energetic engagement and other special moments and try to find trends? Do we build ourselves an inventory of the potential gifts and passions in each of our team members ready for upcoming opportunities?
Do we see through lenses of future potential instead of past experiences? As we look forward to the upcoming 12 monbths, we have this same choice on how we might choose to work with our team members.
Through the lens of past experience …
… we start with our preformed impressions of our team members have always been. Imagine having a picture of each person on our desk and a sharpie. We write the key one or two things we have always known about this person on their photo (perhaps on their forehead). We might write: John is “a great ambassador of culture” but “over-engineers everything”. Sue is “a brilliant thinker” but can be “abrasive with others”.
So we work to ensure that John spends a lot of time with our people, but we assign John smaller, tactical projects and keep an eye on them so they remain manageable. For Sue, we tend to give her the tougher nuts to crack, but only those that are internal to the organization so we can perform damage control. Then for the rest of the year we can actually imagine them walking around the office with sharpie marks on their foreheads confirming that we’ve done the right thing.
the lens of future possibility …
… we start with our inventory of gifts and passions we think we see in our team. We sit down with each of them and we review what we think we have seen with them and ask if we have it right. Once we have these sorted out, we ask each person what they most want to contribute/experience in the upcoming year and we look for ways to put these gifts and passions to work in ways that inspire them to new levels.
In our example of John above, we might have noted in the past year that he has great vision of how things work together in the company. He has a gift of seeing end to end processes and loves seeing how things all connect. We talk to him about his desires for the new year and he says he wants to use his knowledge of the company and his knack for inspiring cultural alignment to make an impact.
Our lenses of future possibility see a project where we need to design a brand new process for the company that spans multiple business functions. It’s a big project … one that it will be important not to get “caught up in the weeds” of detail. So we sit with John and make our proposal to him. He is excited and energized to get going.
Instead of directing John we work with him as a coach. We ask him what strengths he has to draw on … he replies that he has great relationships, broad knowledge of each of the business functions involved, and an innate ability to see how things fit together.
We ask him what he sees might be difficult about this assignment … he notes that this is bigger than anything he has ever done and he’s wondering how he will ever get to all of the details that will truly make this work.
We then help John plan for his own development by asking how he might approach this challenge. He immediately sees that he needs to come up a level or two in his thinking. We ask him what this looks like for him. He replies that he needs to see this as a program of projects, and the details don’t need to get managed until each project is launched.
We smile as a leader, and feel hopeful that we’ve found a new gem!
How does this resonate with you? How well do you see beyond past experiences and look for future potential? Is there one person on your team today that you could see through different lenses?
10 thoughts on “Looking Through New Lenses of Leadership”
Your way of looking at “those things we did well in the midst of something less successful” is a good perspective and that would also be a great way of looking at our team members past performances for the year as a way of encouraging them in projects for the upcoming year.
Thanks Elizabeth. I think aporeciative inquiry is always valuable. The question “what went right?” is so much more evocative than its negative counterpart.
I think that can be applied to a long-term project / business / relationship as well as to short-term situations, and too often we forget that (to look at what went right).
Leaders build leaders. Love this post Ian and the way you walked us through the example of John!
Thanks for your positive words! I do love the idea of evocative leadership!
I like your evocative leadership traits and thinking!
I also think that for ourselves and our team, looking at what didn’t go well, or as planned is a great opportunity to look for ways to deepen our strengths and to turn our weaknesses into strengths by finding courses and other learning opportunities to address those things that trip us up consistently. Like with Jill — abrasive with others could be an opportunity to send her on a personal development course that will help her address that trait…
Thanks for your thoughts on this, Louise! The concept of focusing on weaknesses is something I think a lot about. I think it depends on the nature of things. Abrasiveness for example is something that probably should be addressed, although that is more the realm of coaching than course work. On more skill-based things, sometimes we aren’t good at something because we don’t like doing it, and no amount of training will make us like it more?. In those instances it is great to have a leader who helps you move away from those things!
Ian, your words: Do we see through lenses of future potential instead of past experiences? really jumped out at me. How I answer that question will impact all areas of my life. Thank you for reminding me to pay attention to how I visualize myself and those around me. We are what we think, and we treat others according to the way we think of them.
Blessings for 2015 ~ Wendy ❀
Thank you for visiting and your thoughts on this topic! To me it is so important not to assign labels to someone – others or ourselves!
I’ve learned this the hard way. It’s so life-giving to believe the best in others and ourselves and to know that we are all capable of change and growth.