As the year comes to a close, we all naturally enter a bit of a reflective, nostalgic moment. Whether it’s Hallmark marketing or just some pull of the universe, this sort of holiday season casts the same charm on so many of us, regardless of our backgrounds and industries. For business leaders, this feeling can often include thoughts about leadership, about how we’ve performed, and about how we can be better in the coming new year.
For many of us, December also comes with a natural slow-down in productivity—and this is usually okay! Although our work should be taken seriously, we should always remember that we are people first, and the holiday season gives many of us a chance to disconnect a bit from our professional lives and plug into our personal lives. This slow-down can easily feed into the nostalgia and the reflection of the year. It can be a good opportunity to touch base with your team and see where things could be improved and where things have been going well. As things slow down into the new year, use this time to reflect, to evaluate, and to lay out a floor plan for an improved workplace culture.
Progress Reflections and Goal Setting
Hopefully, reflections are already built into your organizational and leadership strategy. Frameworks like OKR’s can make this a simple and routine process that is instrumental in defining and refining your company’s trajectory, and in contextualizing otherwise mundane everyday tasks that you and your team have to handle. That said, institutional and formal reflections are not the end-all and be-all of reflections, and leadership reflections can be an additional, personal process to make during this time.
As a leader, you can take this time to think about different roles and decisions you had to take throughout the year. Perhaps some actions and decisions seemed obvious or inevitable, regardless of whether the results ended up being positive or negative. As we know, however, hindsight is 20/20, and taking this time to look back on these moments can grant you insight into different possibilities, different actions, and different decisions that could have been made. Do the good choices reflect some tractable pattern? Do the bad ones? Can you spot signs to catch yourself before making a less-than-optimal choice?
Along with reflection goes goal setting. Whether your reflections have shown you that your leadership could use some work, or that you’ve actually been quite a good leader this year, surely, there will always be room for improvement. You might think of some key aspects in which you would want to improve your leadership, and maybe think of some key moment that could function as lessons. Maybe some OKR-style personal planning could come in handy for a personalized improvement strategy.
Team Evaluations and Team Morale
Of course, you cannot be a leader without a team, and your team is the most important part of this equation. The right sources and philosophies can serve you well, but listening to your team and contextualizing this information and these perspectives, even the best leadership philosophies won’t be of very much use to you.
This makes it imperative to actively listen to your team and, as everyone enters this period of reflection, to reflect with your team. If there are critiques and suggestions specifically about leadership that they have to offer, those will be the most important. Otherwise, general feedback will always be telling. If team morale is down for a specific reason, there is likely an underlying issue that you are able to fix, or at least to mediate. If team morale is up, that’s an essential lesson as well!
A happy team will work harder. An unhappy team, understandably, will try to avoid work. Reflecting with your team and understanding how to keep them happy is truly the mark of great leadership. Different leadership philosophies like mentor management and servant leadership speak to this, and the adage continues to ring true. Invest in your team, and they will invest in their work. This means real, genuine investment, not just pizza parties!
Building a Better Workplace Culture
“Building a better workplace culture” sounds like a no-brainer and a bit of a silver bullet, but things aren’t that easy. Truthfully, there is no linear process that ties this point in with the other ones. A better workplace culture is one in which your workers trust you and each other to perform these reflection exercises. And, these reflection exercises lead to a better workplace culture. It’s a dialectical relationship between the two—they inform one another.
By doing these sorts of exercises routinely, however, you work towards a better culture in the long term. This means more than just once a year at the end of the year, of course, but now is a particularly simple and natural time to reflect. Especially if these aren’t commonplace practices already, now is as good of a time as ever to start! Given time and consistency, these practices build trust, they build better foresight and intuition for you as a leader, and they will give way to a better and healthier environment. So, as productivity slows down a bit in a traditional sense, be sure to take solace in the fact that reflection is also productive. Taking this time to see how you and your team can learn and grow, and how you can plan out a better and more efficient trajectory for the new year, is very much a productive endeavor. Not all progress happens on spreadsheets!
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