Now that we are more than a month into the New Year, I have to ask: How many of you made New Year’s resolutions? I don’t know the statistics but anecdotal evidence would suggest that very few people bother to make these annual pledges to themselves any more. It seems that a lot of people believe – or so they say – that they don’t ever follow up on their resolutions, and they suppose that, given this, it is pointless to make them in the first place.
I don’t think that there is anything magical about making resolutions on January 1, but I do think that making resolutions is important.
Resolutions are simply promises that we make to ourselves, goals that we set, and intentions that we declare. Leaders simply cannot be successful by blindly following wherever life’s circumstances take them. Successful leaders take the circumstances they are given, decide what to do with them, and proceed with intention. Sometimes they fail, or obtain results that are different than they expected. In such cases, they again decide what to do and set an intention.
Take Casey, who wanted to feel a closer connection with her staff. In truth, she wanted to feel that she had their loyalty and dedication. At first, she blamed them and lamented their lack of enthusiasm and commitment. But she came to realize, with the help of coaching, that her singular focus on bottom line results, to the exclusion of concern for people, had endangered her relationships and dissuaded people from sharing a passion for her goals. She had a choice to make. As hard as it was, Casey set an intention to cultivate her staff and improve her relationships.
To achieve her intention, Casey had to do a few key things that all of us should keep in mind when setting intentions.
- Be clear about your intention. At first, Casey thought she wanted to change her staff. Then she realized that she really wanted to change her behavior towards her staff. Getting clear on what you are really after is key as a first step.
- Identify habits and beliefs that stand in the way of your intention. Casey believed that getting to know people was a waste of time. It wasn’t until she acknowledged this that she could see how under-valued it made people feel.
- Do something every day to remind yourself of your intention. Whether it’s an Outlook reminder to find something genuine in at least one staff person to appreciate, or a Post-it note in a prominent place, such as one that a client of mine has, to remind one’s self to “breathe.” Visual cues provide reminders of our intention. The old “string on the wrist” trick works well too.
- Share your intention with others. Whether you share your intention with your coach, your mastermind group, your co-worker, or your friend, you are far more likely to set reasonable intentions, keep them top of mind, and to do what is necessary to achieve them if you share your intentions with someone else.
- Don’t expect 100% at first. Habits take a long time to cultivate. And if your intention is more complex than “remember to take out the trash everyday,” it may involve serious learning and reflection. Recognize that initially, the times you hit are more important than the times you don’t.
- Forgive yourself when you fail. This goes hand-in-hand with number five. Celebrate your successes but don’t allow your failures to discourage you. Simply observe yourself when you fall short of your intention and reflect on possible causes. Perhaps some new habit or belief is foiling your intention. Or perhaps it just wasn’t your day. Tomorrow is a new day.
- Change your intention when common sense or circumstances make it irrelevant or obsolete. Sometimes, intentions become unachievable, if only temporarily. Other times, they stop serving their purposes and should be replaced. Don’t stubbornly hold on to old intentions that have become irrelevant.
In case you are wondering, Casey is making progress on her intention. She shared it with her staff which was not only courageous but smart, as it put them all on the same team. She is still often impatient and still struggles to see value in idle chit-chat when she is overwhelmed, but has learned to express interest in others, not as a begrudging obligation but as a way of getting to know people better and to demonstrate that she cares. It will be a while before she sees considerable results. People are used to her old ways, but she is determined to stay the course and remain mindful of her intention.