Leadership Intentions for a New Year

New Years’ resolutions have a bad reputation. Gym memberships are bought and ignored; book clubs are joined and eventually dropped.  So common have such patterns become that it sometimes seems like the more earnest the commitment, the more likely its failure.

But while our intentions might often outstrip our dedication, the motivation behind New Year’s resolutions is a good one. Setting aside time to reflect on where one is in life, how things came to be what they are, and what directions we would like to be moving is a good idea for any individual — and any leader.

Most of us, though, are far less inclined to reflect on, and resolve to transform, our work life than our personal life.  Why is that? What causes such a divide? Is it because we view leadership as something we do — putting our professional persona off and on like a uniform at the door— while we view other roles in life (parent, spouse, friend) as something we are?

Such used to be the dominant view of leadership, and to some extent it continues even today. But both behavioral research and the lived experience of countless sincere and authentic leaders are increasingly calling that paradigm into question.

Warren Bennis, founding chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, once wrote that learning to be a leader is virtually the same process as becoming an integrated and healthy person.

Take a moment to consider that statement. Leadership, he seemed to imply, cannot be divorced from the essential features of an individual’s core identity. It cannot be separated from the grit and fiber of who he or she is, no matter how many management strategies she might master, or how many motivational techniques he might learn.

Reaching down to our deepest roots, leadership is an expression of our inmost selves.  Yes, it involves action components that we “do”, but at its most basic, leadership is something that we are. And only by understanding that inner reality driving our workplace choices and behaviors can we hope to consciously shape the decisions daily defining ourselves and our organizations.

So as we all return to our organizations and agencies, a little leadership reflection, maybe even a few workplace resolutions, might not be such a bad thing after all.

Happy New Year! ~ Alan, Nancy & Mark

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