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Leadership Resolutions for the New Year

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Andrew Kleine
February 27, 2023

If you’re like me, each new year is an opportunity to start a new habit that will make me a little better, as a husband, father, professional and person. 

This past fall, I posted my 13 leadership rules on LinkedIn, taking inspiration from Colin Powell. Since it was my most popular post ever, in this column, I will expand on each rule and explain how it can be a New Year’s resolution to become a more effective, and happier, leader in 2023.

I’m no paragon of leadership like Colin Powell, but during my nearly 30-year career, I’ve led teams ranging from five people to 9,000 people, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

1. Ask questions you don’t want to hear the answer to. Nobody likes to be told “no” or why their idea might not work. I used to avoid these conversations and ended up wasting time and worry. If you are in avoidance mode, resolve to have that tough conversation. I’ve found that it usually results in a deal, not a dead end.

2. Get the sleep, exercise and downtime you need to be at your best for the long run. The most important person you manage is yourself. I know too many people who take perverse pride in telling others about how many hours they work, how few hours they sleep and how long it’s been since their last vacation. Schedule your work around your life, instead of the other way around.

3. Show people you’re paying attention to their good work. There’s a school of thought that leaders should be stingy with praise, lest it lose its motivational power. I have never had a quota of gold stars because I never get tired of giving or receiving them. Next time you see genuinely good work, good attitude or another contribution to team success, say something.

4. Challenge your organization more than it challenges you. Leaders face so many complexities and competing demands that they can easily fall into a pattern of reacting to what’s going on around them, rather than driving change. In the new year, delegate the problem solving and give your team a goal that inspires creativity and collaboration.

5. Don’t look at your phone during meetings. I once worked for a leader who was constantly looking at her phone. It was disrespectful and distracting, and I resolved to never be like her. This resolution may be a bit of a pre-COVID-19 relic, but in-person meetings are coming back, and they should be sanctuaries from our phone addiction, where the focus is on the people in the room. 

6. Understand problems first, take action second. What is the biggest problem you are struggling with going into 2023? If you haven’t done so, take time with your team to get to the root causes of the problem. A simple “five whys” exercise or cause-effect map can help, but some problems require deeper thought and research. Keep in mind the words of Charles Kettering, who played a major role in modernizing the automobile: “A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved.” 

7. Measure what you want to improve. “What gets measured gets managed” has long been my mantra because I’ve seen how data has helped me achieve community outcomes, fix broken business processes and even lose weight. If you’re not using data to measure progress toward your goals, resolve to try it in 2023.

8. Be kind, calm and positive. People are listening to your every word and watching your every move. Suppress anger, eye rolling, shoulder shrugging, etc., and be the beacon your people look for when the storms roll in.

9.  Listen more, talk less. Even in the pre-COVID-19 world, taking your door off its hinges was meaningless symbolism. If you want your team members to feel comfortable speaking up, you need to show them that you’re really listening—not to respond, to understand. Resolve to learn and use active listening techniques. 

10. Get the wrong people off the bus, but never throw anyone under it. The most important work of leadership is team building. Sometimes making teams work involves “addition by subtraction.” If you’ve been putting off difficult personnel changes, resolve to take action in 2023. Do so in a way that demonstrates to your team that they will always be treated with dignity.  

11. Talk to the people who do the work. As a leader in large organizations, my most valuable conversations were with the front-line staff who process the paperwork, turn the wrench and serve the clients. If you want your organization to work better, those are the people who should be at the table. Spend more time with them in 2023.

12. Be real. Nobody has all the answers, and everyone has fears and doubts. Resolve to share yours with your team. Showing vulnerability is not a sign of weakness; it is a key to building trust.

13. Celebrate risk-taking and failure. It’s one thing to mouth the words that it’s OK to fail. It’s quite another to hold a Failure Festival, where team members talk about something they tried that didn’t work out as planned and what they learned from the experience. Resolve to hold FailFest 2023!

We all receive wishes for the new year to bring us joy. Joy is rarely brought to us, though; it is the by-product of making time for ourselves and others and working toward our goals. I wish you all the best for making joy in 2023.

Author: Andrew Kleine is senior director – Government & Public Sector at EY-Parthenon, Ernst & Young LLP. He is the author of City on the Line: How Baltimore Transformed Its Budget to Beat the Great Recession and Deliver Outcomes (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018) and has served as Baltimore’s budget director. His email is [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @awkleine.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young LLP or other members of the global EY organization.

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