How to Face the Unknown of a New Year

If you’re like most leaders I know — or at least the ones I like and respect — you’re always looking out for what could be better and thinking about how to boost performance, strengthen organizational culture, and enhance the lives of stakeholders. But at the beginning of a new year, the view of what lies ahead can look pretty murky — and 2021 absolutely feels that way. It’s hard to determine how best to proceed, whether you’re looking for new opportunities or just trying to avoid problems. 

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions or choosing words for the year; neither one has ever motivated me for more than a few weeks. What I like are questions and prompts that help structure my thinking. If you’re a resistant soul like I am, whether you’re leading or working on behalf of a corporation, religious institution, school, or family, here are three areas of inquiry that may help you draw on what you’ve experienced and learned in the past year — and think about what you want going forward. 

You can use your responses to these prompts as grist for setting goals or checking your progress. Think of those responses as guardrails to protect you from both wishful thinking and hopeless negativity.

Feel Appreciation and Take the Value Forward

What has been going better than you expected? What surprising but positive things happened? Did anything manage to end up all right even though challenges got in the way? Once you’ve answered these questions, look for any patterns, differences, or lessons that you can apply to other interactions, projects, and plans.

Identify Risk and Mitigate It

What have you seen going wrong, whether it’s friction in the system or cascades of what felt like bad luck? Were there any interventions that saved you, even a little? How about steps you could have taken to dodge the blow, reduce the impact, or get up after being knocked down? And how do you expect those problems to change throughout this year? What new issues are you anticipating? Sometimes you can’t avoid a hard time, but there may be ways to live with it.

Change What Isn’t Working

What has definitively been no-win? Has anything been too costly to sustain, either on a financial or energy basis or because of its negative impact on others? What happened that took you off your trajectory, had negative impacts on the culture, or is no longer useful or relevant given the real-world changes you’re confronting? Don’t continue in a path that can’t work. Recognizing that there’s a better path forward doesn’t mean you’re giving up; it’s not a failure — it’s actually a success.

Go Get Your Future

If you can think about these three angles as you’re planning for the future — especially if you’re not satisfied with your progress or results in a given area — you’re likely to see new ways to adjust or remediate the situation, or at least some aspects of it. But don’t try to figure it all out by yourself. If you know you have support, you can create more robust alternatives and work on them more assiduously. 

Consider asking trusted colleagues or customers to participate in your thinking.  Let them help you broaden and expand your answers — and give you more confidence about your options and ability to pursue them. Then you can step forward into the new year with hope and enthusiasm, even if you can’t see your way clearly just yet. 

I wish you the best of luck navigating this New Year. And if I can help you assess 2020, lay out your options, or make practical plans, please let me know.

Onward and upward —


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