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Where Do We Go From Here?


As 2015 begins to wind down, many of us – myself included – are understandably eager to wrap up the remaining work threads of this year so we can shift our focus to what we’d like to achieve and move forward with in the New Year.

Indeed, researchers at Wharton University have found that moments that stir notions of a fresh start or a new beginning are aligned with that internal motivation we all have to strive to do better, to be better than we are today.

And yet, as most of us know firsthand, those promises that a new year often brings to mind invariably loses out to the day-to-day realities that once again drive our attention away from the things we long to achieve or transform within ourselves.

It’s little surprise, then, that soon after the start of this upcoming new year, many of us will be left feeling as if those plans and goals we set for ourselves to achieve were simply an adult version of calling out “do-over!”, hoping that the chance to start over will somehow lead us to a better reality than the one we have right now.

Of course, it’s not just the end of one year and the impending arrival of a new one that stirs such sentiments and perceptions.

In working and talking with leaders across Canada and the US, it was clear that one thing they shared in common was that feeling of being caught in a perpetual loop where progress is simply defined by getting things done instead of by making a tangible difference, both for their organization and in the lives of those under their care.

Unfortunately, this feeling has left many leaders questioning not only their efficacy, but even the value they bring to their organization through their leadership. Of whether this is all that there is for them offer to those they lead.

Granted, it’s a good thing that these leaders are willing to openly express that frustration because it means that they know they can and should expect more from themselves; of what they can inspire, empower, and provide through their leadership.

But it also illustrates the importance of using milestone moments like the impending start of a new year to focus not simply on what we need to do to achieve our future goals, but to also recognize where we are today and what lessons we’ve learned over the course of this past year. Indeed, it’s important to note that our future success hinges on how well we connect where we need to go with what we’ve learned so far [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

It’s an idea I was reminded of earlier this month when I worked with a group of leaders at a Swiss multinational to help them figure out how to implement the wide-ranging and extensive changes that the head office wanted them to put into effect within their respective departments.

The difficulty many of them had in answering the question ‘where do we go from here?’ stemmed from their predominant focus on feeling disconnected with the changes the head office in Switzerland had imposed on them – in large part due to the fact that they were not a part of the decision-making process that determined which changes should be made to their department.

In order to move forward in a way that didn’t feel as though they were starting over, but instead were evolving and growing in terms of their future contributions, I worked with these leaders to help them shift their focus from a mindset of maintenance to a mindset of growth.

Specifically, they had learn how to see these changes as an opportunity to challenge their assumptions of what they could achieve, and how to connect their collective efforts to what mattered to those under their care.

With this shift in mindset, it became easier for them to appreciate that it’s not a question of waiting for better times to find ways to improve what they did. Instead, what was needed here was discovering what’s required to transform their division into an even stronger member of their global family.

And the only way they could do that was by putting these changes into the context of where they’ve been, what they’ve learned along the way, and how they could use their leadership to build on that going forward.

This shift in outlook not only changed the way they understood where do they go from here in light of the onslaught of changes they’ll be expected to implement in the months and years ahead, but it also changed how they communicated to one another about this new reality going forward.

In fact, when one of the teams was presenting their ideas for how to address one of the challenges they face in pushing forth these change initiatives through their division, one of the directors spontaneously reminded them during their presentation that “this isn’t a problem; it’s an opportunity”.

An opportunity to challenge our understandings and perceptions. An opportunity to do a better job meeting the needs of both the head office and of those under our care. An opportunity to learn and grow.

Watching this transformation in how these leaders viewed the road ahead of them and the rising tide of changes they will be responsible to navigate and use to transform the way they operate in the future, I was reminded of an important lesson every leader should take hold of as they make plans for what they want to achieve in the new year – as leaders, we set the stage for what it will be like to work within our team and organization [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

Key to this shift in mindset and perspective was how these leaders understood that they couldn’t map out their goals or change initiatives for the next year in isolation. Rather, they had to tie it both to the realities their employees faced today, as well as to what lessons they’ve learned this year that have helped them to succeed and thrive in spite of those obstacles and failures.

So often when we set these goals for our organization or for ourselves, there’s an attempt to create this division between our past selves and this future version we want to create or attain.

But as I pointed out before, this often leads to measures similar to that of calling for a “do-over”, where we try to cover up past mistakes instead of discovering what we learned from them; of how we can use our past experiences to make us stronger going forward.

Seen from this vantage point, the start of a new year should not simply be about ‘letting go of the past for a brighter future’, as it should be embracing how the lessons we’ve learned that got us here today can help us to better understand the challenges and obstacles we’ll face tomorrow in our pursuit to achieve our future goals .

The start of a new year, of a new change initiative, or even of a new endeavour is more than simply a moment to start anew. It represents a critical opportunity for reflection and review, of examining the lessons we’ve learned over the past 12 months and the experiences we’ve encountered and endured.

In so doing, we can gain greater clarity and insight to understand where do we go from here to ensure our collective success in achieving the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.

That’s why we have to remember that one of our responsibilities as a leader is to inspire those we lead to be more than they are today [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]. That our employees see that others believe and value not just their contributions of today, but also their potential of tomorrow, where they can become even stronger contributors to our shared purpose in the months and years ahead.

So while we look forward to what a new year will bring for us in terms of new challenges and opportunities, let’s also remember the lessons and insights we’ve gained this year and how when paired together, they can help us to continue to grow into the kind of leader we want and need to be for those under our care.

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