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Your Leadership Checklist for the New Year

January 6, 2022

Many of us look forward to a fresh start at the beginning of a new year. The past two years have been chaotic, stressful, and challenging for most of us, and leaders in organizations have not only had to manage employees, but manage the myriad changes caused by the pandemic. Perhaps the past two years you have felt more reactive than proactive as a leader.

The new year is a great time to recalibrate and focus on elevating your leadership.

Starting the year with a plan for your leadership will ensure that you are more purposeful throughout the year.

This checklist is designed to support your leadership and your team throughout the year so you can retain your best employees, facilitate results, and ignite ownership in your team. The checklist isn’t meant to be all encompassing, but rather, provide you with a framework for focusing on exceptional leadership.

Leadership is action—the daily, meaningful interactions are the most important for impacting your employees and your team in a positive way.

Below are actions you can take to be a purposeful, effective, and exceptional leader in the new year:

  • Create clarity. The beginning of the year is a great time to set you and your team up for success throughout the year. One of the most important elements of success is clarity around what you are aiming to achieve. Take half a day to create a one-page roadmap for you and your team based on your credit union’s strategic plan. Provide clear weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual goals for your team. This roadmap should drive your team meetings and individual coaching sessions throughout the year.
  • Hold kickoff meetings. Once you have clarity, hold team and individual kickoff meetings. The purpose of the team meeting is to create clarity around the goals for the year and get the team excited for the year ahead. Individual kickoff meetings can be a combination of discussing goals and understanding each employee’s personal and professional goals for the year. Involve your employees in the process, and take an interest in their career goals and development. Develop a one-page plan with your employee that includes individual goals and development goals (for example, if an employee wants to become a leader one day, one goal may be to enroll and complete a leadership program).
  • Schedule recurring coaching sessions in your calendar. Most leaders I know struggle to regularly coach their employees because they try to fit coaching in among other meetings and responsibilities throughout the year. While on the spot coaching can be effective, regular coaching sessions are necessary to create a relationship with and develop your team members. Purposeful leaders schedule recurring bi-weekly or monthly coaching sessions in the beginning of the year and make these meetings a priority.
  • Schedule strategic thinking time. Do you struggle to find time to do your actual work because you are constantly running from meeting to meeting? As a leader, you must be purposeful about creating strategic thinking time in your calendar for you and your team. This is a key result area of every leader’s job, and the only person who can create that time in your calendar is you. Schedule two hours each week for personal strategic thinking time, and at least a half day a month.  Make sure that at least one of your team meetings each month is focused completely on strategic topics.
  • Provide meaningful feedback. This should be ongoing, and one of the best ways to ensure your employees know where they stand is to provide feedback in each of their coaching sessions. There is no need to schedule separate meetings (unless you need to have an urgent discussion), providing positive and constructive feedback coaching sessions is a great way to get employees used to fluid, consistent feedback. It’s not an event, it becomes part of your regular interactions.
  • Ask more questions. Questions are an excellent tool for coaching employees to higher level performance, solving problems, and developing critical thinking skills. As a leader, your role is to facilitate results, not fix problems. When an employee comes to you with an issue, ask them a question. For example, “What do you think?”, “What options have you thought of?”, or “What are your reflections about this issue?”. Asking questions is a great way to deepen your employees critical thinking skills and increasing their confidence. It also facilitates employees finding their own solutions rather than constantly relying on their manager. Your employees are capable, smart professionals. As a leader, you can help facilitate their best performance by guiding them with questions.
  • Check in on progress. Use coaching sessions to measure progress on goals and coach employees to improved performance, if necessary. Building progress checks into coaching sessions ensures there is a consistent focus on results. Halfway through the year, ask your employee to type up their progress for the one-page plan you developed together in the beginning of the year. Use this time to coach around any obstacles, acknowledge accomplishments, and make any updates.
  • Host a team retreat. Four to six months into the year is a great time to hold a team retreat. If you are a director or a department manager, a one-day retreat is a great way to reconnect the team personally as well as check in on goals and recalibrate, as needed. This past year, several of my clients held their team retreats virtually. They had social time built in, and a block of time focused on goal progress and strategic discussions.
  • Recognize & Appreciate.  This should also be ongoing—recognize effort, and show genuine appreciation to your employees. One of the top reasons employees quit their jobs is a lack of appreciation (another top reason is a bad boss). Whether it’s a handwritten thank you note, an email, text, or phone call, or a small gift, rewarding excellent performance is part of your job as a leader. To find out how your employees prefer to be recognized, read the book, The 5 Language of Appreciation in the Workplace and have your each of your employees take the survey.
  • Create connection. This should be an ongoing focus throughout the year—make sure your individual and team meetings incorporate social time and ways to create connections among the team. Starting team meetings off with a simple exercise is a great way to stay connected (one of my favorites is “High/Low/Grateful”. Each team member share a high from the past week, a low from the past week, and one thing they are grateful for). As a leader, take an interest in your employees personally by asking about their families, checking in on them (especially if they work virtually), scheduling a lunch to catch up, and acknowledging events like birthdays, anniversaries, and family events.
  • Conduct “Stay Interviews”. Unlike exit interviews where an employee who is leaving is asked a series of questions about their employment experience, a stay interview is more proactive by asking these questions before an employee decides to leave. As a manager, it’s important to understand what your employee values, how they like to be recognized, and what’s most important to them. It’s not necessary to hold a separate meeting; you can simply incorporate some questions into your regular coaching sessions. A few of my favorite questions:
  1. What’s most important to you in a job?
  2. What might entice you to leave?
  3. What do you like best about your job? What energizes you?
  4. If you could change one thing about your position, what would it be?
  5. What talents and abilities do you have that we are not fully utilizing?
  6. What would make our department even more effective?
  7. What would make you more effective in your role?
  8. Do you feel that the credit union supports you in your professional goals?
  9. Do you feel you are recognized for good work? How do you prefer to be recognized?
  10. What can I do as your manager to support you?
  11. Is there anything else you think would be helpful for me to know?
  • Deal with Low Performers. Underperforming employees wreak havoc on your team culture and will quickly disengage even your best employees. As soon as you notice a pattern, have a conversation with an employee who is not meeting performance standards. The earlier you approach the issue, the less uncomfortable it will be. Putting it off will only increase the discomfort and hurt your team. Part of your responsibility is to caretake the culture—that means dealing with anything that gets in the way of a high-performing team. Instead of viewing the issue as a confrontation, approach it as a conversation with the goal of solving the problem. An underperforming employee deserves to know if they aren’t meeting standards. Coach the employee to better performance, and if progress is not made, take action so you can preserve the culture of your team. High performing employees appreciate leaders who have the courage to deal with low performers.
  • Delegate. In my experience, lack of delegation is one of the primary factors that holds leaders back from success. You can’t possibly do it all, nor should you. Your success as a leader is dependent upon how your team performs. Your job is to facilitate results. You do this by delegating tasks and responsibilities to those on your team who are best suited to handle them. Delegating not only helps develop your team members to take on higher level responsibilities and enhance their skills, but it also frees up your time to focus on strategic areas. When delegating, make sure you provide the success criteria for the project or task—what must happen for this project to be a success? Then give your employee the autonomy to get it done.
  • Prepare for annual reviews. Throughout the year, track progress, accomplishments, and coaching conversations as they happen. Most leaders don’t prepare throughout the year, which makes performance reviews stressful, and often meaningless. Ideally, you are providing feedback throughout the year, so your employee knows exactly how they are doing in relation to goals and expectations. Take a few minutes after each conversation to document a summary of the conversation, as well as accomplishments and constructive feedback (I do this in a simple Word document for each employee), so you have all the information you need when evaluations are due.
  • Encourage time off. Most Americans don’t use their earned vacation time each year, and many times it’s because employees don’t want to fall behind at work. Encourage your employees to take time off to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy life outside of work. As a leader, model good boundaries by not sending or responding to emails after hours (unless it’s an emergency), not checking email on vacations, and working reasonable hours. Your example will set the tone for team members. Employees who have healthy work boundaries and disconnect from work will be more productive and bring their best to work each day.
  • Schedule a holiday celebration. Individual and team recognition should happen throughout the year, and the holidays are also a great time to reflect and celebrate the year—accomplishments, lessons, and relationships. Most of your employees have had some personal struggles over the past two years, and feeling appreciation and acknowledgement from their leaders has an impact. Go above and beyond to show your employees you care about them as people.

You have the power to create an exceptional year for you and your team if you focus on the most important areas of leadership: creating clarity, caretaking the culture, having the courage to handle challenges, and focusing on consistency and results.

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Comments
Melissa Smith
December 7, 2023

Good morning. I loved this read. Thank you so much for sharing. Sincerely, Melissa :)

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Anonymous
November 29, 2023

Thank you for this blog Laurie. I liked most part and specially "As organizations have become more complex, there is a tendency to require employees to do more with less. This is a slippery slope, and often can result in employees feeling overwhelmed and burnt out. One of the biggest contributors to this is not evaluating resources during the strategic planning process." I will use this practice "A best practice is to do what I call Priority Planning—putting important practices on your calendar ahead of time so they become a priority in your day. Examples of activities to Priority Plan include scheduling recurring coaching sessions with each team member, time for strategic thinking and planning, vacations, doctor appointments, important children’s events, and blocks of time for focused work on projects." To be more effective, I will get a good rest so I can have enough energy in the morning. I will read the blog again along with the other links on employee evaluation. Thank you so much Laurie. Best wishes to you and your family.

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Tracey
October 23, 2023

this is a test comment

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Anonymous
October 23, 2023

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lynn beisel
October 20, 2023

I love the feedback on the more than 50 hours of work. AND filling time. So true. Unfortunately, showing that you work longer hours is still seen as being a "hard worker" - not sure how to change that though.

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Reply from Laurie:
Lynn, I agree that working longer hours is still seen as working "hard" in our culture. I wish this was an easy shift. Our society needs to redefine what being productive means--not related to hours, but true productivity, which I find is not related to hours, but is related to focus. I do think leaders in organizations can model great boundaries and set the tone for their culture. Thank you for your comment!
Krystle
September 26, 2023

I enjoyed the read. I concur that transitioning from technical skills to delegating results was a task within itself. I did not realize I was almost trying to do the same thing from my previous position, and it was not working. However, I am seeing the results of how delegating daily tasks makes my job and workload easier. Thank you, Laurie.

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Reply from Laurie:
Thank you, Krystle! I think this is something most managers are challenged with when shifting from a more technical role to a leadership role. Delegation can really help free up time for the leadership aspects of our job.
Anonymous
August 29, 2023

Thank you for sharing information about your trip Laurie! All 3 things resonate with me - probably #1 being the biggest. I know when I'm gone for a week, I'm still thinking about work and need a vacation when I get back because I did not relax enough. I think your idea of a longer vacation is definitely in my future!!

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Reply from Laurie:
I think it takes me a week to just wind down before I can really relax. My goal next year is to take at least one two week (rather than one week at a time) vacation!
Perry Crutchfield
August 22, 2023

Hey Laurie, My take on your list - 1 - everyone has a story - listen 2- social media causes interpersonal problems 5- generational differences create hurdles / earn it you aren't entitled / we should help them get there not give it to them 6 AMEN some leaders I would have followed thru Hell, some I wish - well, you know 7- true BUT be as good as your word and 14- Hopefully we leave some good from our efforts, I know the good leaders I have had have. Seen a lot in my career but it really comes down to treat others the way you want to be treated, fair, honest, and straight forward. Good read. Take care

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Reply from Laurie:
I always appreciate your perspective, Perry! I so agree with you that we should treat others with respect, just like we want to be treated. I have also had leaders that I would follow anywhere, and others who I have learned what NOT to do!
LISA KINNEY
August 16, 2023

I love this so much and thank you so much for sharing! I really just love realizing that enjoying the simple things sometimes is the best! Also recognizing that what is important and fun to you may not be everyone else's fun on the on the trip. “Do we get to keep these toiletries?” was my favorite!!!! :):) Glad you had a great time and got to spend it with your family!

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Reply from Laurie:
I am so glad you are enjoying the blog post Lisa!
Sandra
August 15, 2023

I very much resonate with lesson no 3! Thank you Laurie

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Reply from Laurie:
Thanks, Sandra!
Beverly Zook
August 14, 2023

I think the part that you might have missed in their top 5 things, some of which were not "Italian" or even different from home, all of them happened with you, both of you. And i think that is what they will remember too. And you've got tons of photos that will remind them of what the Sistine Chapel looked like - then they might remember what it sounded like or smelled like. Oh- and i agree with you 100% about sleep!

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Reply from Laurie:
You are so right Bev--it was really about the experience of traveling together. I have on my list to create an album from our trip so we can look back and remember everything we did!
Tracey
August 14, 2023

LOTS of great take-aways from this post! Thank you for posting! I especially love "slow down to speed up". That's a keeper!

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Tracey
August 14, 2023

testing blog comment flow

did this come through?
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Anonymous
August 14, 2023

the not getting enough rest to be at my best. definitely need to get more quality sleep and make that a priority

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Sandi Richardson
August 10, 2023

It really is hard to narrow down the 3 lessons into one because they are all so interconnected. You need to give your mind and body THE TIME to relax SO THAT you can enjoy the SIMPLE THINGS, including REST. I enjoyed that lesson as a whole. I will take that lesson with me on my next vacation (or staycation). As always, thank you Laurie for your candor and for sharing your own lessons with others so that we too can benefit.

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Reply from Laurie:
Yes, Sandi! Love how you pulled all those lessons together!
Andrea C.
August 10, 2023

Great information and reminders

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Reply from Laurie:
Thank you, Andrea!
Arlene Byrd
August 10, 2023

Laurie, Thank you for sharing your trip and these nuggets. The lessons that resonate most with me are it does take time to relax and getting proper rest. When you devote 15 plus hours of your day for work, taking care of home and others; the 6-7 hours you lay down does not cut it! For me during this time I'm trying to unwind and find myself thinking fighting not to think about what I have to do tomorrow. Even after I create a to do list for the next day...I find things I need to add. Taking a day off here and there doesn't cut it as well because of all the plans you have for that day. I try to make sure my Mental Health Days remains just that.... time for me to laugh, cry, scream.... whatever I need to release the cares and stress!

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Reply from Laurie:
Yes, Arlene! We spend so much of our time working and often taking care of others, that it can feel challenging to even find time to unwind and rest. I am working on building more margin into my schedule and blocking time off next year for some extra days off to really disconnect and relax.
Stephen Wallace
August 10, 2023

Really enjoyed the article... and all very true!

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Tracey
August 10, 2023

Since I was already well aware of #1 (I'm in the same boat with taking a long time to relax), I think I'm resonating most with #3. I'm learning to prioritize sleep / rest and it's been wonderful. Love that you said "I love sleep.". :)

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Reply from Laurie:
Yes, Tracey, I love my sleep and I prioritize it! I feel a huge difference in my energy and focus if I lose even one hour of sleep. I know a lot of people struggle to get good rest, and for some it is not easy.
Anonymous
July 28, 2023

Welcome back from vacation. Well deserve! Action is the key to success. Shoulder to shoulder, coaching and delegating task to help other employees grow are very important. It is a sacrifice that one must do. Forget about yourself and be with your team day in and out to help them grow, is not always easy. On the long run, your team is stronger, and you can depend on them for the success of the organization. Thank you so much!

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Reply from Laurie:
Absolutely agree--action is important for any success. And as a leader, we have to take action--connect with our team, make time for coaching, and showing appreciation. Thanks for your comments!
Sandra
July 26, 2023

So many great tips here, thank you!

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Reply from Laurie:
Thanks so much, Sandra!
Tracey
July 14, 2023

I am so impressed you're able to disconnect and these are great tips I'll be sure to try on my next trip!

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Reply from Laurie:
Let me know how it goes, Tracey! :-)
Becca Levian
July 14, 2023

Such a great post - so inspiring!

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Reply from Laurie:
Thank you, Becca!