A Leadership Checklist: 10 Things To Do Right Now To Make It A Great Year


As a leader, I’ve learned that getting off to a great start in a new year is very important.   Over the course of my career I’ve assembled a very handy annual New Year’s  leadership checklist that helps get me focused and ready for the challenges to come in the days and months ahead, and well positioned for success.

1. Don’t Dive In Head First – Before you jump into the New Year, full speed ahead, don’t forget to pause and reflect on the year you just experienced – savor the victories, and learn from the setbacks. Talk about this with your team, as early in the year as possible.  THEN, dive in.

2. Study Up – Make sure you take the time to study the details of your business or project plan for the year ahead.  You don’t have to memorize every word and number, but it’s a big plus to absorb and conceptualize the full scope of what you’re trying to accomplish. You’ll feel ahead of the game right away – and that’s a good place to be.

3. Read Your Fine Print – Every leader’s strengths, if overplayed, can turn out to be a negative – I call that the leader’s “fine print“; things that we need to be careful about.  A good example of this is how a “good” tendency to a “hard charger” can turn “bad”  if you end up going overboard, getting too impatient,  and steamrolling over people.  Sort it all out early and become more aware of your “fine print“.

4. Put The Right Team On The Field – Take stock of your team and their strengths and weaknesses, and ask a few hard questions:  Is everyone committed to the new year and the new plan?  Did you have some unresolved issues from last year that are still hanging out there?  Do you need to reshuffle a few things now before things get too busy? Answer these questions NOW,  take whatever corrective action is necessary, and give your team a better chance for success.

5. Keep Raising The Bar – While it may not be realistically feasible to keep setting higher targets on every measurable metric you have,  at least try to raise one or two to higher levels than the year before.    In my experience there is nothing better, and more motivating, than for a team to hit a “best ever” one year,  raise the target the next year, and then hit it again.

6. Synthesize Goals – Now that you’ve studied the business/project plan (see above), you need to reduce it to “bite sized” pieces so it can be effectively communicated throughout the organization.   I’d try to keep the pieces to no more than 4 or 5, but once you come up with them, be relentless in your communication – post them everywhere, and your progress against them. Harness the  power of the collective consciousness!

7. Calibrate Your Accountability Meter – It’s always a good idea to make sure your “accountability meter” is set properly; what I mean by that is making sure your teammates know what their expectations are for the year, and once that is done, being prepared to lead using the “full spectrum” of accountability against those expectations.

8. Clean Out Your Ears – This one’s real simple – prepare your ears to listen, with this virtual “Q-Tip”.   Sit down at your desk, close the door, and turn off your handheld and computer.   Feel and “hear”  what it’s like to not multitask, and just take in what’s happening around you.   Make a mental note to recreate this “listening environment” every time you are in the presence of your teammates.

9. Give Feedback Early & Often – While it’s tempting to immerse yourself in all the “nuts and bolts” as you’ve set sail against your plan, don’t forget to give your teammates as much feedback as possible, especially early on in the year. It’s much harder to give course corrections later if the ship has drifted way off course.

10. Practice Patience, Tolerance  & Engagement- This may be the most important item of them all, and the hardest to do.  It’s so easy to get impatient, intolerant of critique, or adverse to conflict.   Stay self aware!    You don’t have to be a zen master, but it’s important to stay centered, calm, open minded, receptive, and understanding.  Especially when things aren’t going your way.


  1. says

    Love this list to start off 2010!

    The two that resonate with me are #4 and #7. I think the economy was used as an excuse by many to put off making tough decisions.

    The Right Team on the Field – I think that many companies put off adjusting their teams towards the end of 2009. Now is the time to get the team set for a fresh start.

    Accountability – Again, I think the bad economy was used as an excuse to cover poor results. Time to tune up accountability in your organization for the new year.

    Best wishes for a strong start in 2010!

  2. says


    What a great list to start off the new year. There are some real gems here.

    I like the virtual Q-tip analogy and think along with the cleaning of our minds of stuff, we need to be intentional. Intentionally stop what we are doing to listen to our team mates. And that listening is often listening to what is not said as well as what is spoken. It takes intentionality to listen to what is being said underneath of the words and emotions.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. says

    Good foundation. Two I think you should have are keep the chatter focused on your vision and remove the obstacles so your team can see the vision.

  4. says

    Great list! Very helpful. I think it’s also important to pause to remember why you do what you do. What purposes are you trying to fulfill? And, what values will your accomplishements serve?

  5. says

    I keep a journal. At the end of the day I make a notes about what went right and wrong during the day, lessons learned, things I need to do to improve, etc. – A few minutes every night is all it takes. Tonight I’ll add your list. It’s timeless advice. Thanks Terry.

  6. says

    Great list. I agree with this “I think the economy was used as an excuse by many to put off making tough decisions.” I think there are more opportunities in a down time than an up time. A leader seeks these opportunities out and capitalizes on them.

  7. says

    Great advcie. Love the idea of the virtual Q-Tip. It’s what we call “listening softer” in asset-based thinking terms. Listen more and se and feel the meaning and motivation behind the conversation.

    Happy New Year. Looking forward to being part of SOBcon.


  8. says

    In addition to giving feedback, I suggest you GET feedback as well.

    We’re in the middle of an employee survey to better understand what went right and wrong in 2009 and figure out what our priorities should be in 2010.

    Yeah, we’re a survey company and so this is technically shameless self-promotion, but believe me when I say we find surveys to be very useful for our own planning.

  9. says

    Right team on the right field–excellent reminder and well said. Thanks for this well-written piece–I just forwarded the links to my colleagues who all aspire to being leaders in their respective fields!

  10. says

    Always good to start the year and review the year past and raise the bar for the year ahead. That’s where the growth is. No need making the same mistakes over again and there’s always room to grow.

    Thanks for sharing.

  11. says

    Thanks for the post Terry,
    I definitely think from a leadership point of you practicing Patience, Tolerance & Engagement are definitely some of the most important attributes. Everyone has different talents and I think it’s upto you as aleader, along with their own contribution of course, to bring that out

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge


    Mark Yates

  12. says

    Great post! I especially like the #3 on the checklist. Sometimes as managers we get too caught up in the big picture and forget to focus on the details. It may not become a problem right way however missing details can become a huge problem depending on the urgency.

  13. says

    Happy 2010, Terry!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I like the first one: pause and reflect. Then, update your credentials with your victories. It’s also a good time to think about 2010 public relations opportunities for you or your company.

    Wishing you and your readers a new year filled with prosperous prospects, big adventures and fabulous success stories!

    Barbara @wiredprworks

  14. Ak says

    Thank you Terry. Fantastic post.

    After graduating from my undergrad education (2007) I unexpectedly joined my parents’ company as the Global Sales and Marketing Director…it has been amazing yet seems to be a daily trial by fire test. However, I am extremely grateful for the knowledge I have gained in the short period of time.

    I try to soak in as many lessons, etc. as I can. This was the perfect read to start my day. Thank you again and Happy New Year!

  15. says

    Interesting article…here are my views on leadership:

    Leadership is the art of mobilizing others toward shared aspirations. In a business enterprise, leaders must take care of employees who, in turn, are responsible for taking care of customers, stakeholders, and related outside parties, such as the government and the community, in an ethical manner. This approach also considers implications for the environment and results in pro?table growth combined with an increase in the welfare of all parties involved.

    Great leaders are visionaries whose intuition helps them to recognize and capitalize on business opportunities in a timely manner. Their success is based on surrounding themselves with “like-minded” professionals who complement them to help reinforce their strengths and eliminate their weaknesses. They build teams consisting of individuals who complement one another in a way that ensures consistent performance in line with corporate goals. The mantra embodied herein is “Build grand castles in the air while ensuring that they rest on solid foundations.” This is in direct contrast to mediocre leaders who surround themselves with yes-people who, by their very nature, are unable to contribute positively to the bottom line!

    The wisdom of effective leaders enables them to appreciate the views of their inner circle and others. In situations where consensus cannot be reached, they have an uncanny ability to cut to the chase and make informed decisions. They foster an environment that encourages the sharing of ideas through brainstorming while realizing that innovation need not be preceded by the existence of committees.

    True leaders place a great deal of emphasis on culture and shared values. They realize that business involves human beings and that pro?table growth results from fruitful relationships. They normally possess both formal and informal power. Formal power is entrusted to them by virtue of their position in the company. Informal power results from their core belief system. They lead by example, thus earning the respect and admiration of their peers and subordinates. As a result, employees are enthusiastic about going beyond the call of duty for “their” leaders.

    Great leaders build organizations that are vibrant and performance driven. They structure employee compensation packages in a way that promotes and reinforces the right behaviors and rewards people on the basis of individual as well as team performance. They believe that a base salary pays the bills, whereas variable compensation, including earnings before interest, taxes, dividends and amortization (EBITDA)-based bonuses, motivates employees to challenge themselves and increase their contribution to the ?rm on a consistent basis. These leaders ?nd reasons to pay bonuses as opposed to those leaders who ?nd reasons to deprive employees of bonuses they truly deserve!

    Leadership traits can create a virtuous cycle for the ?rm’s management, employees, clients, stakeholders, and others. Great leaders have a natural ?air. There are those who believe that their effectiveness can be increased through education, other methods of training and development, and experience, though to a limited extent.

    Ethical leadership calls for morals, fairness, caring, sharing, no false promises or unreasonable demands on others, etc. Is “ethical leadership” an oxymoron?

    I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, etc., to anyone who sends a request to crespin79@hotmail.com.

    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

  16. says

    The new year is a great way to remind ourselves of these things. But new year’s resolutions can fall by the wayside.

    Am I pointing out the obvious to say that these points should be part of our weekly, dayly, and momentary checklists?

  17. says

    An eye opener and possibly a lifesaver. Thanks for covering the whole gamut of leadership facets here. Very wholistic approach to mindful leadership. Cheers for the New Year to you and all of the comment authors.

  18. Carmen Baker says

    Excellent points! I hope to keep all these points present, particularly point #10, in 2013!

  19. says

    Hi Aaron, so sorry about the delay in responding – your comment got caught in one of my filters.
    Thanks for your kind words, and I hope you have a wonderful 2013!


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