The One New Year’s Leadership Resolution You Shouldn’t Keep

You’ve had a difficult year.

The team didn’t live up to its expectations, and your operating division is going to miss its budget target.

Your bosses are ratcheting up the pressure and the heat is on for better performance.

As the new year approaches, you make a resolution.

“I’m going to tighten up the screws and get tougher on my team next year”

It seems like a logical request – you figure, you didn’t push hard enough.  You weren’t pounding your fist on the table hard enough.  You just weren’t…hard enough.

But in reality, it’s not logical  – it’s a prescription for disaster.   Your new “you” may get you some short-term benefit, from a team that is now jumping through hoops out of fear instead of true inspiration,  but in the longer run you’re headed for bigger troubles.

It’s a New Year’s resolution that shouldn’t be kept, because being “tougher” on them isn’t the real answer.

It’s getting fairer on them, and tougher on YOU.

When I was first starting out on my leadership path, I was having a discussion with my boss about some performance deficiencies at one of our subsidiary companies.   I was noting a string of bad behavior incidents and morale issues, and suggested that the manager there needed to “get tougher” with his team.

My boss, who had been in the business world for over 50 years, sat back in his chair, looked me straight in the eye, and said

“Terry my boy, a fish stinks from its head down.  Now go deal with this in the right way, will you?”

Change has to start at the top, with you.   A year-end presents an opportunity for a thorough re-evaluation of your leadership – how you have led, and what was the response.

In my experience, most failings stem from a lack of fairness than a lack of “toughness”.

Being “fair” means using what I call the Full Spectrum of Accountability, instead of working from a narrow place in the “comfortable middle“,  where nobody gets singled out for big praise or above-the-norm raised or bonuses, and nobody gets a raise withheld, or is coached or let go.   Everyone gets about the same review rating, and about the same raise.

It’s comfortable because it seems relatively calm, and for most of us, we think “calm” equals “good”.

So when results sag because of the resentment of better performers, and the continued tolerance of sub-par performers,  it would seem an easy reach for leaders to resolve to “get tougher” – to shake things up.   But that’s only going to move that narrow range from the middle to the bad side of pain, pain, and little gain.

Until the ‘head of the fish’ decides to get out of the narrow windows and work with the Full Spectrum, “tough” is only going to make matters worse.

It HAS to start with you.

Be fairer with them, and tougher on you.

THAT’s a New Year’s resolution that will make a huge difference.

Happy New Year, and Lead Well in 2013!

(Photo by Bigstock)





  1. Margot Cook says

    Totally agreed. This type of thinking leads to disengagement which is pervasive. I’d love to see leaders make Engagement a 2013 resolution, and to actually walk the walk ratner than just giving it lip-service.


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