With the end of one year and the beginning of a new one now upon us, the typical response for many of us is to reflect on what’s transpired over these past 12 months, while at the same time looking ahead in anticipation of what’s to come in the new year.
In the case of 2016, there seems to be a common consensus that this was a particularly bad year which many are glad to see come to an end. For some, this sentiment is borne from the loss of certain musicians, actors, and artists over the past 12 months, while for others, this feeling stems from the results of various political elections and referendums held around the world.
Of course, what is interesting about these negative impressions regarding this year is that the outcomes that many use to define 2016 as being a particularly ‘bad year’ have yet to be felt. It’s only in the months ahead that we’ll appreciate how there won’t be any new performances or new creative works from the musicians, actors and other creative types who passed away in 2016.
And while the voting process for Brexit and the US presidential election was held this year, the real consequences and impact of those choices won’t be truly felt or understood until well into 2017 and beyond. In other words, the ending of 2016 marks only the beginning for the UK and the US – along with the rest of the world – as to what their choices will give rise to in terms of what the future will hold for their respective countries.
And yet, this hasn’t stopped many from looking at these events in isolation; as a reflection of what this year represents, as opposed to what they might give rise to in the months and years ahead.
This disparity between an event and its long-term repercussions provides an important reminder for leaders everywhere, of the difference between how we might see things in our organization and how our employees experience them.
Consider, for example, when your organization experiences a loss or failure like when your organization loses a key contract to a competitor despite your team’s efforts, or when a new product/service that’s been championed to be your organization’s next great accomplishment fails to deliver on that promise.
In those moments, it’s only natural that the prevailing mood in your organization will be gloomy – that your employees will feel discouraged, possibly even disillusioned because they believed in their potential to succeed.
It’s in these moments where our leadership is needed most – not simply to help our employees with managing their feelings of resignation, but to encourage them to find the path for what to do next. Of how to respond to this event so that we might be in a stronger position to do better going forward.
In many ways the current popular attitude of wanting to say ‘good riddance to 2016’ in favour of welcoming a new year reflects the differences in perspective that leaders and their employees have about the collective work their organization does.
For employees, their focus is on the day-to-day realities they face; of both those moments where things go their way and those times where things seem to be getting worse than better. Leaders, on the other hand, realize that they need to focus more on the long-view; of understanding how these moments in time will serve to shape and transform the landscape in which we have to navigate our organization forward.
Of course, in today’s faster-paced and always-on digital work environment that we all operate within, it’s easy to gloss over these differences and to focus instead on simply handing out new tasks and new goals as a way to move past these feelings of discouragement, if not also to just keep things moving along.
But if we are to truly engage and empower our employees to bring their best efforts to the work they do, then we have to do more than simply ignoring these moments where things go wrong or when we find ourselves facing an uncertain path or future.
Indeed, as leaders, it’s our job to encourage our employees to ask “where do we go next?” [Share on Twitter] And we accomplish that by providing our employees with insights that will help them to gain a context to not only understand how we can learn from these setbacks, but how we can be more successful going forward on achieving the vision that binds our collective efforts.
Again, it’s our natural tendency to view events and moments in isolation, without necessarily taking into account the long view of how the choices and decisions we’ve made over the past several years have lead us to these present-day outcomes. But here again is where the true function of leadership takes hold, where it’s not simply about reacting to what we see going on around us, but connecting where we’ve been with where we’re headed.
In other words, leaders need to remind people of the journey they’ve taken so far and what’s to come going forward [Share on Twitter].
The simple truth is none of us can expect things to always go our way; that all of us will inevitably encounter obstacles, roadblocks, and even dead-ends on the path we’ve chosen to take towards achieving our life’s purpose.
But while we are entitled to feel a sense of defeat when we hit that brick wall, it’s important that we not let that deter us from finding another way; another route that will lead to a more successful outcome.
While many might prefer to wallow over the loss over what might have been, successful leaders recognize this as an opportunity to remind those under their care of what they’re capable of, of why they believe in their potential to be more, and to challenge them to stand up and deliver on that potential.
The reason they respond in this manner is because they understand that the best leaders are driven to help others discover how they can be better than they are today [Share on Twitter]. This is why the best talent are drawn to them – even when things don’t go our way, these leaders are committed to keep pressing ahead because they genuinely believe in our collective capacity to do more, to be more than we are at this moment.
In one of my last interviews of this year, I was asked about one of the best bosses I worked for and why they were such an inspiration even after I stopped working for them. And in recalling my time working for this leader, I couldn’t help but remember fondly not only how much he believed in my potential to be more than what was written in my job description, but of how he challenged each and every one of his employees to believe not only in the work we did, but in each other.
And that perhaps is the greatest gift we could offer our employees, especially in light of the political and economic uncertainties that I expect will become a hallmark of the upcoming year. Specifically, that we recognize that true leaders inspire the best in everyone because they believe in that potential within all of us [Share on Twitter].
So rather than waiting for the start of the new year with those typical discussions of what resolutions you’ll make to live and do better in 2017 as compared to 2016, let’s use this current climate where others prefer to focus on what we got wrong this year to challenge ourselves for how we will learn from this, how we will grow from this, and how – armed with these new insights – we will move one step closer to being that better leader our employees need us to be if they are to succeed and thrive under our care.