New Year's Leadership Tips That Anyone Can Use

By Carl Robinson, Ph.D., 2008

In today's free agent economy, very smart people want to grow and will only stay at companies that help them do that. "Pay them well, pay them fairly and then do everything you can do to make them forget about the money" (Alfie Kahn).

Most people respect and appreciate direct developmental feedback from their bosses. It drives people crazy sensing that something is wrong and not knowing what it is. If you are upset about something your employees are doing tell them.

Be specific about your criticism. Give relevant examples of what isn't working and what it would look like if your employee were doing it right. If you can't articulate the issue clearly you need help.

Focus on self-improvement. Set the standard that every team member is responsible for being a leader. Teams work better where team members take responsibility for improving their own personal performance.

Ask your direct reports, "What's the best way to manage you so that you can be successful?" They will tell you what they need. This is so much easier than attempting mind reading. Everyone's needs are slightly different

Select the right people. The best people on your teams contribute the ability to work well with others. Empathy and integrity are the two attributes distinguishing top team members from those serving on less capable teams.

Don't let passive aggressive people infect your environment. They will stifle openness, instill distrust, and create an environment where innovative people will clam up and eventually leave.

Replace anyone from your team who is not willing or able to demonstrate empathy, mutual respect, and the ability to listen to others' views. These are necessary norms of conduct required for top teams.

Communicate more when things are going wrong. Hiding makes things worse. Most people understand human errors and are pretty forgiving. Keep communication open by telling what you are doing to correct any problems. This helps people remain calm, be patient, and think the best of you.

Back up words with actions. You will engender cynicism and disengagement when you don't follow through with your commitments.

Defer judgment when looking for new and creative ideas and solutions. Deferring judgment keeps creative juices flowing. The moment you say "dumb idea," to yourself or your team is the moment your mind or your team stops producing those so-called dumb ideas. You will scare people into silence and stifle their creativity by critiquing their ideas too soon and too harshly.

Monitor your exuberance as an executive. Chiming in too soon with your ideas and solutions can stop further discussions and disempower others. Tap into other people's brilliance by encouraging input and discussion while being patient during the process.

Spend time alone daily, in quiet, in reflection. It's impossible to develop a big picture view of life without allowing yourself some time for reflective thought. Most creative thought comes about after spending time reflecting.

Keep things in perspective. It can be easy to forget that humankind has been around for thousands of years and worse times have come and gone. The economy may be in the doldrums. It will rebound. Smart executives take advantage of recessions - they prepare for the rebound and beat the latecomers who were scared into inaction.

Enjoy whatever family you have. Spend more time with your kids if you have children. They are a gift. You'll naturally loosen up by playing with your kids. A loose (versus uptight) mind thinks more creatively. Children help you see the world with new eyes when you let them.

Develop and nurture friendships with people outside of work. Develop friendships with people with whom you can let down your hair and you don't have to worry about impressing.

Learn to say "yes." Say "yes" to your life and to the opportunities you are presented. "Seize the day!"