As another year starts, you are probably reflecting on what happened in 2022 and trying to work out how to grow, develop and be more successful in 2023. Often at this time of year, there will be many article titles appearing on the internet on “4 steps to be a great leader in 2023” or “How to be a great leader from tomorrow.” Many will suggest a list of generic actions – which might work, or might not – but probably won’t be best for you because they take no account of your situation, your experiences in 2022 and what you want to achieve in 2023. The only way you will get real growth and development is to focus on your own situation and create a personalised leadership development plan.
When you look at your experiences from 2022 and try to pull out those that could give you a roadmap for success in 2023, it can feel like seeing a large jigsaw puzzle tipped out onto a table—lots of different pieces but no visible picture. The challenge is turning all these different experiences into a vision for the future from which you can build detailed plans of action.
After being a “hands-on” leader for over 30 years in the military, business, and government, much of it developing senior leaders, including as an executive coach, I’ve been there before both personally and professionally. It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ideas and experiences that you’ve had so finding a starting point for your 2023 growth plan can be difficult. If you add to that leadership development activity that you may have experienced in 2022 where you had models and theories thrown at you which confused and not clarified, it is even more confusing.
All my experience is that pulling out your key learning points for the future is about keeping it simple, practical and focused on things which make a real difference in terms of performance, for both yourself and others. In particular, it’s about focusing on things which resonate with you from your experience. Within that experience are most of the answers to what you should be doing in 2023, the problem is that they are hidden within that pile of other experiences sitting on your mental table. What will help you is a little guidance on how to find the critical pieces within that pile quickly and effectively to give yourself a growing picture which builds into your personal vision for 2023.
Focus on Key Themes as Your Guide
I found that what really helps leaders leverage the power and potential of their own experience is giving them a set of overview themes to reflect on. This helps them to identify any of their experiences which link to those themes and then consolidate experiences around them. This often reveals that there are many different experiences which align and consolidate to specific key success themes.
Consolidating experiences around key success themes will show you where your high return on investment opportunities lie and allow you to take the next step, to plan action to make them work for you in 2023. It’s about growing self-awareness and works in any leadership position you may be in, in senior leadership or first-line manager. So here are my key themes for success for all leaders in 2023 which you can use to build your leadership plan and get maximum value from your experience. They start with the more strategic and holistic and then dive down into the practical. It is your self-assessment to create your personal leadership development plan to become a more effective leader.
1. We are all human
Too often in the confusion and pressure of day-to-day activity, we somehow manage to forget that we are all human beings. That applies no matter what our job is, no matter how senior we are, and no matter what our organisation does. As human beings even though each of us is different we all tend to conform to reasonably consistent patterns of behaviour around what we want out of work and life, eg, we all like being praised for our good work.
A few years ago someone observed that “pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” We all know that’s true for all of us no matter what job we do. And when I speak around the world I always ask my audience who they think would have made such an observation, one which effectively summarises how to optimise employee engagement. I get suggestions such as Richard Branson and Steve Jobs but the vast majority are surprised to learn that this was said in 500 BCE by Aristotle. It was true 2500 years ago and is still true today, a common factor throughout our humanity.
But that is just the tip of a consistent behavioural iceberg which we all share. Why? Because our brains generally all work in the same way and have done for roughly 250,000 years. We are wired to do things which help us survive and thrive. That’s why within your experience you will see consistent patterns of behaviour in yourself and others.
And that leads on to another theme within “we are all human” – that our experiences create our perspectives and then our perspectives determine our behaviour. This is what powered much of the Great Resignation. For example, if we think something has, or could have, a potentially negative impact on us we will avoid it as much as we can. The reverse applies if positive. Over our careers most of us have had good bosses and bad bosses and we absolutely know which we felt were positive towards us and met our expectations, you know that with those you felt were positive, you probably gave your best for them and those who weren’t you probably didn’t.
You might not believe it but your response to these differing situations wasn’t a fully conscious decision. Most of it was driven by your subconscious making an almost instant decision on whether what was happening was positive for you or not. That decision created a chemical response which then determined your behaviour. This is powered by our brains “survive and thrive” programming to avoid danger or threats and seek maximised benefit.
This is a critical part of “we are all human” which more leaders need to really understand to be fully effective. Too often leaders view other people’s responses to their actions as being emotional and irrational. The funny thing is that often those responses are predictable and consistent given the actions of the leader because of our brain’s hard wiring.
Linked to this is another important theme, that the emotional is remembered long after the rational, and is significantly more powerful. It’s those emotional moments from your life that you remember not the rational decisions that you made. That’s why when you reflect on what you want to achieve in 2023 you need to think of those objectives which will be emotionally rewarding as well as rationally. Suppose you are a leader not just for yourself but also for your people. It’s the emotion you, and they will remember, back to how you felt about those different previous bosses.
But emotion also links to giving our best for the organisation as well as Corporate Executive Board studies showed (p12). Strong emotional commitment to the organisation can increase discretionary effort by 42%. I’m firmly convinced that all leaders need to understand this area much more so that they can lead in a way which encourages their people’s brains to work with them rather than against them. Despite what we think our brains have a mind of their own! Here is a great overview from David Rock which may help.
2. Vision > Plan > Action
Often as people, and especially as leaders, we tend to think that it’s critical to take action as quickly as possible. Yes, we do need to take action, but it works better if we have a personal vision of where we want to get to and a plan to make it happen. This is what successful leaders do to build their own leadership development goals. But too often I have heard leaders in organisations comment “I’m not sure why we’re doing this”, hardly demonstrating clarity on vision, key objectives or a high level of motivation!
The same applies to you getting the best out of 2023 and leading your team. You need to have your vision for 2023 and your plan, together with milestones, to focus your action. But often we don’t have a vision for what we want out of the next year, either personally or in our career. Going with the flow very can work well but you aren’t likely to necessarily end up where you want to be if you do that all the time. So it’s worth writing down the key things you want to achieve both personally and professionally in 2023. It’s your personal vision statement.
As a leader, you need to have the same for your team. You can make the same point about how your team works as a leader, does the team have a vision? So many times I have seen organisations with a clear vision and purpose at the strategic level but, for some reason, the idea of cascading the same principle down through the organisation is lost. There is absolutely no reason why a team should not have its own vision, purpose, key objectives and even agreed behaviours.
I’ve run through creating this with many of my teams in the past and for the vast majority of people who’ve never done this before it’s both a revelation and an inspiration. It creates a common big picture and purpose, shares core values, which inspires everybody, gives clarity and direction plus the flexibility to change the plan without losing sight of the end destination. Above all, it ensures what you and your team are doing is optimising the value of what you do for the organisation which is vital.
3. Capability + motivation = Delivery
The next key theme to focus on is that capability does not equal delivery. Capability is potential delivery but only becomes delivery when combined with motivation. Again this applies to all of us as human beings and this is one where, in 2023, it’s worth taking a step back to reflect on capability both in terms of yourself and if you’re a leader, your people. You need to assess whether you think you, and your people have the capability to do what you’re being asked to do. If there is any doubt take steps to build capability and make sure it’s in place. Capability needs to change over time and everyone’s capability can benefit from further development – this includes leadership competencies as well as role-related technical ones.
If everyone in an organisation was just 5% better in 2023 through capability improvement the overall impact would be significant as this would be enhanced by the multiplier effect within a value chain. Motivation can’t replace capability and vice versa. For you, your motivation will be created by your vision for 2023, but also as a leader, you need to know what motivates your people. Remembering that “we are all human” will start you thinking in the right direction. But always remember that beauty is in the eye of the receiver, not the giver.
However too often leaders, and senior leaders in particular, assume that if a base level of capability and motivation are present things will get done. Yes they will, and the team and organisation will deliver to a degree, but that totally misses the hidden potential which exists if you really focus on boosting capability and motivation in 2023 and not just accept the status quo. The results can be amazing as real case studies prove.
4. We, not me delivers more
It’s really interesting that often as leaders we tell people they want them to do their jobs. It makes sense on the surface but the problem is that in modern complex organisations and dynamic environments if everybody just did their jobs, and nothing more, the organisation would probably fail. We all know from experience the reality is that to make our organisations successful we often have to do things that might technically be outside our job responsibilities. Perhaps when we tell people what we want them to do it should be more about helping the organisation be successful than just doing their job.
That’s what a “we not me” culture is all about, partnership and collaboration, working together to do what’s required to deliver success rather than just doing the job. That’s about things like knowledge sharing, developing the next generation of leaders, preparing people in-job for new roles, and boosting everyone’s self-confidence. We all know from our experience of teams we have been in where, if a “we, not me” culture thrives and everybody is working with a common goal focused on the delivery of success, it’s a much more inspiring environment and one which delivers significantly more.
“We not me” is essentially a combination of collaboration, trust-based relationships, mutual support and development. It grows with trust as the glue which enables it and holds it together. The leader’s example in building this is critical, by showing genuine trust in others day to day. “We not me” builds much faster if the team leader proactively models it and reaches out to team members. So in 2023 if you focus on building “we not me” it will give you real benefits. Why? One of the reasons is that it goes back to “we’re all human” and when we work together we are all more motivated and fulfilled. Back to positive actions getting people’s brains working with you not against you.
From Reflection to Action
You will get value by thinking about these themes and your experiences from 2022 related to each of them, from your own perspective. If a leader also from the perspective of your people. If it’s helpful, make notes on the key experiences you had around each theme, because then you will start to see the consistent patterns within them and that will identify those themes and actions which you can focus on to deliver the most impact for you.
Then you just need to use them as your guide for personal growth and to use these leadership goals to help you improve your leadership style and be a better leader in 2023. This is an ongoing process, building on your own best practices to deliver the best results. These key themes and sub-themes are simple, powerful and effective from my experience of working through them with many leaders.
- We are all human
- Our experiences create our perspectives which determine our behaviour
- Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work
- We all want to survive and thrive
- Vision > Plan > Action
- Capability + motivation = delivery
- We not me delivers more
You can take what you have thought about here and integrate it into your own personal development plan, and that then gives you a comprehensive action plan. The implementation can be made easier using the 3 Simple Action Steps.
Implementing your 2023 plan – 3 Simple Action Steps for Success
It’s possible to pull together the themes above into 3 simple practical action steps, focused on key leadership skills, to make it even simpler to be more effective and successful in 2023 and build real value long-term. These are based on a massive volume of detailed research, real-world case studies, my experience of what works in the real world, and I’m pretty sure, a lot of your experience about what works as well as a good leader. It’s a really simple process which is effective in all leadership roles.
There are 3 simple steps you need to take and implement:
1. Firm Foundation of task delivery skills
These task management skills are what allow you to get the job done slickly and effectively and not get distracted and lose time in firefighting.
Getting these optimised gives you much more time to focus on your people, inspiring them so you get the best effort from them.
2. Get the best
Success in getting the best from people, and that’s pretty much from everybody, goes back to where we started which is “we’re all human”. Many say this is about emotional intelligence, and it is, but there are consistent actions you can take which are likely to enhance your leadership qualities even if your emotional intelligence is not that great. They provide a consistent road map for getting the best from people because there is a good chance that things which either motivate or demotivate one person or group are likely to have the same effect on other people.
I know this is true because for over 10 years I have been asking audiences of leaders what were the things that their best boss did every day which made them such great bosses. Every single audience over that 10 years has given me almost an identical list of actions their best boss did which made them proactively give their best.
I don’t need to tell you what’s on that list because you can make your own list and use it to help you get the best from people in 2023. Just take 5 minutes to sit down and list those things that your best boss did on a day-to-day basis which made you give your best for them which other bosses just didn’t do. Here are a couple of starters – understood I made genuine mistakes and asked me for my ideas. Now over to you. You should be able to get to 10 – 12 actions.
When you do you will notice how many of them relate to the emotional relationship between you and that boss, not just task specifics. Again “we are all human”. Build your list and use it as a simple action plan for what to do more of, to maximise your impact and value. If you want to check if you have got most of the key actions here is some good real-world data from Corporate Executive Board. These simple actions which build trust can significantly increase the engagement and commitment people have which will then significantly increase effort and performance
3. Focus effort on success
One of the weaknesses I have repeatedly seen in organisations is the inability to ensure that operational activity is effectively aligned with the delivery of strategic objectives. Such alignment plays a critical role in delivering success but often there is a mix of an ineffective objective setting process or unclear key performance indicators, combined with a lack of leadership and communication around vision and purpose, which loses the inspiring big picture so employees are unaware of the organisation’s strategic plans.
This leads to the situation that we have all seen somewhere of some teams being busy doing nothing, or not much, in the sense of adding strategic value. So here it’s back to “vision, plan and focus”, also linked to the building of the “we, not me culture” and having an inspiring big picture to boost motivation.
Certainly, as a leader, it’s worth thinking about how you can ensure that your team’s activity is fully aligned with strategic objectives. Focus on effective communication, perhaps with team meetings, where you can more effectively motivate your people with the big picture. That can also be done via good objective setting – line of sight from individual objectives through to strategic. Research shows that showing employees how what they do contributes to the wider organisation and the big picture can potentially get you over 30% more effort. (P13)
These 3 simple practical steps for every day are the best way to enhance your leadership abilities and thus deliver effective leadership. These work in different situations and build on any role-related technical skills with additional leadership capacity.
In the end, is about simple steps you can take to be a better boss – and that’s about tuning into your people. Being a bad boss can damage people’s health.
As you think about 2023 remember there are two simple questions which everyone asks of their leader, first do they know what they’re doing, secondly, do I trust them? As with any other leader anywhere you need to get two “yes” answers. Finally, if you can’t remember any of this just work on the simple principle to treat others as you would wish to be treated. Good luck for 2023!