Perhaps you have created goals you want to accomplish in the new year: exercise more, eat healthier, drink more water, work toward a promotion, complete a certification, deepen connections with your kids, or learn a new language.
The beginning of a new year often brings introspection, renewed energy, and an opportunity to be intentional. Setting goals isn’t merely a ritual; it’s a principle of effective leadership—one that propels both personal and professional growth. As leaders, embracing this pivotal moment means not just envisioning our aspirations, but mastering the art of translating these visions into actionable goals, fostering a culture of growth, empowerment, and excellence within ourselves and our teams.
If you want to elevate your leadership and your life next year, here are four leadership practices that can set you up for an exceptional year of achievement and impactful leadership.
It’s human nature to procrastinate on the important, larger tasks and work on the smaller details that are easier in the moment. We tend to work on the “busy” stuff like checking email, attending meetings, opening mail, and answering the phone, and then try to fit in the important projects around the trivial things. We let email set the agenda of our day by responding to the pings that are coming into our inboxes. Or we may try to fit in strategic meetings or vacations once the other things are in our calendar.
Part of leading effectively is planning the essential key result areas and professional and personal priorities and proactively scheduling them so that our priorities are reflected in our calendar. There is a process I use to ensure I am focusing on the most important elements as much as possible: Priority planning.
Priority planning entails scheduling our most important priorities, projects, coaching sessions, and vacations first, and then scheduling everything around it.
This may feel counterintuitive because you have a to do list that has action items that need to get done. Yet if you spend your time on the small things, you will never find the time to fit in the bigger, more important projects that have the biggest impact on your results.
I went through this process in late November, and in addition to all of my client engagements, here are examples of things I priority planned into my calendar for this year:
- Three, one-week vacations
- Three milestone birthday trips with friends (this year is a milestone birthday for me! 😉)
- Kids activities—including sports, concerts, school picnics, birthdays, and school days off
- Recurring team meetings
- Regular massages for self-care
- Doctor and dentist appointments for me and the kids
- Conferences and professional development webinars/classes
- Time away to work on writing my book
- Date nights with my husband
- Monthly dinner date with a great friend
- Dinner dates with another couple
- Strategy days each quarter to review company goals and regroup
- Planning time each week
- Blocks of time in my calendar (I call these productivity sprints) to focus on important projects
Instill healthy boundaries
Some professionals believe boundaries are a luxury; I believe boundaries are essential to exceptional leadership. Unfortunately, our culture tends to reward busyness and activity, rather than reward intention and results.
What are boundaries? Boundaries are limits you are creating and communicating to preserve your time and energy for the things that matter most. Boundaries not only help us to not overwork , but they also create constraints that increase our focus and productivity. Time boundaries force us to be creative and clear about how we spend our time.
If you don’t have a specific end time to your day, it’s easy to keep working, convincing yourself that you need to catch up.
Taking breaks throughout the day, disconnecting on weekends and vacations, and scheduling blocks of time on your calendar to focus on high value tasks are examples of boundaries. Parkinson’s law tells us that work tends to fill up the time we allot it. Compressing your workday (leaving by a reasonable time) encourages focus and productivity. The most successful leaders understand that they won’t get everything done. Our job is to stay on top of the most important key result areas of our job for maximum results. When you practice boundaries, you model for your employees a healthy work life balance that allows time for rest and rejuvenation and fosters each person to bring their best energy to work each day.
Prioritize growth (for you and your team)
With five generations in the workplace and constant economic, social, technological, and global change, leaders need to evolve to remain relevant and effective. The best leaders never feel they have mastered everything—they are constantly learning, growing, and improving. Prioritize your own personal development by identifying conferences, webinars, podcasts, and books that will inspire and educate you to be the best professional and leader for your team.
In your meeting with each employee, ask them what areas they would like to learn about or develop their skills in this year. Encourage your employees to seek out resources to propel their skills. Strategically assess the talent on your team and develop a plan for their growth and improvement. The best approach is to involve each team member in this process so that development is a joint responsibility, and not just the responsibility of the leader.
Caretake the culture
As our society has evolved and different generations have entered the workforce, what people want at work has changed. While most managers were taught to be fixers—handle problems, deal with interruptions, and employ a transactional style, leaders today need to shift from fixing to facilitating. Effective managers involve employees in decisions, facilitate results by coaching, and develop a relationship with each employee and adjust their leadership style to bring out each employee’s best performance. This is a very important part of leadership; leaders should be spending a significant amount of time coaching, developing, and providing honest, consistent, meaningful feedback. When an employee struggles, managers should be there providing support and direction. Leaders also need to be approachable, and foster cohesiveness and constructive conflict among their staff. Your job as a leader is to create a positive and results-driven culture—in your functional area, as well as the overall organizational culture.
Caretaking the culture is important for leaders at every level—from CEO to supervisors. One of the best examples I’ve seen of a CEO caretaking the culture is from one of my clients, Steve Wallace, at Maine State Credit Union. Steve sends an uplifting email to his staff every single morning. Make an intention this year to priority plan caretaking the culture, whether it’s recurring coaching sessions, team events, recognition, or making time to simply walk around and connect with employees as humans.
By starting the year with reflection and intention, you pave the way for an exceptional year—marked not just by accomplishments, but by a profound impact on yourself, your team, and the credit union you serve.
Priority planning isn’t about fitting the big tasks around the small ones; it’s a deliberate strategy to carve out time for what truly matters. Instilling healthy boundaries isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity that fuels focus and productivity. Prioritizing growth, both personal and team-oriented, isn’t a one-time effort; it’s a continuous commitment to evolve and adapt. Caretaking the culture isn’t an occasional responsibility; it’s the cornerstone of fostering an environment where every individual thrives.