Strategic Coaching and Resources for Leaders since 1979

Leadership As A Work In Progress…

By Jane H. Firth
Article appeared in the Philadelphia Business Journal January 25, 2013.
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Each New Year is a new beginning. One important appointment to put on the calendar, is an appointment to spend a little time with yourself; time when you can take stock and generate some clarity to lead your way forward. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Over the course of 2012, what are some of the important moments, people, situations you have had the opportunity to engage with and influence?

  • What do you feel good about having said, or done?
  • What did you learn?
  • What challenges can you look back on and think: I am really satisfied with how I handled that, and if you are being honest, what challenges can you look back on where you wish you’d done a better job?
  • What tough conversations were you able to have, and with whom, about what? What tough conversations did you avoid, with whom, about what?
  • With what are you not quite satisfied?

The idea is to evolve as a person and a leader. But taking an honest look is not about finding fault. The purpose is not to feel bad, but to objectively take stock and make some choices as to how you can tap into the potential you have and, not only do better, but also be more of the leader you truly aspire to be. Taking an honest look at what you could have done better allows you to more easily identify the most important goals and aspirations you have.

For example: What would you choose to improve in your leadership?

  • Do you want to be a more inspiring and empowering communicator?  
  • Do you want to be a better listener?
  • Do you want to be more constructive in how you approach things?
  • Do you want to more easily express your appreciation for the contribution others make in your organization?
  • Are there inequities or incivilities going on in your organization that you could do something about?
  • Is there a problem you need to deal with that you’ve allowed to go on for too long? How can you deal with it?

Part of a leader’s accountability is to be responsive to the needs of the people who work for and with you. Are you meeting people’s needs? Are you asking the right questions? What do you think would serve people you lead if you did more of?  Or less of? Would you know what people would say about what they would like you to do more of or less of?

In addition to your own leadership development, let me suggest one critical thing to focus on improving this year:

Get yourself ready to inspire those you lead through changes and challenges that are on the horizon. We are emerging from a long and difficult economic period. Things are becoming hopeful again but people are still anxious, even worried.

An important way to inspire and empower your team during these uncertain times is by being a source of stability for those you lead. It is one of the most critical things you can provide as a leader.

How does a leader provide stability for the people being led? What does it mean to generate stability when conditions in your organization are anything but?

People’s thinking and behavior are impacted by change. Change can cause a great deal of stress; it can cause emotional reactions like fear, uncertainty, anxiety, worry and concern; reactions can be personally disturbing, they can carry a sense of threat, and cause people to lose sleep over them.

All of this takes up bandwidth as worries and concerns occupy space in people’s thoughts, attention can become hijacked away from the tasks at hand.

The ability to focus at the highest level is less than it would be if all of the worries and concerns were contextualized into a powerful way so your team can relate to them. To bring your team together, have a series of conversations that serve to empower; conversations that remind them of the strengths they have to bring to the situation, conversations that help them grapple honestly with the negatives and then generate clarity in which you decide together, with calm determination, your strategy for the best path forward.

Inspiring, and empowering your team may or may not come naturally to you, but even if it doesn’t—it can begin to. You can become adept at helping people transcend the emotional reactions they have to uncertainty and change. There is power in knowing what we can and cannot control. You can provide stability even when things are anything but.

Each New Year provides an opportunity to assess your performance and growth as a leader. Don’t miss the natural “window” to look at yourself and take stock of your successes as well as those areas where you know you need to improve. Use the occasion to find ways to lead and inspire your people through actions that are meaningful and helpful to them.

Jane H. FirthJANE H. FIRTH is founder and CEO of Firth Leadership Partners of Haverford. She is an executive coach, consultant and seminar leader in the realm of leadership development. She can be reached at