end of a year is a paradoxical time.
It’s a bustling time as the holidays approach, searches for special gifts begin, out-of-town trips are taken, and parties are planned, thrown and attended.
In the workplace, the pace can be equally
frenetic as teams race to push projects across the finish line, year-end
reviews with colleagues are completed, and plans and budgets for the coming
year are finalized.
Here’s the paradox: Amid the year-end frenzy there’s
an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect on the past year and look to the
future of the year that’s about to begin.
It’s a time to prepare a mental checklist of
lessons learned and victories won, and to dream of possibilities and priorities
for the year ahead.
One hundred years ago, Washington Irving wrote one
of his most famous stories: Rip Van Winkle.
This literary classic provides a mental checklist
for today’s leaders entering the New Year.
Here’s the story: Rip Van Winkle is a farmer
living in the Catskills Mountains at a time preceding America’s Revolutionary
War with Great Britain. One day he wanders into the woods and encounters a
group of friendly dwarves. Though he’s never met them, they somehow know his
name and offer to share their wine with him. Following a few swallows, Rip falls
into a deep sleep under a tree. When he awakes, the dwarves are gone, his
musket has rusted and his beard has turned white and grown a foot. He walks to
the village and—avoiding a series of events that nearly get him killed—is
recognized as the long, lost Rip Van Winkle who mysteriously vanished 20 years
Three themes from Rip Van Winkle serve as useful
reminders for today’s leaders.
Freedom to choose. Rip Van Winkle wanders into the woods as a
subject of King George III and, upon waking, returns to his village to learn
America has gained its independence from Great Britain and he’s now free to
make his own decisions. While every person makes hundreds of decisions every day,
leaders distinguish themselves in their decision-making: the stakes are almost
always higher, the number of people affected by their decisions greater, and
the responsibility to make the decision is theirs alone. To be a leader, you
must make decisions.
How do you establish a
framework for ethical decision-making? How do you communicate and instill this
framework throughout your organization so it becomes second nature? How do you
ensure the decisions you make will yield the results you expect? What do you do
if you make a bad decision? How do you respond to controversy, crises, and
setbacks? If you’re a leader, you have the freedom to decide your responses to these
types of questions. But decide you must.
Progress. The world moves forward as Rip Van Winkle sleeps. In the
workplace, tracking is your mechanism for communicating clearly and unambiguously the performance
occurring at the enterprise, business unit, departmental and individual levels.
Are we making progress?
Tracking progress is what your best employees want. They want to know how they’re doing against their individual objectives and they want to know how their performance is helping the organization achieve its larger objectives. “Is the work I’m doing getting us closer to our goals?” Study after study confirms that “making progress in meaningful work” is “the single most important” way to keep your team engaged, accountable, and moving forward.
Underperformers don’t like clarity, and they fear tracking because it leaves them no place to hide. Winners love tracking because it showcases their progress.
Change. The changes Rip Van Winkle
encountered after waking disoriented him. People can handle only so much change
because it’s stressful. So be judicious about the changes you plan to make. Amazon’s
Jeff Bezos is often asked to predict the future, which he says is the wrong
question. “The best question to ask? What’s not going to change in the
next 10 years?”
you prepare for the year ahead, ask and answer three fundamental questions:
significant changes are occurring that are disrupting the marketplace?
will be our response to this change?
we have the intellectual horsepower, the appropriate processes and the will to
The ultimate responsibility for
the success or failure of your team, department, or organization is in your
hands. People are counting on you to put them in a position to succeed.
To lead effectively, to inspire people to do more than they
think they can do, you’re making decisions every day.
Don’t be a
modern-day Rip Van Winkle and wake up one day to discover the world has passed
Use this paradoxical time of year—the hustle and bustle of year-end and the opportunity to slow down—to reflect on what you and your team want to be celebrating this time next year.