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1. Choose a focus phrase to guide you 

Select a catchy team focus phrase for the new year. A focus phrase keeps you open to change. Focus phrases are driven by internal, emotional, and philosophical motivations. If your focus is on becoming more productive, that doesn’t limit you to a set number of projects. Your definition of “productive” adapts to a changing work context. Focus phrases empower you to protect your time and your energy. Focus phrases act as a decision filter. When decisions must be made, you ask which choice fits your focus. If it does, go with it. 

However, if not, you are energised to refuse. 

Focus phrases are highly context-dependent, but here are some examples:

  • Put the extra in
  • Solve problems permanently
  • Keep the customer
  • Costs down, value up

You are sure to find your own focus phrase.

2. Protect your time

Your time is precious. It is so easy to fritter away time in meetings or indulge in idle chit-chat.  Make time work for you. Schedule you-meetings in your diary, so you can work uninterruptedly on assignments that are important to you. Resist other people’s intruding upon your special time with their crises. Do your think-work in the morning and schedule meetings for the afternoon. A late afternoon meeting is a great way to get focus and a speedy resolution.

3. Solve, don’t patch

Time after time we come against recurring problems. We do a quick patch-solution because we are under pressure; but sure enough, it resurfaces sometime later. We spend an inordinate amount of time re-fixing the same problem. It is a system that produces the problem. We will only remove the problem permanently once we analyse the system that produces the non-conformance.

The Five Whys is a useful technique to get to the underlying cause of a problem.

The Five Whys is) is an iterative questioning technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a particular problem. The technique involves asking the question “Why?” or “What caused this problem?” five times. The answer to the fifth why should reveal the root cause of the problem. Here is a simple example:

The kettle is not working
  1. Is it plugged in?
Yes, it is plugged in, and the switch is on.
  1. Is the power on?
The earth leakage has tripped.
  1. Is the earth leakage reset?
Yes, but it keeps tripping.
  1. What is causing the earth leakage to trip?
The refrigerator has a faulty plug. [Discovered by elimination] Plug connection repaired.
  1. Is the power for the kettle back on?
Yes, the kettle is working now.

The Ishikawa root cause analysis technique is also very useful. You will find out how to create an Ishikawa diagram here: 

4. Make something new by breaking down the old

Your current organisation was structured for work as it was perceived at some time in the past. Work demands and processes, customer expectations and the impact of technology mean that our current workflows and structures are out of date. Review how you and your team work together. Identify the regularly recurring problems. Isolate the causes of those problems and then remove those causes. Just because a routine has been performed in a particular way for the last 10 years does not mean it is delivering to current expectations. Be ruthless. You may experience some resistance from team members, who may not want to give up the old ways. Use your leadership skills to take you into the new.

A warning though, your current changes are likely to be obsolete in five years. Don’t fall in love with the machinery. 

5. Technology is changing everything

Technology is driving massive workplace change. And it doesn’t matter how small your organisation is. Often, we don’t have the vocabulary of technology to assess its impact. We don’t have a clear picture of the domain of the technology. It’s a good time to step up your understanding of technology, so you can take an informed view of the future.

Here are some accessible courses to get you started:

6. Reflect on your behaviour

Keep a diary of your activities over two weeks. Split up each workday into 15-minute slots. And record what you did. Once you have done this, see the trends and patterns. How much actual time have you given to your targets and your priorities? The results are usually surprising and not in a good way. Use this to help you focus on the really important things.

7. Put your phone away

Our mobile phones have become an extension of our physical reality. We are constantly checking texts and news, and then we get misled into seeing what the weather will be, then of course there is the stock market and exchange rates, and before we know where we are, thirty minutes have disappeared. Our phones fracture our attention. Be it in a meeting, or while working on a report. And to be honest it is very, very seldom that something on your mobile phone is so important that you absolutely must attend to it now. It’s not enough to put your phone on silent and place it on your desk beside you. Put it on silent and out of sight in a desk drawer or your work bag or briefcase. You will complete your work tasks much quicker and to higher quality, and your phone will still be there when you finish.

8. Take more mental breaks

Hardcore working is still a thing. It is great to lose yourself in a task or assignment, and hit the deadlines, put in the hours and exceed the quality requirements, no matter what. But it also takes a toll on you. Schedule at least one mental break every day. Step away from your desk, go for a walk and clear your mind of all work-stuff. Plan your weekend or reflect on a recent dinner with friends. Look at the birds in the trees, or the clouds scrolling by. 

You will be refreshed and energised when you get back to your desk. And that intractable problem you were worried about might suddenly resolve itself.

9. Stay humble

You are only as good as your team.  Humble leaders have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They don’t think that they’re more or less capable than they actually are. Humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. Humble leaders can be confident in their strengths and abilities. But they ask for help. They know they don’t have all the answers. They remain open to different ideas. They manage with kindness, compassion, and respect. And they know there is always lots more to learn.

Reaching your full potential as a leader isn’t about reading the right leadership books or taking the best leadership seminar. It’s about developing the leadership values you need to do your best work and inspire your team to do the same. These nine activities will help you get there.

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Author James Forson

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