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You might be immersed in holiday stress right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few minutes to ponder the year ahead. After all, it is right around the corner, and it’s better to be at least a little prepared than to have it sneak up on you. By putting in even 10 minutes of planning, you can add a little focus and direction to your year, rather than having it lead you around by the nose!

Take charge of your year by sitting down (perhaps with a nice cup of tea or a glass of wine), pondering the year ahead, and going through the following 8 steps. You could undertake this activity in about 10 minutes, but I encourage you to take all the time you need.

1. Write down all your goals

Jot down whatever comes to mind. Don’t edit; don’t pause. Just write down everything (big and small, personal and professional) you would like to accomplish next year.

2. Rate your goals

Once you have your list, go through it and consider which items are the most crucial and which are not. You could give each entry a 1, 2, or 3 rating with 1 representing your most important goals/aspirations, 2 being goals of middling importance, and 3 representing less important goals.

3. Focus on your “1” goals

Take a look at your most important goals (i.e., the “1s”). Hopefully you only have two or three “1” goals (if you have much more than that, consider relabeling some of them) so you can place your focus on these particular objectives. You can still accomplish your 2s and 3s, but they might not be the center of your focus.

4. Work backwards

For each of your top goals, set a specific date for when you’d like to accomplish them. From there, work backwards on your calendar. How can you break up your goal into bite-sized pieces? What are some of the major milestones you need to accomplish? Fill in your calendar accordingly, working backwards from your deadline.

5. Highlight important milestones

Once you’ve completed step 4, consider your important milestones. What needs to be done by certain dates to accomplish each milestone? Starting thinking about the support/resources you’ll need, the tasks you’ll have to accomplish, and the time you’ll devote to reaching each milestone.

6. Create a derailment plan

Life happens. If you don’t happen to meet one of the deadlines for your milestones, what will you do? What’s your derailment plan? Will you sit down and rethink your schedule? Will you commit to working one evening each week (or part of the weekend) until you get back on track?

7. Think of an accountability partner (or several)

List a few people who would make good accountability partners—people who could occasionally check in to help keep you on track. Be sure to list people who will not necessarily let you off the hook if you miss a deadline or are getting sidetracked. Rather, choose people whom you respect and do not want to let down. Once you have your list, reach out to one person at a time until someone agrees to be your accountability partner for the year. If they ask, be sure to return the favor.

8. Set a “go” date!

You have a plan. You’re ready to blast off into the New Year. Now, all you need is a “go” date—a time to begin your launch. This could be the first of the year, or it might be a date further down the road—whatever makes sense with your plan.

Too many people get bogged down by day-to-day life instead of stepping back and taking a bird’s eye view of their work or personal life. It can be immensely helpful to see the forest, instead of staring at the trees. By planning the year ahead, you partake in big-picture planning. You chart your course through the forest, instead of getting tripped up by the roots and brambles that everyday life tends to deliver.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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Studies show the best teams are diverse teams—diverse in backgrounds, identity, thought, and more. But sometimes that diversity is squandered. If the majority always rules (or a few voices tend to dominate the conversation), those in the minority may become discouraged and withhold their thoughts and perspectives.

This happens more than you might realize. Women tend to be quieter in a room full of men, and women of color enjoy far less support than their white counterparts. And when it comes to diversity of thoughts and behaviors, introverted folks (those who lead with blue or green energy, if we’re considering this from an Insights Discovery angle) may not take the floor as often as extroverts.

This is unfortunate because innovators and creatives come from all backgrounds and have a wide range of personalities and behaviors. Some of the most brilliant minds in tech, for example, are former misfits (Bill Gates, Steve Jobs). Some of the most successful people in history were introverts (Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein).

As a leader, it’s up to you to include everyone on your team and to equally nurture talent. This is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. How might your team improve if everyone felt valued and engaged? What progress could you make if “all hands were on deck,” instead of just a few?

Let’s talk about a few ways that you can practice inclusive, effective leadership.

1. Actively seek feedback

As a leader, it’s a good idea to continuously gather data from and about your team. This includes feedback. Ideally, providing feedback should be as painless as possible for your team. Give them several different avenues to choose, including one-on-one meetings, anonymous surveys, or a chance to speak out during meetings. Demonstrate that you care about what your people have to say by practicing good listening skills and seriously considering making the changes they suggest.

2. Engage in conversations

If you do not regularly meet one-on-one with your people, I highly encourage you to start. A lot of thoughts, ideas, and frustrations could bubble to the surface once you’re in a private room (or virtual space). Remember: this is a two-way street. Be open and friendly, share some information about yourself, and dare to be a little vulnerable. Set the tone for a candid back-and-forth conversation.

NOTE: Make sure you keep any private information you learn to yourself. Nothing erodes trust faster than gossip.

3. Aim for understanding

It’s smart to keep in mind that not everyone shares the same views, background, and thought patterns as you (and that’s a good thing!). When you’re getting to know your team members, do your best to practice empathy and aim for understanding. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable sharing their ideas in a large-group setting, take note and see how you can accommodate them. If another person appreciates time to think over a problem before offering solutions, respect that tendency and encourage the team to not jump into a decision right away.

One way to unearth your team members’ tendencies, perspectives, and ways of thinking is to utilize a science-based assessment test. I have witnessed teams have incredible breakthroughs by using Insights® Discovery (I’m a Licensed Practitioner), but many other excellent assessments exist, such as StrengthsFinder or Enneagrams.

4. Pay attention

This should go without saying, but it’s worth emphasizing: pay attention! Notice when team members are not speaking up, or if they seem uncomfortable. Take note when one or two voices dominate the conversation. Once you see behavior patterns emerge, you can begin to take action.

5. Promote (or initiate) affiliate or networking groups

Sometimes, your team members need support that is more specialized in nature. If someone is part of a minority or underrepresented group (Women, BIPOC people, LGBTQ+ folks, neurodivergent people), they may benefit from meeting with others who share a similar background. There is power and comfort in sitting in the same room as people who are similar (at least in some ways) to you. These affiliate or networking groups can advocate for changes, swap stories, or simply provide a listening ear. If your workplace does not currently have affiliate groups, consider initiating one or two.

There are many ways you, as a leader, can practice inclusivity. It’s time to uplift those at the margins, listen to their ideas, and demonstrate that they are just as valuable as anyone else.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE

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“Know thyself” is an adage that goes back hundreds and hundreds of years. This may seem fairly straightforward (“Surely, I know myself better than anyone!”), but that’s often not the case. For one thing, how often do we actually spend time reflecting about ourselves, our perspectives, the way we process information, or the way we interact with others? For most people, these actions are unconscious. We move through the world without thinking about how we move through it.

Programs such as Insights® Discovery challenge us to sink deeper into our internal worlds and become better acquainted—or reacquainted—with ourselves. I use Insights® as an example because I’m a Licensed Practitioner of Insights® Discovery, but many other similar programs exist that help us drill down into the core of our being—StrengthsFinder, Enneagram, Myers-Briggs (informed by the findings of acclaimed psychiatrists Carl Jung, whose work is also the basis of Insights®).

These programs are valuable for helping us understand our personal tendencies, the unique ways we view the world and process information, how we interact with and relate to others, and the work that is best suited to our personalities. All of these findings are valuable for a number of reasons. In my Insights® sessions, people have made a variety of breakthroughs, ranging from clarifying their career paths to developing a better understanding of their strengths and areas of improvement.

Not only are breakthroughs possible, it’s also likely that everyday skills, systems, or functions will improve. One area that often improves is productivity.

How is productivity related to self-discovery? I can think of at least three links:

1. Communication Improves

The more you understand about your own and others communication preferences, the better you’ll be able to facilitate effective communication. For instance, if someone prefers direct communication, keep that in mind next time you have a meeting with that person. Don’t beat around the bush, and do your best to convey precisely what you mean.

On the other side of the coin, if you discover that you prefer indirect communication (an email or a voicemail) so you can think over your options before responding, make your preference clear. The next time someone calls on you during a meeting, say something to the effect of, “I would love to give you my thoughts once I’ve had time to mull them over. I tend to make better decisions once I’ve had time to analyze my options.”

2. Teamwork Improves

When a team goes through Insights® Discovery or a similar assessment program, they gain a deeper understanding of how each other operates. They learn that Maddie’s social tendencies shine during group work or team brainstorming sessions…but she can get frustrated or bored when asked to work alone. They learn that Max prefers direct communication and would rather talk candidly about an issue right away, rather than going through pleasantries or background information.

The team will also have access to a common language. For those who have been through Insights®, they might say, “That’s my yellow energy shining through!” Or, “I’m going to have to think about all this–you know how blue-energy folks love to analyze things!”

3. Suitability Improves

Far too often, we try to fit square pegs into round holes in the workplace. Once a team has undergone an assessment (and has had some subsequent coaching), it will become apparent who is content and well-suited to their current role, and who could use a shift. Perhaps someone is currently tasked with leading a group project, but would strongly prefer a background/support role. That discontentment will probably bubble to the surface when the team learns about each other’s work and communication preferences.

Learning about yourself on a deeper level is not just great for personal improvement, it’s highly valuable for improving team dynamics. If everyone on a work team took the same assessment test (preferably one that’s backed by science and has a proven track record), they would gain a more meaningful understanding of each other’s thought processes, communication preferences, and personalities. And they would also gain a common language to express these differences and distinctions.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE.

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