A great leaders year-end checklist

Salespeople live and die by the annual review. Auditors have built an entire industry around it. For the next month, print and television media will pour out gallons of coverage of the past year in review.

And yet, as leaders, we often move from one year to the next with little or no time spent reviewing the year just past from a purely leadership perspective. To help counter that, here’s my five-point year-end leadership checklist:

1. Manage the narrative.

Every business, division, department, project, group, or team ends the year with an often unspoken (but widely accepted) narrative:

–“We blew it.”

–“We nailed it.”

–“Our customer service team let us down.”

–“The first three quarters sucked, but the fourth wasn’t too bad.”

Your mileage will vary. As the leader, it’s your job to understand what narrative has taken hold in your team and to manage it accordingly.

This isn’t the same as PR or spin. Managing the narrative isn’t about manipulating what people think. It’s about knowing what has taken root in your team’s perception and helping the team members understand its importance.

So–as this year closes, what narrative has your group or team subliminally adopted? How accurate is it? Do you need to amplify or clarify any of it? Does it need to be discussed as a group? What lessons can you all learn from the narrative?

2. Straighten the angels.

Next week, we’ll put up the Christmas tree in our house, and as always, the final thing we’ll do is to straighten the angel at the top.

Whether you’ve had your best year ever or the worst year imaginable, some–probably all–of your top performers will have been bent out of shape getting you through it.

Some of them will have developed less than helpful traits – of arrogance, perhaps, or gruffness, or maybe just thoughtlessness. Some will be harboring grudges or feeling hurt or confused. Others may have been blindsided by events and are finishing the year off their game. One or two may simply be exhausted.

They’re your angels. You’re their leader. You need to go straighten them out.

3. Cull.

In the course of any year, there’s a whole bunch of individual and group dynamics that lose efficacy and that only you can untether. Practices that have become outdated; policies that no longer work; routines, rituals, and habits that now just get in the way; meetings that have lost their purpose.

Ask for nominations of less-than-useful activities from your team, but make the final decision yourself–and make everyone’s life simpler by culling those that truly yield no ongoing benefit.

4. Restock.

During the year, you and your team will undoubtedly have used up one or more of the staples of healthy group interaction: energy, perhaps, or enthusiasm. Maybe as a team you’ve lost a sense of fun, or maybe you’ve run short on objectivity or perspective.

Take a moment and think about it. Again, take soundings from your colleagues. One way or another, you don’t want to start the new year with one or more of those staples missing from your team’s pantry.

When you’ve identified which is missing or has run down to dangerously low levels, think through how to restock in the next 30 days–can you give the holiday retreat or your end-of-year address a theme? Do you need to give your folks some mentoring or coaching or training; or just a rest or a new perspective?

5. Center yourself.

Finally, what about you? How have you changed as a leader this year?

Draw a line down the center of a page, and list in one column your defining characteristics at the start of the year, and in the other, your defining characteristics at the end of the year. How do the two lists differ, if at all?

Ask someone who knows you well to repeat the exercise, from his or her perspective of you. How similar is his or her list to yours?

As you look at the two lists, which characteristic of yours most helped your group or team this year? Which characteristic caused the most trouble? (When you’ve decided, ask your team members if they agree–you may be surprised by how differently they view which characteristics are your strong points and which are weaknesses.)

Next year, how can you do more of the first characteristic and less of the second?