Three Simple Ways to Improve in 2010

Posted 01.13.2010

This is the week where the rubber meets the road on all of those grand plans that we have for changing things in the new year. The glow of being out of the office for a week or two has worn off,  all of the stories about what you did on the break have been told and now that big bucket of cold reality has been dumped on your head like a bucket of Gatorade. What do you do to keep the momentum going?  How do you keep hope alive?

I was thinking about those questions yesterday while doing one of my favorite things. That was working with a fantastic group of corporate leaders in our Next Level Leadership™ group coaching program.  Our broad focus yesterday was personal presence which has a lot to do with how you view yourself and how others view you. The folks in the program are high achieving corporate directors who are serious about continuous improvement but who also each have about a ton and a half of stuff on their plate that needs to be accomplished. 

You may find yourself saying right now, “I resemble that remark.” Most successful leaders do. You’re successful because you’re committed to getting better and better. Because you’re successful you have a ton of stuff to do which crowds out the plans for improvement you have for this year. How do you handle the competing commitments? 

Here are three simple things that I encourage my leadership clients to do that, based on the follow up research we do, make a difference for leaders who want to keep improving.

Pick one or two simple, granular things to work on:  A lot of new year’s resolutions are set at the 30,000 foot level of altitude.  An example would be,  “I’m going to be a better listener.” The problem with that is there are so many things that go into being a better listener that it’s easy to get lost in a list of all the things you could do to be one. Split your development goal up into its component parts and pick one or two simple granular things to consistently do in your day to day life. Sticking with the listening example, a couple of things you could focus on would be not checking your blackberry during conversations and checking with the other person to make sure you understand what they’re saying. You’re much more likely to improve if you keep it simple and get down to the most granular and memorable level of behavior possible.

Get a peer coach:  In our group coaching program, we insist that everyone select a peer coach from the group and have weekly 20 minute conversations with each other. The idea is to give your partner 10 minutes a week to just talk out loud about what they’re working on and create an opportunity for them to self observe the impact of what they’ve been doing and visualize how they want to show up in the week ahead. At first, people are skeptical of taking the time to do this but once they start the peer coaching, they love it. How rare is it these days to have someone listen and support you while you go off line to think out loud for a little bit? Pretty rare. Getting a peer coach can really give both you and you partner a performance edge.

Build in some breaks:  As I’ve reported before in this blog, the lowest rated item on average in our Next Level 360 degree survey is “Paces himself/herself by building in regular breaks from work.”  A break doesn’t have to be at the level of a three day weekend or a weeklong vacation for it to count. Not working through lunch, taking a 5 minute break for breathing and stretching at your desk or having a cup of tea in the afternoon are all examples of short breaks that can have a huge impact on your focus and productivity.  Many of the people I coach are so tightly scheduled that they don’t give themselves the time to step back, breathe and ask a few questions like, “What’s the most important thing we’re trying to do here?” or “What am I noticing about the way people are reacting to this situation?”  Most people can only ask and process those kinds of big picture leadership questions when they give themselves little micro-opportunities to unplug and reboot their brain for what’s next. Building some breaks into your day will go a long way in helping you improve your performance.

So, what questions or suggestions do have around these performance improvement tips? What are some tips that have worked for you that you’d like to share with the rest of us?