2019 New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders (Not Bosses)

Buh-bye bosses; welcome leaders! Gone are the days of the “boss man” saying, “Whiney Whitney should just feel lucky to have a job;” “If Family Guy Frank really cared about his job, he would be working this weekend, not coaching his kid’s soccer game;” and my personal favorite, “But Creepy Carl is our top seller and Reporting Rachel is just being oversensitive!”

Well, I suppose you can keep saying those things, but both Whitney and Frank have already found fabulous new jobs and Rachel just filed an EEOC Charge for sexual harassment. Have fun with that.

Rather than clinging to the “good old days” for another lousy year, how about we make some resolutions to become great leaders, not bosses? Seriously, it’s time. Also, if you are already a badass leader, good on you! These resolutions will hopefully serve as fun inspiration for you in the year ahead.

Ok leaders, repeat after me:


1: “I resolve to be less of a hall monitor and more of a mentor.”

It pains me to see how frequently team members are promoted to management positions with absolutely NO leadership training. Then, as they try to gain a new kind of respect from their former colleagues (while said colleagues struggle to redefine the relationship by pushing boundaries), it’s no wonder they revert to leadership skills gleaned from Mean Girls. Tardy Theresa keeps showing up late? Roll your eyes as she walks in late and exclude her from fun activities until she quits. Sassy Sean takes casual Friday a little too far? Tell everyone BUT Sean that his clothes are inappropriate. Quiet Quinn complains over your head? Undermine her credibility by obliterating her professional reputation with your boss. Perfect solution! It’s like, totally logical. Ummm, NO.

I’m not calling you a mean girl (Or am I? If that accusation resonated with you, you might want to process that). This resolution means spending less time monitoring people and telling them what NOT to do, and more time encouraging them to reach their full potential. Put your ego aside and don’t spend another second getting frustrated because you don’t have total control over when everyone takes their lunch break.

Let’s try those examples again with a mentor’s mindset…Tardy Theresa keeps showing up late? Check in with her and find out what is causing the tardiness. Believe it or not, most employees want to keep their jobs (shocking, right?!). Theresa may be facing unavoidable personal matters (i.e. being a single parent arranging child care or school drop off). As it turns out, a 15-minute adjustment to her work schedule turns her into On-Time and Engaged Theresa. Sassy Sean deserves for you to be direct without embarrassing him. Rather than telling him what NOT to wear, how about giving him an example of professional casual Friday attire? And what about sweet little treasonous Quiet Quinn? I’m not actually going to side with her going to your manager, am I? Weeeeeelllll… Two things: (1) ask yourself what you might have done to make her afraid to come to you; and (2) ask her what you can do to make her feel comfortable coming to you in the future. Don’t be defensive or attacking. Remember that communication consists of both what we say and what the other person hears. I admit that I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but sometimes it is my job as a leader to tone it down to my team member’s comfort level. This resolution is all about keeping your eyes on the prize. No, not the prize for highest employee turnover. Let’s shoot for a tremendously successful and engaged team, mmm-kay?


2: “I resolve to stop telling my team not to take things personally.”

I love it when a boss callously delivers terrible news then tries to shame team members for their completely human reaction to said terrible news by saying, “Don’t take it so personally!” So what if the corporate office just decided that you have to travel to [small obscure midwestern town known for highest tornado-related deaths for 10 years running] during the week of your 40th birthday, it’s just business! Geez, Devastated Debbie, don’t take it so personally, just tell your husband to take someone else on your non-refundable Hawaiian vacation!

A leader knows that there is nothing in the world more personal than our jobs. Why? Because (1) we spend half of our waking hours at work; and (2) our work gives us the ability to live the life we want, support our families, and do things like, oh I don’t know, feed ourselves. Further, a leader recognizes that in order to have that fully-engaged, passionate team full of individuals who care deeply about the work, it has to be personal. This resolution is about inviting human emotion into the workplace rather than dismissing it. Let’s be leaders who say things like, “I understand this news may be difficult to hear. I am here for you. Although I may not be able to change it, I can listen to how you feel and we can brainstorm together to think of ways to avoid this situation in the future.” Or, in the case of Devastated Debbie, let’s be leaders who step up and volunteer to make the trip in her place so she can enjoy her birthday vacation. Leaders make their team members feel entitled to their emotions and they do not attempt to shame or stifle human reactions.


3: “I resolve to quit being so afraid of “#metoo” that I inadvertently commit gender discrimination.”

When I first heard of the “Mike Pence Rule,” I honestly thought my head was going to spin around Exorcist-style. In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side. Ok folks, in an employment context this is not “sweet,” it’s the stuff of HR horror films (Wouldn’t it be cool if those existed?!). Leaving the opposite gender out of fun activities is not the way to avoid sexual harassment allegations, but it is a great way to buy a gender discrimination claim. You know when you only invite the guys to play golf and have cocktails? Yeah, so the gals notice that, particularly when the guys return to the office and share all of the great stories about work-related conversations that took place on the links.

Get this, the best way to avoid sexual harassment allegations is to treat everyone with dignity and respect (while simultaneously not groping, grabbing, objectifying or otherwise assaulting them, both when they are present and behind their back). I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true! Oh, and the best way to avoid a gender discrimination claim is to treat everyone fairly regardless of their gender. My advice here: I am a big fan of my husband’s “self-selection” rule. This means that you invite everyone and let them self-select. I happen to love golf (and just about any sport that endorses cocktails at 9AM). Let’s imagine that Senior Partner Stella follows my advice and her Friday lunch ends up being her, Associate Aidan, and Paralegal Pete. Should Stella cancel? Absolutely not, because (incredibly) she can manage to make it through a meal without sexually harassing either of her dining companions, and, if the conversation at lunch takes an inappropriate turn, she is a strong enough leader to remind her teammates that they need to cut it out.

I know what you’re thinking: But what if it was only Stella and Pete, then Pete decides to make up all kinds of terrible stories about Stella sexually harassing him?! Whoa there Patty Paranoia. It’s important to remember that MOST people are not going to make up fake sexual harassment allegations, so treating everyone like they cannot be trusted is not going to have the desired effect (unless the desired effect is to make everyone feel alienated and to destroy your culture). If you have appropriate relationships with your employees (and don’t breed dissent by picking favorites), then you have nothing to worry about. If you have an employee who you know you cannot trust, then (1) sure, maybe you don’t go to lunch with that employee alone; and (2) maybe you call me and we talk about why you feel like you need to continue to employ untrustworthy people (also a total culture killer).


4: “I resolve to catch more flies with honey.”

Isn’t it amazing when bosses say things like, “I don’t have time to hold his hand,” or “Ugh, she has this constant need for praise?” Isn’t developing your team and leading them to success literally part of your job description? Moreover, since when is the extremely human need for a little validation such a bother?! This resolution is about leading a team from the front through positive feedback rather than driving a team from the rear with fear and intimidation. Great leaders take time to learn how each individual employee is motivated and try to tailor their leadership accordingly. That may sound like a tall order for a newly converted boss, so let’s start with something easy. I assure you that it is difficult to find an employee who isn’t motivated by the words, “Thank you,” and “Great work there!”

Even better, there is a fun little exercise for this one! Your challenge, should you choose to accept it: take 5 small beads with you to work every day. Place them in your right pocket in the morning. Every time you pay someone a compliment (a REAL compliment about their contributions to the team, not “Nice Earrings Karen.”), move one bead from your right pocket to your left. At the end of the day, all of the beads should be in your left pocket. Repeat every day until you no longer need the reminder, or at least until you stop whining about how much work it is to say something nice every once in a while.


5: “I resolve to foster communication like my entire culture depends upon it (because it does).”

Ah, the secrets of my success: listen and document. Making employees feel heard and understood truly is step one to achieving nirvana in the workplace. It is important to note that you actually have to listen to them and try to understand. They will not communicate with you if this process feels fake or forced. For this resolution, make time each week (or month if you have a HUGE team) to check in with the individual members of your team. This is not a meeting where you ask about their progress toward a deadline. This is a time when the employee gets to download individual thoughts, ideas, victories, and maybe some concerns without fear of retaliation.

But what do I mean by “document” you ask? These conversations give you a window into each employee’s level of engagement. I encourage you to jot down notes about the conversations, especially if the employee shared a great idea, but more importantly when the employee shared a concern. You will need to document the concern and determine if you need to do something about it. If the employee expresses concern about climate change, I am pretty confident you can let that one go (unless you are somehow responsible for climate change…wait, are you?). However, if the employee expresses an issue, however small, with a coworker then you should document that you followed up with HR or directly with the coworker.

What does this look like? Let’s say that Warm Wendy tells you that Icy Iris seems to be intentionally getting in the way of her ability to accomplish her goals by delaying important deliverables. Get some examples from Wendy, then check in with Iris on the status of various deliverables (not just the ones she owes to Wendy; you don’t need to make their relationship worse). Your follow through will probably get Iris moving, and if it doesn’t then Wendy may have helped you spot a problem employee. You will know when to escalate issues to HR because they will sound a lot like discrimination, harassment, or other serious policy violations. Either way, your listening ear, express understanding, and quick response to your team’s concerns will not only improve their engagement, but it will also stave off potential liability. The documentation will come in handy in those rare cases when there are concrete liability concerns down the road.


6: “I resolve to invest in my team through development opportunities.”

Ok, so I could actually hear the “cha-ching” noise going through your head while you were sheepishly saying that one out loud but try to remember that this resolution is all about investing in your most precious asset, your people. When you look at it that way, it makes a lot of sense, plus I promise that development opportunities do not have to be expensive. Not that professional conferences aren’t great (I personally LOVE the National Employment Law Institute Annual Employment Law Conference), but they aren’t necessarily budget-friendly for the small business owner. Instead, be creative. Tickets to a TED Talk in Albuquerque are $25-$40 each, and local professional organizations have tons of informative monthly luncheon presentations for the price of a delicious plate of hotel rubber chicken.

I love development opportunities that cross-train my team. For example, why not send your construction foreman to an HR seminar? This person is directly managing your crew so there is no doubt they can benefit from a better understanding of HR fundamentals. Or how about sending your whole dental practice team to a presentation on entrepreneurship? Chances are they aren’t going to run off and start their own dental practice, but instead might be inspired to share their own fabulous ideas about how you can all work together to improve your practice. I assure you, no development opportunity is wasted because they all make your team feel exponentially more valued.

To those bosses who are ready to make the transition to leaders, congratulations and may 2019 be your best year yet! To my true leaders out there, thank you for all that you do and cheers to the new year! Remember, Human Resources Experience is here for you. Together we can create exceptional workplaces.