Each new year is an opportunity to refresh, reset and renew. Many of us make resolutions or in some other way commit to change something. As you make plans and goals for 2023, I encourage you to intentionally say yes. And mean it.

Sometimes as leaders we learn to say no so well that we forget to say yes. Saying no becomes a habit – we don’t even consider what we’re turning down or away from.

Being intentional about what we say yes to is an important way for leaders to form new and more effective behaviors. It’s a path to strengthening your emotional intelligence and sign of open-heartedness, too. Here are three ways to intentionally yes as we begin a new year.

1. Intentional Learning – curiosity and openness.

Even when we’re at the top of our leadership game, it’s important to remain open to learning new things, expose ourselves to new ideas, and stay up to date on important topics and skills. When it comes to curiosity and openness, that’s the easy part.

Curiosity and openness are more than a learning mindset. They are an attitude. A way of showing up that is non-judgmental and invites others to wonder, inquire, observe, and learn. And sometimes be more challenging to apply curiosity and openness to our everyday leadership activities.

When was the last time you said yes to someone on your team? Yes, that sounds good to me. Yes, let’s take a chance. Yes, we learned something important because of this mistake. Leaders who are curious and open are better problem solvers. They are often more aware of their blind spots.

What are you curious about this year as a leader? When was the last time you questioned
something in your life with no attachment to the right answer?

Need some additional help to get started? Here are three exercises to cultivate curiosity.

2. Intentional Practice – do that uncomfortable thing.

If we stay open and curious, we eventually come to that place where we need to stretch ourselves as a leader. As a coach, I encourage clients to practice leadership stretching on a daily basis. Why? Because leadership adaptability requires us to apply leadership in uncomfortable situations that happen with little if any notice. While leaders can and do learn to adapt in a crisis, the experience can be the equivalent of running a 5k when you haven’t jogged around the block in months. Can you finish? Sure. Do you want to do it again any time soon? Probably not.

We need to stretch and grow into our adaptive leadership capabilities over time. When we find ways to practice stepping outside our comfort zone on a regular basis, we strengthen our adaptive muscle and improve our stamina.

leaders stretching

Try this: let someone else run staff meetings some or most of the time. There’s no rule that says leaders need to run staff meetings. We just do it out of routine habit and expectations. For many leaders I coach, this starts out as an uncomfortable experience.

Then it becomes a revelation. They learn that showing trust to their team is not only empowering, it stretches and grows people because they don’t want to let someone down who has shown trust. Even though trust was extended, people want to show it was deserved. Your staff meetings may never be the same.

What one thing can you say yes to that will help you stretch?

3. Intentional Self-Reflection – take some ‘Me’ time.

Self-reflection is part of intentional learning. It’s crucial to developing self-awareness. While there are many ways to practice self-reflection and any plpace is a good place to start, I’ve discovered it’s important to stretch beyond generics and the obvious when practicing leadership self-reflection..

Rather than ask what am I grateful for today, ask what truly frustrated and surprised me this week? Where did I fail? How long has it been since you said yes to yourself? Yes, I feel sad, tired, content. Yes, I hear my body telling me I need to rest. You can find several reflections toolkits here.

Self-reflection can be a humbling and inspirational process. It leads to deeper self-awareness and understanding. It reveals where you may need to be more curious and open and reveal where you need to step outside your comfort zone.

Self-Reflection Bonus Tip: Turn off the tech!

Last year my optometrist prescribed dry eye relief and computer glasses. My eyes were exhausted from virtual work. The screen would blur and I couldn’t read anything magnified less than 200%. He sternly recommended that I ‘turn off the tech’ for an hour each day.

I started taking my horses for a trail walks. We just saunter around the neighborhood together with no specific goals except to neighbor watch, stretch our legs, and hang out. I found myself welcoming the sense of freedom and relief I experienced away from electronic devices. The fresh air and companionship with my horses rests my eyes and gives me a burst of fresh focus and energy when I get back to my office.

While it may be unrealistic for leaders to forgo technology entirely these days, I really encourage you take a short and complete break from tech each day. Step away from your computer screen(s), shut down your cell phone(s), take off your tracking devices, don’t watch TV. Stroll down the hallway and talk to someone. Take a real lunch break. Go for a walk and window shop or exercise your pet. Hold a magazine or book and read it. Weed your garden. These breaks can help you refocus on the important things happening in your life away from your many screens.

Intentional learning, practice and reflection are essential skills in developing our emotional intelligence.  They help us deepen self-awareness, strengthen our resiliency and adapatbility, and gain a more empathetic understanding of those we lead. If you’re looking for new leadership insights, please don’t hesitate to connect.

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