An Executive’s Winter Cleaning

December is a good time to reassess your work as a leader—and to respond to your team's perception of your leadership.

As I write this, the Associations Now staff is preparing for a move. Not a big one—we’re just shifting to a different bank of cubicles in ASAE’s offices. But a move’s a move, and the change has prompted me to brave my file drawers and confront everything that’s piled up in there over the past four years. Conference programs, CVB brochures, notebooks, and on and on. So many memories—or, at least, so many unused promotional memory sticks.

Clarity about the definition of a good job is always welcome—and it’s your job to provide it.

As it happens, this need for some winter cleaning arrived at the same time as I read Les McKeown’s suggested winter to-dos for executives. In “A Great Leader’s Year-End Checklist,” he lists five essential tasks to handle before the holidays arrive and things go back to warp speed in January.

The whole list is worth reading, but you should know up front that it’s not a list for Type A executives. That’s to its benefit, I think: Too often our task lists are designed around left-brained, process-oriented, gotta-fix-it duties, and McKeown’s suggestions are more right-brained ideas that encourage you to consider your “soft” skills—your job as a morale builder, as a reader of personalities, as a mentor to your team. His first recommendation is to “manage the narrative”—that is, deliver a message about what your team accomplished and what challenges it faces. That’s not the same thing as a canned year-end pep talk. As McKeown writes, “it’s your job to understand what narrative has taken hold in your team, and to manage it accordingly.” So your message isn’t your personal version of what you think happened. Your message is your response to what your team is convinced has happened.

To perhaps abuse the metaphor, that’s a messy drawer to start sorting through. Even the most accommodating, approachable, open-door-policy-having leader isn’t going to know all of the concerns his or her staff has. But it’s essential work, and in a way more time-consuming than any formal staff assessment or performance review tool you could name. You’re considering hard-to-measure stuff like energy levels, mood swings, and overall attitude. There’s a word for that, which I mentioned earlier in this post: “morale.” I hesitate to use it, because I can’t help but think of a former boss who insisted that organizations put too much emphasis on morale. There’s no morale problem that hunkering down and doing your job well won’t fix, he argued. I’m sympathetic to that philosophy. But clarity about the definition of a good job is always welcome—and it’s your job to provide it.

So as we enter the last month of the year, what are your priorities for reassessment as a leader, both to you and to your staff?


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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