As we began the new year, a meme was circulating that featured someone walking into a gym on January 1 only to find the usually quiet facility overrun with people feverishly pursuing their New Year’s resolutions, which they would most certainly abandon for a bag of Doritos come Super Bowl time. As memes go, it hit all the high notes. It was relatable, meaning we could all recognize the message. It was understandable, communicating something that was a universal truth in many ways. And it was humorous, conveying that truth in way that was sure to elicit a chuckle.

New Year’s resolutions are synonymous with the end of the holiday season, when we set down goals for the coming year. They are an opportunity for a new beginning, a chance to start over in some way. Just as we roll over the calendar hanging on the refrigerator, we see those goals as a window for change. But…more often than not, those goals don’t last long.

Resolutions were made to be broken.

Setting Resolutions

Ultimately resolutions are about the power of habit, and we typically give up on them before forming the habits necessary to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. This is a subject that James Clear writes at length about in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, a veritable how-to book on making and breaking habits. During his research for the book, Clear uncovered a telling study of habitual behavior in the European Journal of Social Psychology. While there is a commonly held misperception that new habits can be formed within 21 days, the results of the study revealed that, on average, the process actually takes 66 days.

In resolution terms, that’s an eternity.  

Over the years, I’ve given away more copies of Atomic Habits than I can count. But the people on the receiving end of my generosity aren’t who you might think; I tend to give the book to people in key leadership roles. Quite honestly, if there’s a collective group of people in need of developing good habits, it’s the leaders we look to the most for guidance and inspiration. While we all should aspire to be the best version of ourselves possible, we really need our leaders to be on their game all of the time.

10 Leadership Goals

That means setting goals and making a habit of being the leader we all deserve. So, this year, while you’re scribbling out the resolutions you meant to write down a week or two ago, add a few to your list. And then stick to your resolutions for the long haul, blowing past Groundhog Day until you reach the Ides of March. That should be long enough to ensure that your goals have become habits.

1. Provide purpose, direction, and motivation.

These three are fundamental to leadership; they’re also non-negotiable. If you’re not already setting the tone for your organization, this should be resolution number one.

2. Recognize achievements.

Celebrate the wins in as public a way as possible and make doing so a habit. If nothing else, set aside one day a month to ensure that you do so on a regular basis.

3.Share success.

If everyone is doing their part, the organization is going to have some big wins. Give credit where credit is due. Your success wouldn’t be possible without a lot of others pitching in.

4. Underwrite mistakes.

If you’ve set your goals high enough, people are going to fall short on occasion and even make mistakes along the way. Make it a point to allow honest mistakes and use them as learning opportunities that foster growth.

5. Communicate constantly.

The cone of silence is toxic to organizational culture. Communicate clearly, openly, and often. Foster a culture when everyone knows what’s happening and they’re vested in the success of the organization.

6. Listen deeply.

Set a goal to get out and circulate among your people, to engage them in conversation and practice deep listening. The more they trust that you hear them, the more they’ll invest in the success of the organization.

7. Cultivate empathy and compassion.

Life happens. You never know what kind of day someone is having unless you ask them. Make a habit of leading with empathy and compassion. Support your team when they need you.

8. Foster creativity and innovation.

No one will think outside the box unless you give them the freedom to color outside the lines. Create a culture where new ideas and innovation are welcomed and rewarded.

9. Power down.

Success is built on a foundation of trust. Empower your team by delegating authority along with responsibility; give them the autonomy they need to make decisions and grow.

10. Be present and engaged.

You can’t lead an organization from a position of laptop defilade. Get up, get out, and engage. Be seen. Actively engage and connect with people. Show genuine interest in what they’re doing and how they’re contributing.

Key Leadership Quality

Finally, lead by example. This is probably the most important thing you can do as a leader. Live the values of the organization. Respect personal time, safeguard work-life balance. Manage workloads to avoid burnout. Be a mentor and coach to your people. Give everyone an equal voice. Take time to reflect and be willing to adapt your style to the changing needs of the team. Be the leader people want to follow.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.