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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

It’s a New Year—Have You Transformed Yourself Yet?

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It’s hard not to get caught up in all of the annual (and predictable) “New Year, New You!” hype we’re reading everywhere this week. Yes, this is the time of year when we are bombarded with messages saying now is the time to change whatever you need to change to turn your life around.

Get organized. Lose weight. Quit drinking. Be nicer. Read more. Get stronger. Do more. Do less. Be a better parent. Be a better leader. Be a better person.

Just reading the list can make you exhausted. No wonder the research shows that less than 50 percent of the people who make resolutions are still following through on them six months later.

Is putting pressure on yourself to change with the changing of the calendar the right approach, though? Can we sustain the kind of instantaneous reset behavior we’re encouraged to exhibit, or is this work harder than the various “ten tips” listicles would have us believe?

Any time can be a good time to change. My experience is that the new year is as good a time as any to make progress in the direction of leading and living at your best. The challenge for most of us at the new year, though, is taking on too much. We do this by setting goals that are either too broad or so far into the future that breaking them down into actionable steps is beyond challenging.

In the interest of helping you be one of those people who are still following through on their resolution six months from now, I want to offer three steps to meaningful and lasting personal change. They’ve worked for me and they’ve worked for thousands of my clients and readers over the years.

Here they are:

Break It Down to Behaviors. Most resolutions don’t get any traction because they’re too broad and not strongly connected to specific, actionable behaviors. I want to be in better shape. I want to be a better parent. I want to be a better leader. I want to be a better boss. They’re all nice aspirations but to make them reality, you have to ground them in repeatable behaviors.

For instance, let’s take, “I want to be a better boss.” Good goal, but what does it really look like?

First, ask yourself, “What do I mean when I say, ‘I want to be a better boss?’” Then, start thinking through the behaviors that the best bosses you’ve ever had exhibited. You could probably come up with a couple of dozen behavioral characteristics of your best bosses. Which one of those behaviors represents the most high leverage opportunity for you?

For instance, maybe you’re an interrupter. You tend to jump in with the right answer all the time rather than letting your team members arrive at the answers themselves. A simple behavior that would correct that would be to start asking, “What do you think we should do?” whenever you feel the urge to interrupt and jump in with the “right” answer.

Keep Score. As they say, you can’t manage it if you can’t measure it. Look for simple ways to keep track of your progress on the behaviors you’re trying to change. In the example above of not jumping in with the answer all the time, you could keep a tally on your phone of all the times you asked an open ended question instead of giving your answer. If you really wanted to move the needle, you could tell your team what you’re working on and ask them to watch for you asking more questions and to gently call you out when you interrupt someone with your answer. You could make a game of it and keep a weekly tally on your progress. After a few weeks of that, you could move on to keeping a tally of all the good ideas and solutions your team comes up with because you’re no longer interrupting so much.

Again, those measurement ideas are just an example of how keeping score can work for you. The same principles can be applied to pretty much any behavior change whether it’s about leading better or living better.

Go for the 5 Percent Solution. Too many people give up too soon on their resolutions because they don’t see big, dramatic progress in a couple of weeks. My advice is to go for the 5 percent solution. Don’t worry about getting to 100 percent. Go for a 5 percent improvement today or this week. That doesn’t sound like much, does it? Too small to matter, maybe. I can see why you’d think that, but what if you were consistent in making 5 percent progress every week? In a week, you’d be 20 percent better. And if you continue on from there, the gains continue to increase and one day, all of the sudden, you’re doing it like a pro.

John Wooden, one of the greatest coaches of all time, used to say, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur.” Progress comes incrementally, then suddenly. Acknowledge and celebrate your baby steps and little wins. They’re getting you somewhere.

Give these three steps a chance this month. Let me know on LinkedIn or Facebook how breaking it down to behaviors, keeping score and going for the 5 percent solution are working for you. I’ll be checking back in with you in a month or two with a summary of what I’m hearing.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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