In late 2015 we issued research showing that people who set New Year’s resolutions move forward with greater confidence and conviction in the year ahead. So in re-energizing over the holiday break, I reflected on what I want to accomplish and improve upon in the New Year.
I kept coming back to this ever-changing and ever-accelerating business environment that we’re all a part of. As a leader, am I doing everything possible to help the organization optimize and adapt to the new world order? Am I inspiring continuous growth and innovation? Am I helping to create a culture worthy of our associates’ best efforts and enabling them to achieve their full potential?
It’s clear that the speed with which change is occurring in virtually all aspects of business demands that leaders re-think the true purpose of their roles – and more importantly – re-assess how they can inspire and empower employees to take complete ownership of their responsibilities, continuously improve their skills, and ultimately achieve their full potential.
For a business to successfully adapt and change, its leaders must change as well. So with that as a back-drop, I thought I would share my own “Leadership Resolutions” for 2016.
Resolution 1: Dismantle the “Cult of the Leader” – In past eras, the boss was king (or queen!) and top-down hierarchies provided a logical management structure. Everyone looked to the top leadership for most of the answers and decisions. With all the technology improvements and productivity enhancements, not to mention a new generation of workers who are wired differently, this top-down structure is simply outdated. It devalues independent thinking, breeds malaise, impairs decision making, and slows down innovation.
To thrive, businesses need leaders at all levels of the organization (together in headquarters and the front-lines) that understand the core mission, inspire passion and commitment around the mission, and empower their people to take ownership of success. The culture should honor the customer, value free-thinking, encourage decision making at all levels, and inspire creativity.
In the business I’m privileged to lead, we’ve adopted six guiding principles that have helped deepen this type of culture, including “put the customer first,” “own the outcome” and “embrace the future.” Our people embrace these principles and are expected to embody them fully every day. In fact our employees are assessed on them as part of their annual performance.
Resolution 2: Insist on Candor – One of our other most important guiding principles is to “tell it like it is.” On a day-to-day basis, the top leaders of an organization simply aren’t close enough to all aspects of the business to properly identify the obstacles to success in any given function. As we know, speed in the business is one of the most important factors for success in today’s world. Therefore, creating an environment that fosters healthy debate and the free flow of ideas and feedback is paramount. Candor facilitates speed and brisk decision making. As leaders, create an environment where everyone is encouraged and empowered to be candid (and receive candor) in the pursuit of a greater outcome.
Resolution 3: Focus on real leadership (not management!) to inspire the people you lead – Most people come to work each day wanting to make a real difference, to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to build a meaningful career in the process. To do that, they need to be inspired about their mission and their role in achieving that mission; insightful coaching about their performance; motivation toward growth and development opportunities; and ultimately, to work within an environment that’s worthy and supportive of their best efforts. As the leader, ensure the team’s mission is clear and that each employee understands how their work connects back to that mission. Be hands-on and create a culture that’s energizing and inspiring. And always be a role model that lives the principles you want your employees to embrace.
Resolution 4: Lighten up and have some fun! – As leaders, take the work seriously, but not yourself. Your employees, especially the (likely) growing number of Millennials, want to be part of a team that celebrates success and has some fun along the way. So, whether it’s jumping on stage and playing guitar at an open mic event, throwing an ugly sweater party around the holidays, putting together a funny team video, or even dressing up in Revolutionary Army garb to signal the revolution your own team is on the brink of (as one of our leaders recently did) – find fun and creative ways to motivate, challenge and celebrate your team.
Leadership is both a responsibility and a true privilege. Yes it’s challenging, but also incredibly fulfilling and rewarding. The greatest moments of my career have been when a team that I was part of came together, unlocked its great potential and achieved something extraordinary.
If you lead a team yourself or have passion for it, cultivate your leadership skills just like anything else. Fully embrace the role, put yourself on the line, push to create every opportunity to expand the horizons and potential of your people…and have fun. If your people trust and respect you, they’ll engage in your shared mission and work that much harder. And who knows, maybe you’ll start your own revolution.
Views expressed are as of January 11, 2016. Unless otherwise noted, the opinions provided are those of the author and not necessarily those of Fidelity Investments.
Kathleen Murphy joined Fidelity in 2009 as President of Personal Investing, a business that provides millions of individual investors with investment services such as retirement planning, college planning, estate planning strategies, retail brokerage & trading services, and cash management offerings. Personal Investing is a leading provider of offerings such as mutual funds, IRAs, ETFs, college savings plans, and many more.
Ms. Murphy also oversees Fidelity’s life insurance and annuities business, its workplace savings business for tax-exempt organizations, all of the firm’s brand and advertising programs, its online strategies through Fidelity.com, and Fidelity’s mobile device applications.
Prior to joining Fidelity, Kathy was CEO of ING U.S. Wealth Management, leading the Defined Contribution, Defined Benefit, Retirement Solutions, Annuities, and ING Advisors Network businesses. Ms. Murphy began her career with Aetna, spending 15 years in a variety of legal and government affairs positions, eventually serving as general counsel and chief compliance officer, Aetna Financial Services.
Kathy sits on the Board of Directors and Executive Committees of America’s Promise Alliance and the National Football Foundation. She has been named one of the “50 Most Powerful Women in American Business” by Fortune magazine, one of the “Wall Street Top 50” and “Business 100” by Irish America magazine, and named as one of the “25 Most Powerful Women in Finance” by US Banker, among other honors.
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