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posted: 1/12/2014 6:59 AM

Career Coach: New year presents an opportunity to get better

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By Joyce E. Russell

No matter what happened in 2013, it is now behind us, and it is time to look ahead to 2014. Hope is the thing that most of us want to feel with a new year. We want to know that we have another chance to get it right, to make a difference, to have an impact on the lives of others around us. What can we do to get us off to a new start? Here are some tips for individuals as well as for companies and leaders.

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Tips for Individuals

Set your resolutions: Some of the more popular resolutions people make are about improvements in their lives, such as physical well-being (weight, exercise, health), mental well-being (positive outlook), spiritual connections (improving a personal relationship with God, volunteering their time to others), financial acumen (saving more money, getting out of debt), education (going back to school, taking a course), career (advancement, changing careers) and overall personal improvements (being better organized, time management, reduced stress). While important to set such goals, research shows that in most cases people do not end up meeting their goals.

Be accountable: To have a better chance of keeping your resolutions, make them public. Gain support from family or friends (for example, exercise together or take a course together). It is also important to set specific, measurable goals. Saying you will be healthier in 2014 is not as effective as saying you will eat three fruits or vegetables per day.

Be a little easier on yourself: While it is important to set challenging goals, sometimes our goals may be too unrealistic. With the 24/7 culture we live in, we believe that we can accomplish more and more and more with less time and resources. Then we become discouraged with ourselves for not accomplishing it all. So, we need to set more realistic goals and stop judging ourselves by what everyone around us is doing. Can we really be a superstar in every realm in our lives? And is this really that critical?

Simplify your life: Most people find that cleaning up the clutter in their offices or houses really helps their mental state. Same with getting rid of things that you really no longer need.

Focus on others: If you ask most people when they feel the best about themselves, they often mention times they have reached out and helped others -- whether by teaching them something, volunteering their time or expertise, or giving of themselves in some way. With life as chaotic as it is, this is the part that really grounds us and puts things into perspective.

Tips for Companies

Look outside: Rob Sheehan, author of "Mission Impact," writes in his blog that our environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. He notes that this type of world provides companies even more opportunities than before for their leaders to be externally focused, have clarity of purpose and remain nimble. By "externally focused," he means leaders need to pay vigilant attention to trends and changes in the environment. They should get out of the office regularly and talk with clients, collaborators and even competitors. To have clarity of purpose, Sheehan says have a specific purpose for the firm and its goals.

Be nimble: Don't be wedded to past practices if you aren't getting the results you need, Sheehan writes. Today's world requires creative responses to changes in the environment. Similarly, Bryan Anderson, founding member of All Solutions 360, also says that the outlook for this year is very positive for companies that can manage change and deal with an ever-changing environment. Being adaptable is what separates companies that are successful and those that aren't.

Invest in the business: The economic climate of the past few years has had many firms "making do" with patches to their various internal systems (e.g., financial systems, payroll systems, IT systems). Now may be the time to invest in longer-term fixes and finally make improvements that can align with the firm's business strategy.

Companies may now finally be able to hire some new employees. They should, however, also ensure that their compensation is equitable for their current employees who may not have received as many raises or bonuses over the past few years.

Show your appreciation: All leaders in the company, especially the chief executive and other senior leaders should take the time to reach out to their employees to share their appreciation for their time and hard work. This is especially important if employees have been asked to do more work with fewer resources.

There are plenty of things both individuals and organizations can do to make 2014 a great year. We just have to start.

-- Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.

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