Everyday leadership

I find January a convenient time to look at my successes and disappointments and gauge the learnings I have gained during the past year. More importantly, I spend some time resetting my vision and creating the right goals for the coming year. It is good to have hope, but it is even more important to plan so that we make the hope a reality. January was named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces so it could look into the future and into the past simultaneously.

This ability of Janus’ generally describes the planning process I use. First, I describe the kind of business I had last year by answering the following questions. Was it professionally and personally satisfying. Was it financially successful? Am I offering the right mix of products? Did I exceed the expectations of my clients? Am I attracting or reaching the right clients?

If you feel your work is not satisfying, this may be the year you look around and start the development process to make a transition. I believe it is never too late. My dad started a construction business and nursery after his 70th birthday and realized some level of success. When I worked in the coal mines or at BorgWarner, within six months to a year of beginning work, I created a career path within the business for myself and a plan to gain the skills necessary to accomplish each step in that plan.

If your business did not reach your financial goals, don’t lower the goals, identify what you need to do better, more of, or differently to accomplish those goals next year. I look at the volume in different business sectors I served last year and measure it against previous years. This measurement allows me to identify the type of organizations I need to focus on in 2013.

If you don’t know whether or not you exceeded your clients’ expectations, you need to invent a way to gather that data. There are many data gathering techniques available such as surveys and focus groups. Phone calls to key clients using three or four open-ended questions can also be useful.

Whether we know it or not, each business serves customers of a particular niche. It is important to know where and with whom we are most successful. This understanding helps inform our marketing plans and new product development.

So this year, instead of just watching football, take some time by yourself in a quiet place or with your key leaders away from the workplace and ask yourself some of the key business questions indicated above. Leaders who don’t make this commitment will be driven by inertia or find a once successful business slipping on the variables that matter the most. Happy New Year and may 2013 be your best year ever.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s new book, “Tons of Stone above my head: Coal Mining Stories with Leadership Lessons,” visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.