Article: Have You Resolved to be a Better Leader in 2020?

In case you haven’t adopted a New Year’s resolution, these six ideas will boost your leadership impact.

It’s not too late make a New Year’s resolution (or two)

Steve Swavely, Ph.D.

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution or are searching for ways to improve as a business leader in 2020, you’ve come to the right place.

Every new year offers an opportunity to start afresh. With that encouraging prospect in mind, I’m sharing ideas for a half-dozen New Year’s resolutions. These reflect suggestions I’ve formed through my years of experience facilitating The BB&T Leadership Institute’s Mastering Leadership Dynamics program, our week-long leadership development course for company owners, CEOs and senior executives. 

Resolution Idea 1: Look inside yourself

Great leadership involves understanding who you are as a person and what you bring to the table as a leader due to your humanity. Do you treat every employee with respect? Are you fair when you delegate tasks to a team? How do you behave when you’re really stressed?

One of our core sayings at The BB&T Leadership Institute is, “Who you are is how you lead.”

In Mastering Leadership Dynamics, we devote a lot of time and effort to helping leaders understand who they are, how they got to be that way and how their beliefs and behaviors have helped them be successful. We also look at how some of their beliefs and behaviors may impair their ability to lead.

In 2020, I urge you to deeply understand your beliefs and behaviors and how, for better or worse, they affect your leadership performance.

Resolution Idea 2: Talk less, listen more

Many people believe leadership is about telling people what to do. Yet telling people what to do is the exact opposite of what a great leader does. Great leaders spend more time listening than they do issuing directions.

If great leadership was as simple as putting the smartest person in the room in charge of giving directions, then the smartest person in the room would always be the leader. And we all know that isn’t necessarily what happens.

You gain a lot of valuable knowledge and understanding by simply listening.

  • When you listen, you learn another person's perspective. If their perspective is different than yours, you receive the opportunity to get a broader understanding of the situation or problem. And that understanding enables you to be more effective.
  • Listening also helps you learn a person’s position about a situation or problem. If they have a different position from yours, then you know where to start in order to get their buy-in and resolve the issue at hand as efficiently as possible. You start by communicating your point of view in a way that they can understand and accept. 

Resolution Idea 3: Allow yourself not to have all the answers

Some leaders think they should supply the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. However, that type of leadership doesn’t help you grow as a leader. Nor does it empower your employees.

Great leaders are genuinely curious about how other people approach a problem. Often, such leaders try to get as much input from others as they can before making an important decision. They value others’ ideas and know that one person can’t have a monopoly on right answers.

Great leaders also know how to elicit information and opinions from their team and make them feel comfortable when sharing ideas, even if these ideas are contrarian or unorthodox. 

Leaders who are perceived as having all of the answers and always needing to display their “brilliance” tend to shut down engagement from everyone else in the room. And after a while, employees learn not to share their ideas, which can lead to a lack of engagement and passion. 

Resolution Idea 4: Seek employee feedback

One proven way you can become more effective and engaging as a leader is to ask for—and reward—employee feedback.

Employee feedback comes in three styles:

  • One is positive feedback, which everyone loves to hear and makes them feel good, but it doesn’t produce any tangible changes.
  • A second is feedback that tells you something you already know.
  • The third type is constructive feedback that tells you something you don’t know and never would have thought of—feedback that figuratively blindsides you.

I tell leaders when someone gives you constructive feedback that you are blindsided by, take them to lunch. They just gave you a huge gift. Also, taking the time and effort to treat them to a meal sends a strong message that you value eye-opening, constructive feedback and will reward employees who share it.

By awarding employees when they are creative, imaginative and bold, you are also creating a positive feedback loop in your company that honors creative thinking, problem solving and risk taking.

Let’s get personal

These first four resolutions relate to your behavior in the work environment. These last two resolutions concern your personal life but, as you’ll see, can also perform wonders for your job performance and career.

Resolution Idea 5: Exercise on a regular basis

One of the activities we conduct during Mastering Leadership Dynamics involves asking participants to write down three things they like about themselves and three things they don’t like. A substantial percentage of executives confess, “I need to exercise more.”

Scientific data shows that executives who have a regular exercise routine are more efficient, effective and creative. The neuroscience behind exercise reveals that it not only burns off stress hormones but also creates neurochemicals that build new synapses and brain cells. Thus, regular exercise produces a double positive effect.

By regularly exercising, executives rid their body of the chemicals that are producing feelings of stress. They are also increasing the number of neurochemicals that are responsible for brain cell connections, growth and longevity. The upside for these executives is that they’re building longevity into their career and lifespan, plus they are expanding their brain's capacity to think creatively.

Finally, scientific research shows that 20 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week is all that's needed to get a lot of the health benefits from exercise.

Resolution Idea 6: Get a hobby

One of the must-do’s that we emphasize in Mastering Leadership Dynamics is that every leader needs downtime. Having downtime is the equivalent of having a reset button.

One healthy form of downtime is spending time on a hobby that you are totally engrossed in. When I talk to executives during Mastering Leadership Dynamics about having a hobby, they frequently say, “I'd like to have one, but I don't know what to do."

I tell them, "Drive to your local Barnes & Noble and go to the magazine section. You’ll find hundreds of different hobbies and every one of them has its own magazine. Pick one or two magazines that appeal to you and begin to develop a hobby around that. Whether it's electronics, music or something active like cycling or running, pick something that appeals to you and start building a practice around engaging in that hobby."

Not only will this hobby provide you with much-needed downtime, but you’ll probably be amazed at how much pleasure and joy it adds to your life.

I hope these New Year’s resolutions will guide and inspire you in 2020 to attain new heights as a leader.

Take the next step

For more information about Mastering Leadership Dynamics, or our other programs, please call 336-665-3300 or email us at

Author bio

Steve Swavely, Ph.D., is a senior vice president and corporate consulting manager at The BB&T Leadership Institute. A licensed psychologist with more than 20 years of experience in consulting training and coaching, he oversees the leadership development programs. 

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