Column | Financial Leadership

New Year's resolutions for leaders as they get ready to leave a challenging year behind

Column | Financial Leadership

New Year's resolutions for leaders as they get ready to leave a challenging year behind

Jill Geisler

  • The year 2021 brings the promise of big improvement over 2020, and leaders should be thinking about ways to help their organizations capitalize on pending developments.
  • A key part of conducting a year-end assessment is considering which changes from the past year are worth retaining and which haven’t been as beneficial.
  • Leaders also should be reflecting on personal adjustments they can make to enhance their efficacy as bosses and managers.

For leaders, this is a time to seize the moment. First, it’s important to acknowledge that 2020 has been a rough year — with so many difficulties and tragedies — because doing so establishes the place from which we look ahead with hope. People appreciate leaders who recognize their stresses and sacrifices, tell them where they stand on a tough journey and then describe the brighter destination.

The pandemic has affected each workplace differently and certainly will continue to affect hospitals and healthcare providers over the next few months, but 2021 will bring notable changes across the board. A new administration in Washington has pledged to take a different approach to supporting science and health. The availability and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines probably will lead the country to something much closer to a normal footing.

Leaders should be planning now to align their teams and their organizations with these developments.

Taking the opportunity to reassess

I always nudge managers to regularly do “systems checks” — to look for opportunities to improve. In 2020, lots of systems changed out of necessity. Employees who never before worked remotely made quick transitions. People learned to seamlessly use technology to meet virtually. Hiring and onboarding changed, in some cases excluding in-person interactions. Travel was minimal. Training and conferences moved online.

Now is the time to determine what was gained and what was lost in those transitions to help you set goals and strategies for the year ahead. Ask yourself:

  • Are meetings as effective as they should be, or do they need to be reimagined?
  • Are people feeling less connected than in 2019?
  • Do our newest hires feel they’re truly part of the team?
  • How well are we communicating?
  • Should we rethink how work is distributed and where we expect it to be done?
  • Is this a good time to review our lines of report?
  • Are people getting sufficient feedback on a systematic basis, or has that fallen by the wayside?
  • Do we have an effective system for assessing employee engagement and the health of our culture?
  • Are we demonstrating our commitment to diversity by tracking our hiring, promotions and retention?
  • Do our job descriptions need to be updated, especially if we learned to use new tools or technology in 2020 and want new employees to have those skills as well?
  • If we haven’t already, should we change our work-from-home policies?

Chances are you know the answers to some of those questions, but not all. The year 2020 has been one of survival, trial and error, and adaptation. It’s hard to do a self-study in the midst of all that. It can be tempting to remember the mistakes rather than the successes, to focus on anecdotes instead of trends. That’s why it’s so important to step back and assess now.

Poll your deputies. Set up a few employee focus groups or task forces if time permits, or simply do a personal round of calls to your team members. When you can, talk with your HR managers and employees across the organization to identify best practices. The goal is to download as much information as possible so your decisions for 2021 are well-informed and include the input of your staff.

Setting the stage for progress by looking inward

Every suggestion I’ve made to this point is about your organization. Now let’s get personal. As you look at the year ahead, consider what you want to:

  • Stop or start
  • Do more of or less of
  • Learn

Think of one thing in each of those areas. Perhaps you want to stop sending emails in the middle of the night. Or start delegating effectively. Or give more feedback and do less micromanaging.

As for learning, think big. In what aspects would deepening your knowledge make you feel happier, more effective or more prepared for the future? Be selfish: Make time, and find room in the budget. Go for it!

Turning resolutions into action

The best way to follow through on your goals for 2021 is to be realistic, specific and public about your plans.

If they’re realistic, you won’t lose faith.

If they’re specific, you can measure results. Instead of saying you want to “give more feedback,” think in terms of: “Have a good feedback-related conversation each day with at least one person.”

If they’re public, they’re more than wishes — they are commitments, and people can hold you accountable.

Most of all, be sure to look for opportunities to celebrate every success, however small, in 2021. After a year that tested our resilience, we deserve plenty of plain old rejoicing.

About the Author

Jill Geisler

is the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago, and a Freedom Forum Institute Fellow in Women’s Leadership. Follow Jill on Twitter @Jill Geisler.


Do you have questions or topics you’d like Jill to address in a future column? Email Nick Hut, HFMA senior editor, at

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