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Leadership development during the winter months

Note: This is one blog post in our Season of Leadership series. Read about spring and summer, and keep an eye out for additional posts in 2024. 

As the winter chill sets in, the landscape isn’t the only thing that changes — our activities and mindsets shift, too. While summer might be the season of relaxation and outdoor pursuits, winter promotes a powerful space for planning and preparation. Whether you're starting your leadership journey, or you've been charting its course for years, the quiet of winter can be your ally in growth. Here are a few habits top leaders embrace during the winter months. 

1) Invest in Asynchronous and Self-Led Learning

During winter months, many employees take advantage of the space around and between holidays to travel and spend time with friends and family. This disruption of traditional work routines should be seen as an opportunity. Leaders should seek to support this desire to step away from the office and a more structured meeting schedule by making space for self-led and asynchronous learning opportunities.

Asynchronous learning ensures employees can continue professional development while maintaining valuable work-life balance. Time away can be equally powerful as the time spent with our teams. By encouraging self-directed learning, organizations help build a more adaptable and resilient workforce. Employees learn to manage their development and adapt to new information and skills, including the use of digital platforms, which is crucial in today's rapidly changing business environment.

Leaders can cultivate a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning by integrating learning into the organization’s fabric, especially during times like winter when there might be a natural slowdown in business activities. 

2) Take Advantage of Leadership Development Opportunities

This opportunity extends not only to your people but to you as a leader. There are several things a leader can do to grow themselves during the slower winter months.

With shorter days and longer nights, you can explore new management theories or leadership styles from the comfort of your home. Many top leaders enjoy diving into books or engaging in self-paced webinars and leadership courses. Unlike the hectic scheduled workshops and conferences of summer, leaders can progress at their own pace, ensuring deep and thoughtful engagement with the material.

Similarly, while summer may have you volunteering outdoors, winter's cold makes indoor community service activities more appealing. Give back during the holidays by organizing a food drive, volunteering at a shelter, or mentoring someone over a video call. These acts of service can strengthen such leadership skills as empathy, strategic thinking, and problem-solving, all while keeping you engaged with your community.

3) Utilize a "Reframing Problems" Exercise to Reflect on
the Past Year and Year to Come

In these less hectic months, leaders should take time to question not just how they solve problems but how they identify them. This winter, ask yourself: Are you rushing to action without understanding the true nature of your challenges? Reconsidering problems across not only our organizations but within our personal lives can lead to increased innovative thinking.

In this piece at Harvard Business Review, Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg introduces the “Slow Elevator Problem” thought experiment. In this story, a building owner receives numerous complaints from his tenants that the elevator is old and unreliable: It takes too long to get to and from different floors. When asked how the building owner should address this issue, many people answer that he should replace it altogether. However, Weddell-Weddelsborg challenges that this answer falls into the “solution space,” a solution that assumes that there is only one problem with one clear solution.

However, when we expand our thinking, several other possible solutions present themselves that are cost-effective and clever — for example, lining the elevator with mirrors or playing soothing music to help the time pass. These answers do not fall into the “solution space.” Instead, they reframe the problem from a technical fix to a change in rider perspective.

This winter, let this story inspire you to look for solutions that may not be immediately obvious but could offer the most elegant answers. Ask yourself: In the past year, what problems have I too quickly identified solutions for? In the coming year, how can I challenge my perspective and take time to reframe problems?

New Year's resolutions for a leader

4) Create a New Leadership Resolution

In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, take the time to develop and nurture one new leadership resolution in the coming year. Sit by the fire and reflect on the past year's successes and setbacks. What have they taught you about your leadership style? Many leaders do not realize that what has led them to success in the past may not sustain success in the future.

Whether your resolution is utilizing the Reframing Problem exercise above to revisit your company goals each quarter or simply spending 15 minutes a day between meetings to jot down new ideas, cultivating new leadership habits is essential to leader growth.

* * *

As the winter landscape transforms, let it be a mirror of your own leadership transformation. Embrace this season not just as a time of introspection but as an opportunity for innovative growth and learning. Challenge yourself to see beyond the frost-covered windows of conventional thinking, reframe problems, and uncover solutions that lie hidden in the quiet of winter. Commit to one new leadership resolution that will carry you and your organization forward into a flourishing future.

Remember, the stillness of winter is not a pause but a deep breath, a chance to grow stronger, wiser, and more resilient. So, as you wrap up warm against the cold, let your leadership skills ignite a fire of continuous learning and improvement that burns bright throughout the year.

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