07 Jan 2021 21:20 IST

Put purpose at the core of your new year resolutions

Set your priorities right and align it with the right drivers to achieve your goals

New Year is resolution time. Many either write down or make a mental note of changes they will make, habits they will break, or learnings they will embrace. The making of the new resolutions is often darkened by the shadow of unkept resolutions from the year past. But the mystery behind resolutions that are either kept or missed, is that our resolutions are a reflection of our priorities. Our priorities are a reflection of our purpose — what drives us? This is a little below the surface than the lists we make. It needs an honest look in the mirror. It needs self-awareness to order our lives right.

Our choices

In the second India-Australia Test, recently concluded, which we happily won, there was the unfortunate run out of Captain Ajinkya Rahane when Jadeja called him for a difficult run to get to his fifty. Rahane was caught just short. It was mainly Jadeja’s fault, but Rahane patted Jadeja encouragingly with a ‘don’t-worry-about-it’ gesture that said much about what drives him. Let’s start with Jadeja — his nearness to the fifty milestone and perhaps his attachment to it, created the anxiety behind a poor call. The more attached we are to a milestone, the more it drives our decisions.


Indian cricketer Ajinkya Rahane   -  PTI




Rahane showed character by refusing to yell, scream or in other ways show how upset he was. Because he was focused on the bigger picture of winning the match and standing up for his teammate — so his choices were influenced by what drove him. We’ve often seen batsman who tend to mentally keep score of the milestones, (the best way to suss them out, is to check how many times they say they don’t care about individual milestones) get out in the nervous nineties — our own little master blaster held the record in both Test cricket (10 times) and in ODI (18 times). Perhaps a mild reflection of what he held important, which drove the anxiety that created a poor shot. The same is true of our decisions as business leaders. A senior HR Director wants to be seen in the good books of top management, so he plays the back-slapping game with the rank and file, but crafts and supports policies that are not in their best interests. A sales manager chases what he knows is a bad deal, because he prizes the sales incentive or the best-salesperson-of-the-month prize. A boss sends his junior colleague out of town ahead of an important presentation because he does not wish to share the credit. In each case,their purpose drives their choices. If we are obsessed with the petty and small things of life and work, then our decisions end up being small and petty.

In Latin there are two phrases to explain this — the silla anima and the magna anima — the small self and the big self. If we are driven by the small self that is self-seeking, self-serving, then as leaders our decisions reflect that. Real leaders choose their big-self version to drive them. They look at what will build others up, they look at what is best for the organization even if it sometimes goes against their own personal interest. Others may frown on this and say it’s not smart. But somehow the universe has a way of driving back real success to the leaders driven by a higher purpose.

Our actions

Our choices get translated into action. Again, our actions reflect what drives us. We have the recent case of the Government agency approval for a vaccine candidate that appears to have not yet completed all the required steps for its approval. But given that the Government is often driven by PR rather than practice, by sound bites rather than real action, is often concerned more about how their actions are communicated rather than what their actions communicate’ (to paraphrase Admiral Mike Mullen, a former Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff) — the hasty approval makes complete sense. In the rush to prove a “designed and made in India” vaccine also made it at the same time as the ‘foreign vaccine’ candidate, normal protocol was given the go-by and a decision was made, that at best could confuse and deter the public from taking the vaccine, at worst could risk lives. The CEO who is sleeping around, while talking at townhalls about ethics and morals. The CTO who is on the take from preferred vendors. The team leader who is partial to some team mates. In each case, their actions betray the poor choice of purpose, that drives each of them.

Our time

The recent news of the failed acquisition, after ten years,involving an Indian auto major and a Korean one had the media agog with reasons behind the failure. One reason bandied around, was the lack of quality time that the Indian auto major gave to the Korean company it acquired. Its hands-off approach allowed small problems to grow into big ones, synergies failed to emerge and eventually bankruptcy came calling. What drives us also dictates how we spend our time and how we make others spend their time.




In the must-read book “Rework,” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansonn (Rework, Crown Publishing Group, 2010), in a chapter titled — “Send People Home at Five,” they write: “The dream employee for a lot of companies is a twenty-something with as little of a life as possible outside of work — someone who’ll be fine working fourteen-hour days and sleeping under his desk. But they conclude “it isn’t as great as it seems. It lets you get away with lousy execution…When people have something to do at home, they get down to business…they need to pick up the kids or get to choir practice. So, they use their time wisely.”

The ‘I-didn’t- find-the- time’ excuse really gets thrown out of the window if we truly choose to align our resolutions with the right purpose, the right drivers. Because the way we spend our time is a reflection of our priorities. If diversity is a priority for a leader, she will ensure she spends time searching down the best qualified candidates of diversity, she will make time to have lunch with them, discuss their aspirations, inspire them with a purpose. If learning is a priority for the HR Director, then that’s not the first meeting to be knocked off his schedule, when a crisis comes round the corner. Teams will take their lead from the way they see their leaders spend their time.

So, as we get down to making those resolutions for the year ahead let’s first ask what drives us? That will help us pick our resolutions right and increase our chances of keeping them. For when we lead lives that spring from the right purpose, we will find we lead better, and we live better.