Has the start of 2024 felt like a whirlwind? Did you come back from leave feeling refreshed and focussed, or feeling a little sluggish and hoping that the first quarter would be over soon? It might sound strange, but in all honesty, I came back feeling a bit of both – busy with a myriad of tasks and yet unfocussed and looking for some inspiration?? Amidst all of the mix of emotions and activity,I have found something simple that has impacted the way I have been doing things in the last couple of weeks that has been helpful – a way for leaders to approach their role and focus back on useful activity and success: focusing on one word for your leadership for 2024.

Imagine distilling all your intentions, goals, and efforts for the next twelve months into a single, powerful word. This word becomes the guiding light that directs every decision, every action, every interaction. It’s not just a word; it’s a mantra, a philosophy, a commitment to yourself and your team.

This might sound a little bit more life a life coach and less like a leadership coach (!), but I can attest to the benefits. A fellow coach and small business owner Jenn Donovan, Professional Guest Speaker and Author put me onto this concept at the the start of year when she and asked her followers – ‘What will be your word of the year?’

But why focus on just one word? Isn’t leadership about juggling multiple responsibilities and priorities? While it’s true that leaders often have a myriad of tasks on their plate, the power of one word lies in its ability to provide clarity, focus, and alignment.

I (quietly) took Jenn’s question to heart and tried to work out what my word of the year would be, and while it took me longer than I expected (I had no idea), and ended up with one word – ‘optimise’. Why optimise? In my world and in my debriefs of our leadership profile (The Velocity Leadership CheckPoint), I discuss the difference between optimising (working up to a standard of 85% of a task) and maximising effort (striving to 100%). With many leadership behaviours, 85% is that ‘perfect’ sweet spot, whereas working to 100% can be ‘too much of a good thing’. Responsibility, commitment, accountability, empathy etc all benefit from optimising to 85% rather than maximising or striving to 100%. So in my world, to ‘optimise’ is to work to the maximum useful effort in any area, and not overwork or obsess on one thing to the detriment of others. It is about striving and balancing at the same time. Cool, huh? (Well I thought so!)

Think of it this way: if strategy is the cornerstone of effective leadership, then a single word can serve as the foundation of your approach to leadership for 2024. Whether it’s “growth,” “innovation,” “collaboration,” or “empathy,” your chosen word sets the tone for your leadership style and informs your decision-making process.

For example, imagine a leader who chooses “empowerment” as their word for the year. Every initiative, every project, and every interaction with their team is guided by the principle of empowering others to reach their full potential. This leader delegates tasks, provides opportunities for skill development, and fosters a culture of autonomy and accountability.

Focussing on a single word has changed my thoughts, behaviours and focus at work, for some very pleasing results:

  • I have let go (in most instances) of seeking perfect perfection before sending out a proposal to clients. No, it is not riddled with spelling mistakes, but previously I could hold onto a proposal for longer than needed with a little fear of ‘not getting it right’,
  • Using my subscriptions and work tools to their optimum; learning new ways of using programs and work resources that makes work easier rather than harder, and discarding old programs that are no longer needed,
  • Upgrading the software on my computer so that it was optimised and performing at its best
  • Changing my focus of overall targets and goal-setting. My goals and targets for the business year have been optimised, which is something that I have avoided until the last minute previously. ‘Optimising’ my goals actually gave me greatly clarity in setting the goals and standards, and now I have very specific targets for new clients, workshops, programs, LinkedIn connections etc that are actually driving my behaviour

I loved this idea so much I included it as part of leadership coaching sessions with clients in the last couple of weeks. Words and phrases such as ‘launch’, ‘challenge’, ‘make it work’ and ‘discover’ have set clear intentions and embody a drive and focus that wasn’t there before the task. Those words might mean little to you, but to the person focussing on it, it is driving some really focussed behaviour to some great results.

But it’s not just about setting a lofty goal; it’s about embodying that word in every aspect of your behaviour. Leadership is as much about who you are as it is about what you do. If your word is “integrity,” for instance, you must demonstrate honesty, transparency, and ethical behaviour in all your dealings.

Interacting with your team also becomes more meaningful and impactful when guided by a single word. Your word serves as a common language, a shared vision that unites individuals toward a common purpose. When everyone is aligned behind the same word, collaboration becomes more natural, communication becomes more effective, and progress becomes more tangible.

Driving success becomes more achievable when you have a clear focus. Instead of spreading yourself thin across multiple objectives, you channel your energy and resources toward a singular goal. This doesn’t mean ignoring other priorities; rather, it means prioritising based on what aligns with your chosen word.

Think of your leadership word as a filter through which you evaluate opportunities and challenges. If something doesn’t contribute to your overarching goal, you have the clarity and confidence to say no or delegate it to someone else. This disciplined approach allows you to make progress with purpose and intentionality.

Of course, choosing the right word for your leadership requires introspection, self-awareness, and a deep understanding of your values and priorities. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but rather a commitment to personal and professional growth. Take the time to reflect on what matters most to you as a leader and what you want to achieve in the coming year. For me, that is to ‘optimise’. What will ot be for you?

Once you’ve chosen your word, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with your team, your colleagues, and anyone else who plays a role in your leadership journey. Invite them to embrace the word as their own and to hold you accountable to it.

The power of one word in leadership cannot be overstated. By distilling your intentions, goals, and efforts into a single, powerful word, you gain clarity, focus, and alignment. Your chosen word becomes the foundation for your strategic approach, informs your behaviour, guides your interactions with others, and drives success. So, what will your word be? Choose wisely, and let it lead you to new ways of thinking and new results in 2024!