2020 was not what anyone expected. It’s a historic year that will be remembered through our lifetime. Moving into the new year of 2021 is a quirk of human calendars, and yet there’s something magical about passing the milestone and getting a fresh start.
We’re all familiar with New Year’s Resolutions and how they typically end in a dumpster fire by the end of January. Yet without dreaming and wishing for something different, we end up stuck in default modes, repeating old patterns, and continuing to tread the well-worn grooves of our lives.
This article outlines about a leadership framework revolving around your one word intention to define your 2021 north star. I’ll also share mine as an example. If you want additional support to create yours, my colleague Jim Herman and I are leading a 4-week group program that begins on January 12.
Last year, I wrote about Defining your 2020 North Star. My word for the year was Grow. It was fitting as I needed to grow more patience and learn to surrender to uncertainty. In a New Year's ritual, my girls and I went to the beach. We lit incense and burned gold paper in memory of my father. We talked about our hopes for the year. We wrote down our intentions, and burned them.
2020 has been a hard year for all of us. I’m lucky to have gotten a early start on working from home in fall of 2019. I’m lucky to have a coaching business that’s pandemic-friendly, supporting people through their crises and helping them show up as stronger leaders. I’m lucky that my two daughters, in 4th and 7th grades, are good independent learners, able to cope with Zoom school while distance socializing with friends. And, it was hard to cope with our first global pandemic, thrive in isolation, and grapple with my place and role in racism. Grow was the right word for the year.
Setting your North Star is not establishing rigid goals that you must accomplish by the end of the year. It’s not a typical New Year’s resolution to lose 10 pounds, find your life partner, run your first 5K or get that promotion at work. These are all outcomes. For successful, driven people, you’ll reach these outputs at some point in time. What’s important is to ask yourself if these are the internally-driven outputs you truly want. Or are they externally-driven outputs, deemed important by your parents, your successful friends, or society — the “shoulds”?
A North Star is a directional setting that guides you to the right behaviors and choices to achieve focus, fulfillment, and success through the year. It can involve outcomes and goals, yet the key is to hold these lightly. One of my colleagues, Erin Baker, asks people to dream about 2021 by considering a “wouldn’t it be awesome if _______________” list. Rather than a rigid goal, this awesome list comes from a place of dreaming and giving ourselves permissions to desire big things. The key to this list is to remain unattached to the goal. We’ll do all we can to reach it, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s OK. A North Star is directional and not prescriptive.
Looking forward into 2021, I offer up a two-part strategy to set your North Star.
Part 1: One Word Intention
When working at Facebook, one trait that was consistent among the strongest designers was something we called intentionality. Like all the best concepts, it is both a paradox and a mix of mind and heart.
The digital products we designed all existed to serve a purpose and solve problems for some group of people. A designer may work on a brand new concept for a product (e.g. Facebook Dating), a feature to add to an existing product (e.g. the ability to Save videos), or a small UI element such as navigation or call-to-action buttons. Having intentionality means that the designer could see the purpose and why behind the design solution, regardless of the size of the problem. The designer knows how the solution will directly impact the people using it. And after the solution is executed, there is self-awareness to evaluate if the design hit its intention. Part of the creative process is trying many different things, many of which will fail. Yet they’re all part of the process. In evaluating product designers, intentionality refers to having the foresight to know what feelings and outcome you want to achieve with the product, and the self-awareness to discern if you hit it or not.
A one word intention for 2021 helps to focus attention on what YOU need more of. What would you like to be the theme of your year and the why behind it. It’s not a specific as a goal. It’s a feeling, an emotion, and energy and foundation upon which you can build your goals.
One of my clients had a tough 2020. She joined a startup as a design leader and realized that the leadership and company values didn’t match hers, despite their strong mission and interesting product space. She spent the first half of the year second-guessing her decision to join the startup, and dealing with her demanding self-critic. This fall, she found a new job with leadership that matched her values. She was energized and rejuvenated,and still found herself grappling with imposter syndrome, wanting to come in strong and prove herself. Her word for 2021 is “enough,” to remind herself that she is enough. That her biggest barrier to success is her own self doubts and self-critic.
As you think about what your one word may be for 2021, consider these questions:
- What do you need more of in 2021?
- Who do you want to be?
- Is there something you want to focus on that you’d forget about if you didn’t call it out?
As part of the divergent, exploratory process of design thinking, you could write down a list of 50+ words that appeal to you. Go as broad as possible. Afterwords, circle the ones that continue to resonate the most. Think about these words for a couple days and perhaps one or two will bubble up.
If you’d like a little more direction, check out Susannah Conway’s free 5-day program to Find Your Word. I haven’t personally done this program, but have experienced Susannah’s killer workbook to Unravel Your Year 2021.
A more visual option is to dream & ideate your word via creating a vision board. Some tips and tools for creating a vision board include:
- Soul Collage video by J.J. Lassberg and introduced to me via Lyssa De Hart
- Vision Board — a Powerful Tool to Manifest Your Life Desires from Mindvalley, a coaching school that has a fantastic reputation.
- Quasi-science from Huffington Post about The Reason Vision Boards Work and How to Make One
You can see an example of my one-word intention and vision board below.
Part 2: Projects, People, Community
The leadership model for creating this North Star is divided into four parts. It starts with me in the middle, because leadership starts with me. This leadership is represented by your one-word intention for 2021.
The three points of the star show aspects of leadership both at work and at home, across projects, people, and community or organization.
Projects is the work that you produce on your own. It’s the craft of the things that you create, whether it’s sketches, designs, project plans, spreadsheets, slide decks, or emails. We all create things even if we don’t often think of ourselves as creators and makers. What projects are important to you in 2021, either at work and at home?
People refers to the relationships that you care about the most. This is a combination of relationships that you’ve chosen, and the ones that you have to work with in your current life. And it can often be the same tricky people! In your professional life, who are the people that are important to you? There’s some that may immediately come to mind — your boss, the team of people you manage, partners that you have to work with, or many other co-collaborators. Which of these people bring you joy and energy? And if some of these key relationships might be considered difficult people, what is your role in improving that relationship? When setting your 2021 north star, think about the 3 to 5 people who are important to you. How do you want the relationships with these people to be in 2021, and what can you do to help reach that outcome?
The last part of the leadership star is community. This is the broadest arc of the system that we live in. For many people working in corporate, the community may be the company you work for. It could be company-wide, or it could be for your organization or team within the company. Community could also be an organization you volunteer for. Community may also be a group of people that you want to serve, be it the neighbors on your block, your extended family, for a book club that you run. For 2021, is there a community that you want to focus on for your leadership? How do you want to shift the shape of that community this year?
I’ve outlined the four parts of the leadership north star. Leadership starts within with the one word intention to found you in the middle. Your leadership grows as you interact with the projects, people, and community around you.
As an example, I’m sharing what mine looks like for 2021.
My 2021 North Star
My “one word” intention for 2021 is white space. I’ve been able to build a sustainable business in 2020, yet oh-too-often, I’ve been too rigid, too serious, too driven, and too obsessed about hitting financial goals. As I move into year two of the business, I want more magic, more joy, more ease, and a greater sense of flow. White space captures that spirit and intention for me.
For my leadership, I have things that important to me across the axis of Projects, People and Community.
- Write & self-publish a business book, White Space to Lead, while working on a second book that is more of a personal memoir
- Continue to serve my 1–1 clients and creating new ones
- Make more art. Take more time to sketch and hand-draw meaningful quotes.
- Surf more
- Co-create programs with partners who make me laugh. A podcast called “Science and Magic” may be in the works.
- Give my tween girls the space to find their voices and make their own mistakes
- Continue to connect with dearest friends and family now that we’ve all made the time over Zoom
- Bring my girls to visit family in Bangkok this summer, even if it means quarantining for 2 weeks
- This January, I’ve created a Facebook group, White Space to Lead. It’s a playspace for me, and for everyone who wants more creativity and magic in their lives. Together, we will hold each other accountable and fight against busy-ness and overwhelm. Friend me and message me on Facebook if you’re curious or jump in to join this free group.
This north star model is a framework that I use with my clients, and that I reapply for myself each year. I hope that it proves useful for you. If you would like additional support in creating your 2021 leadership north star , my colleague Jim Herman and I are leading a 4-week group program that begins on January 12.
Hello! I’m your host, Tutti Taygerly. I’ve spent 20+ years in product design & technology, leading teams at startups, design agencies, and large tech companies. I left Facebook in summer 2019 to focus on leadership coaching full-time. I write weekly about topics related to design & coaching. If you’re curious about coaching and how it could unblock your life, come learn more.