By Greg Dardis

Executive coaching fills me with hope because every day I get to witness self-improvement. An old dog can, indeed, learn new tricks!

When clients receive training in public speaking, professional presence and business leadership, they gain confidence and a spring in their step. They walk away with a polish that sets them apart in a competitive market – whether they’re preparing to graduate from college or embark on a new professional route in retirement. And best of all, they feel invested in, capable of lifelong learning and constant growth.

The holiday season offers ample opportunities to seize both self-improvement and lasting impressions. The former leads to the latter. You can achieve both by taking these four steps this December.

First, set goals for the new year. Think about what held you back this year; where you missed the mark. Was it time management, inbox management, sleep deprivation or follow-up with clients? When you’re honest about sources of struggles, you can set the kind of specific, feasible goals that will orient 2017 toward success.

Take action on your goals right away. Write and post them somewhere you’ll see daily – a Post-It on the bathroom mirror, a note by your computer or a whiteboard on the fridge.

Then determine how to set things into motion. Enroll in a workshop; enlist a friend to hold you accountable; set a reminder on your phone. Decide how you’ll reward yourself when you achieve a goal.

The second step for seizing the holiday season, professionally speaking, is to make a toast. This month is replete with toast-worthy moments – be it a company party, dinner with clients or a department-wide lunch. A toast unifies a group in a powerful way, lending a theme or purpose to a social gathering.

Be brief and be memorable in your toast. Alert the group to what you’re doing: “I’d like to take a moment to make a toast.” Wait until the room has quieted and people can hear you. Then focus on a simple message you’ve planned in advance, such as a few words of thanks or an entertaining story.

Third, dress the part. It’s easy to settle for the good-enough outfit, but sharp attire is the quickest way to ensure you make the right first impression.

You’re not just dressing for your current job but for the job you aspire to. Take an honest audit of your wardrobe and select a few dated or ill-fitting pieces to discard. A few new additions can go a long way.

A little style consulting can also have a big impact. Do your clothes fit well? Are you choosing the right colors? Does the tip of your tie hit the middle of your belt buckle? Do your socks coordinate with your pants – not your shoes? Are you following the proper guidelines for buttoning a single-breasted jacket?

The care we take with ourselves reflects the care we take with our customers, colleagues and the decisions we make.

The fourth and final step is to send a thank-you note. In an era of texting and tweeting, sending a handwritten, stamped note is a surefire way to make the recipient feel special.

As you look back on the year, to whom do you owe appreciation? Is it a particularly dedicated employee, a supervisor who always advocates for you or a client whose creativity sparked your own?

Your note need not be lengthy. A few sentences will suffice. You might be surprised how good it feels to stamp that card and drop it in the mail.

This is a season to take stock: set goals, make a toast, dress the part and put pen to paper. These four simple steps will ensure you end the year in a meaningful way.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Communications, based in Coralville. For more information, visit