Follow through — or get out of the way

The staff was hopeful when Brendan was brought in as Executive Director.  He was charming, articulate and energetic – he made customers, staff, and senior managers alike feel comfortable and valued.  Maybe, just maybe, this guy would be the exception to the string of losers who preceded him.  Morale soared.

Brendan lived his open-door policy.  Encouraged by his accessibility, people started telling him what they needed to make the facility run better.  He sat with them, listened, and often committed to making the requested changes…

… and then pretty much never, ever, ever followed through.  Brendan would promise the sky.  People believed him.  For awhile.  Until they stopped.  Because he pretty much never, ever followed through.

It was a great place to work during Brendan’s reign, if all you cared about was being buddy-buddy with your boss.  If you cared about how things ran, well, it was a different story.

Brendan – surprise, surprise – didn’t last long, though his ability to talk a good game bought him many more months than he deserved.

How much of Brendan lives in you?  Don’t fool yourself:  every time you make a commitment/agreement/promise and neglect to follow through – you spring a huge leak in the three things leaders need most:

  • influence
  • integrity
  • trustworthiness

If you can’t keep your agreement, change your agreement

I’ve coached managers who say, “The only thing that’s a problem for me is tying together loose ends — like following through when I tell people I’m going to look into something.  I’m just so busy!”

Or maybe you have a different excuse.  Here, go ahead, pick one: 

  • I’m not good at time management
  • Prioritization has always been a challenge for me
  • I have ADD
  • I’m creative, but not very organized
  • I need to be better at managing projects
  • It’s hard for me to say no
  • I keep having to put out fires
  • I can’t do it all

No.  Whatever the excuse:  NO!  You can’t be too busy to keep your agreements.  If you can’t keep your agreement, change your agreement.  Do not let it fall off the truck unnoticed. This is about your potential as a leader, and about the success of your team.  And it’s about so much more.  It’s about your sacred responsibility – as a leader, for creating the conditions under which others must live 8 hours a day, and as a human being, for treating others with respect and dignity.

If you assess yourself to be great at follow through, I congratulate you.  If not, fix it.  Whatever it takes. 

YOUR PATH FORWARD:  Spend one week writing down every action-item commitment you make to others – and, for that matter, to yourself.  Keep them all in one safe place (a notebook or Word doc or Outlook). If they’re integrated into a to-do list, star all the items that represent commitments you’ve made verbally or in writing to another person.

Schedule 10 minutes every Friday afternoon to revisit all the starred items in your lists.  For each starred item, give yourself 4 options:

  1. Check it off as done
  2. Schedule its completion
  3. Let the other person know it will be delayed (and give them a “by when”)
  4. Let the other know it isn’t going to get done after all — and why

And watch your effectiveness and influence soar.

For more on what it takes to be an agreement-keeper, check out our book, The Leadership Platform — especially “Plank 2: Be Worthy of Followers.”

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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