You Want It When??!!  …aka Artificial Deadlines are Useless

Another Monday morning and I’m looking at the list of things that had to be done last week but aren’t.

I guess they didn’t have to be done.

Some of us have boundary-setting challenges that make our lives more difficult when we start babysitting monkeys from other people’s circuses. And then some of us have deadline-setting challenges that make those around us stop taking our sense of urgency seriously.

If you’ve ever made it to the end of a day without getting your ‘to do’ list done, it may not be an expectation problem as many would insist; you might just be eligible to claim membership in the Artificial Deadline club.

Welcome to the club. My name’s Kevin and I set artificial deadlines.

The number one reason people (including ourselves) don’t meet the deadlines we set is there are no consequences for non-compliance. We tend to think we’re being blown off when, in reality, no one but us suffers when we get information just after the nick of time.

My girls grew up believing that if you wait til the last minute, it only takes a minute. We may claim we do our best work under pressure, but we can’t ignore the anxiety of having a deadline looming over our heads. As they got older, we added the Ross caveat: some tasks take more than a minute so you’re going to be late. That’s when the excuse making starts.

Here are some common artificial deadline practices I’ve seen – and used unsuccessfully – over the years and suggestions to stop using them:

  • I have to do it today. If it really has to be done today, it better be the first thing we do or else be a scheduled event on our calendar. Otherwise, it’s aspirational and will get overcome by events of the day. We’ll see it again on our list for tomorrow’s have-to list.
  • I need this before my 2:00 meeting. And here it comes sliding into home just before we leave for the meeting. Sure hope it wasn’t something we needed for the meeting; otherwise it’s just reading material for when we stopped paying attention to whoever is droning on during the boring meeting. If we need it for a meeting, we have to suspense it with enough time to review and ask questions before we take it with us.
  • I need this by the end of the day. Who’s end of the day… ours or theirs? Why then? Do we plan on working on it at the dinner table? After dinner? If we’re not going to look at it until tomorrow, why do we care when it’s finished as long as it’s there when we need it and of expected quality. I’ve found that “I want to review this first thing tomorrow morning because…” sets a clearer expectation for the preparer, and I’m happier with the product.
  • I need this by the end of the week. See above. Are we going to spend our weekend looking at something while the preparer celebrates not having to think about it anymore? I doubt it. Don’t forget to explain why it’s important to have it Monday morning.
  • And finally…
  • Let’s try to have this done by blah, blah, blah. Good luck with that. In my experience, no deadline means no results. That’s like my wife asking, “do you think we could trim the hedges sometime soon?”

Not only do we bring this frustration on ourselves, but setting Artificial Deadlines erodes our credibility with others. If it hasn’t already, the practice is likely to leak over into our “I’ll have it to you by…” promises, and the next thing we know we’re leaders without integrity.

Speaking of which, I better wrap this up. It’s Monday morning and this piece is due last Friday.

How about you? Are you challenged with setting Artificial Deadlines? It’s a club membership you could do without in 2022.

But it’s up to you, leaders.

Related Articles

Get a Real Job! …and make sure they know what you do

A couple of decades ago, my daughter accompanied me to my cubicle in the Pentagon as part of Take Your Child to Work Day. Pretty boring for an 11-year-old who observed that my entire morning consisted of “playing” on the computer, talking to my friends around the...

You Want It When??!!  …aka Artificial Deadlines are Useless

Another Monday morning and I’m looking at the list of things that had to be done last week but aren’t.

I guess they didn’t have to be done.

Some of us have boundary-setting challenges that make our lives more difficult when we start babysitting monkeys from other people’s circuses. And then some of us have deadline-setting challenges that make those around us stop taking our sense of urgency seriously.

Dinosaur Tails and Backpacks — Check Your Six

Warning:  I intend to mix a bunch of metaphors in this article. If you’re an English teacher or just a self-appointed internet grammar snob, you may want to pass on by. Nothing to see here. These are not the metaphors you’re looking for… (waving my hand and using my...

Best Boss Ever: Back to the Leadership Basics in 2022

Wow! Where the hell did 2021 go, and why did it leave us with so many work environment leadership challenges that none of us saw coming at the beginning of 2020? We’re struggling how to manage a blended (at home / at the office) workforce and either losing workers as part of the Great Resignation (yeah, that was predictable) or trying to attract the talent we let go during the pandemic back to our company.

That’s what’s facing most of us in 2022. What worked in 2019 didn’t work in 2020. What worked in 2020 didn’t work in 2021. And this being the first newsletter of the year, let’s talk about what will work in 2022?

The basics. That’s right, let’s get back to the leadership basics in 2022. If you haven’t read the phrase ‘leadership hasn’t changed much in a couple thousand years’ in one of our newsletters or heard it in our coaching, you must be new to Triangle Performance.

Why do I believe in the basics? When’s the last time you heard a service industry employee say unsolicited, “I have the best boss ever!

It had been so long for me that I was stunned when I heard it.

I was simply picking up my dry cleaning near closing time one evening when I expressed my appreciation that this small, local dry cleaners was able to stay open through the long period when none of us were getting our business clothes dirty. She nonchalantly replied, “That’s because I have the best boss I’ve ever had.”

To be honest, I was so surprised I didn’t even ask her why… until the next day. I went back and asked what made her boss the best.

  • “He talks to us, not at us.”
  • “He has a large workforce but makes an effort to know each one of us individually.”
  • “He made sure each of us was okay with reduced hours during the pandemic but never had to let anyone go.”
  • “If we make a mistake, he helps us learn how to learn from it and not repeat it.”
  • “If there’s conflict in the workplace, he addresses it immediately and helps us resolve it so we can all work together cooperatively.”
  • “He takes time to talk to me as a person and really listen; I feel like he genuinely cares how I’m doing.”

HOLY LEADERSHIP SKILLS, BATMAN!

You can accuse me of making this stuff up for the sake of our business or because I ran out of things to write about, but that would be your loss. This is the unadulterated result of real-life leadership, and it’s so basic that we should be embarrassed if our team doesn’t already feel like this person does.

Think of those bullets as a to do list for 2022.

So I’m going to call this boss Karl, because I want you to think of him as a real person and not just the boss. That, and the only guy I actually know named Karl couldn’t possibly be confused with the boss.

I wanted to find out where Karl got his secret leadership sauce, so I called him. Surprised and with humility, he quickly told me he didn’t do anything special… which was true. None of the statements above reveal anything special, except maybe not letting anyone go because of COVID.

Karl succinctly summed up his leadership philosophy’s source: “I had a great boss when I was younger.”

From watching his boss, Karl came to believe it’s not all about making money but also about helping others. Karl asked, “Who else is going to help those who work hard catch a break if not us bosses?” Good question.

Because Karl knows all his employees individually, he can tell when someone’s a little off and looks for little things he can do to make a difference. I dare say that while some of us may notice when our folks are having a bad day, very few of us would take the next step like Karl.

How about that last bullet up there? Really Listens and Genuinely Cares!!! Not nearly enough of that in the workplace – or in the home or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Karl tries to live out his motto “If you care, I care” with his people, and it shows.

One of a leader’s top responsibilities is developing new leaders. I’m glad Karl’s boss took that responsibility to heart… and so are his employees.

So what can we do that we know will work in 2022? Leadership basics. Let’s dust off our basic leadership skills and start the new year off on the right foot, shall we?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Oh, and Happy New Year!

Bad News Bearers

…do we kill the messenger?

We’ve all heard – and probably used – the idiom no news is good news, meaning that if we haven’t been told something bad has happened, then nothing bad has happened… and that’s good news. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never worked in an organization where that was true.

No, leaders who actually believe that if they haven’t heard any bad news then nothing bad has happened are a) wrong, b) just kidding themselves, and c) setting themselves up for spectacular failure. It’s much more likely that they’re not hearing bad news because people are afraid to tell them bad news.

If we trust our teams to do their jobs, and we do our best to help them be successful, then why do they withhold bad news from us? Do they think we won’t find out? Do they think they can fix it before we do find out? Do they hope some other messenger will be the bearer of bad news… and possibly get shot in the process?

Could it be that our usual reaction when things go wrong is something akin to road rage in the office?

A recent unpleasant experience with a local car dealership highlighted that using no news is good news as a business practice is a good way to destroy your service quality reputation. My frustration at my car being held hostage by the service department was fueled not by the department itself but by the rep that promised regular updates and repeatedly failed to provide them. When pressed to explain his lack of communication, he sheepishly replied, “I hate to give bad news to customers.”

My guess is that he’s not much better at giving his boss bad news.

OK, so we’re not road-ragers at work. Still, do we even know if our team is hesitant to bring us in the loop when something goes wrong? A good clue is if there is one person – a trusted agent of sorts – who keeps us informed about how things are running. We tend to appreciate the trusted agent’s insights and rarely get upset with them when they share bad news. Everyone else knows that and feeds us information about trouble in paradise through our informant… even though they probably feel like we’re playing favorites.

We all know that the best time to fix a small problem is before it becomes a big problem. But have we ever asked, “Why did you wait so long to tell me?” It’s probably not because they just discovered it. More likely, they were working up the nerve to tell us because of our usual reaction to bad news.

If we discover it before they tell us, do we behave as if we caught them in the act? Or tacitly accuse them of deliberately withholding the bad news and then mask our micromanagement behind trust but verify?

And how do we feel when we come out of a meeting where our boss confronts us about a situation big and bad enough that we should have known about? Worse yet when it happens in front of everyone and makes us feel stupid. Do we storm down the hall like a headhunter (and no, not the executive recruiter type)?

I’ve certainly been guilty of one or two – or more – of those negative reactions to bad news over the years. It took the intervention of a mentor to change my behavior, and countless unwitting employees can be thankful for him and glad they didn’t work for the old me.

If any of those situations ring true, here are a few hacks that helped me become a better leader… and easier to work for:

  • First and foremost, be a grown-up about hearing bad news. Short of a life-threatening situation, mature grown-ups (and good leaders) don’t lose control of their emotions and raise their voice. Grown-ups don’t intentionally make others feel stupid or incompetent. That’s actually a life hack, not just a leadership skill.
  • Don’t react to bad news; respond instead. Give it the old ten-count before you open your mouth and listen to what the bad news bearer has to say with an intent to better understand the situation. I had a boss that liked to say, “Now’s not a good time to overreact.”
  • When the situation is remedied, make it a lessons learned Include a discussion about ways to avoid a similar situation in the future. Leaders do that with every mistake that’s made – theirs or someone else’s.
  • Forgive and reassure. Remember that the offender already feels bad about the situation and give them an opportunity to both show and tell you how they have addressed it. Make sure they don’t feel like you’re always checking up on them. Trusting leaders don’t keep score.
  • Never go into a meeting unprepared. Make it a habit a habit to ask the team, “Is there anything I might get surprised by?

Remember, the main goal is to restore lost trust and let everyone put their behinds in the past.

Is that already the way you handle finding out about bad news? If not, why not?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Don’t Be a Leadership Dummy

stop making this so hard

I wanted to call this Leadership for Dummies, but that title was already taken. Looking through some of the other leadership improvement offerings, it boggles the mind how we’ve managed to take a subject whose basics haven’t changed in a few millennia and written a gazillion books that make it a more difficult concept to get a handle on. But we just keep writing.

Sure, new hurdles arise, technology changes, business environments change, the economy changes, we invent new ways of doing things, etc., but human nature hasn’t changed since the time of Adam and Eve and neither has what it takes to lead other humans.

As leaders, we often find ourselves in new situations – positions, companies, teams – that require us to adapt how we lead, but nothing changes what we need to do to be an effective leader. Let’s stick to the basics: We have to know where we’re leading; we have to be able to communicate that to others; and we have to be able to motivate others to help us achieve the undertaking. Plain and simple. From the team leader on the shop floor to the C-suites, the basics don’t change.

Do we need help developing a clear vision so we know where we’re leading? Often, yes. Do we need to continually improve our communication skills to ensure our expectations are clearly understood? Absolutely! Is it important to build a culture of trust and authenticity that allows us to give and get honest feedback and helps us know what makes our team feel rewarded? Damned straight it is!

So why the review of Leadership 101? Because there is so much “new” material out there about how we’ll need to lead in the coming post-pandemic era that uses big, strategic sounding words to obfuscate the leadership basics. Here’s an example I ran across from a well-known and respected business publication (paraphrased to remove the fancy language):

  • We’ll have to adjust our strategic vision to account for recent changes in our business environment while remaining faithful to our company’s core values.
  • We’ll need to communicate this new vision throughout the organization – including executable objectives as required – especially leveraging the media platforms that have matured over the last year (i.e., virtual town halls and team meetings).
  • We’ll need to reassess how to keep our followers motivated to perform and succeed in a way that helps us to achieve the vision (or at least keep from demotivating them).

Duh.

In other words, successful leaders will need to do in the future what they’ve been able to do in the past. Might have well told us that to wash our hair in the future we’ll need to apply shampoo, lather, and rinse (repeat as necessary).

I’ve been helping a former colleague (now a senior executive in the Pentagon) adjust to a new leadership position this past year, and to say that there have been some challenges leading and building relationships with the team she’s inherited would be an understatement. Some were motivated professionals weary of slogging through the bureaucratic morass while others were entrenched, low-performing functionaries who fertilized the morass while waiting for retirement. You get the picture.

It’s been both fun and rewarding to watch her overcome the hurdles and hit her stride. I asked recently how things would be different with the changing ratio of face-to-face to virtual work and her boss’ upcoming short leave of absence… other than having to attend more unproductive meetings.

Without giving it much thought, she replied that she understood the direction the Department wanted her to advance her portfolio in and was clear on her boss’ priorities. She’d laid out her expectations to the team, including regular progress checks, and now she was going to get out of their way and let them do their work. They trusted her to have their backs and knew her motivation was to help them be successful.

Sounds a lot like Leadership 101, doesn’t it?

Leadership isn’t difficult, but we continue to make it more difficult to understand than we have to. On the other hand, leading people is hard, and we can only get better at it through practice. Why do we think we’re any different than athletes or welders or doctors and lawyers? The key to being successful is to start with the basics and continue practicing throughout our careers – or for the rest of our lives.

Leadership dummies? Not if we stop making it so difficult.

How about you, leaders?

Accepted Doesn’t Mean Acceptable

… even if we’ve always done it that way

We Texans were a little bit whiney last month during SNOWVID-21, but most of us are better now that we’re back to the old normal of the global pandemic. There are still some recovery efforts and healing going on that are teaching lessons “we” thought we’d already known. That’s the royal “we” because it’s less damning than saying I.

Like untold numbers of Texans, my wife slipped on the ice last month and broke a bone. It’s the shoulder attached to her dominant hand rendering her mostly unable to fend for herself for the last few weeks. I thought the occasional use of humor would take the edge off of her frustration; apparently, I used the phrase peeling her grapes and feeding her bon bons one too many times.

How often do we use humor around the workplace that not everyone thinks is funny? Hey, just because they don’t have a sense of humor doesn’t mean I’m not funny, right? In last month’s At C-Level, Kevin Berchelman wrote about being more aware as senior leaders of how their “suggestions” impact others. Same goes for humor… and any other little comments the boss makes. We can never forget as leaders everything we say or do is being paid attention to.

I can hear a lot of eye rolling out there accompanied by disappointment that I’m getting all politically correct. I’m not. My point is a leader’s style may have been accepted for years, and people say, “Well, that’s just Kevin being Kevin.” But just because what’s said and done has been accepted by others, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

When it comes to humor, no one likes to be made fun of, and whether or not others think it’s mean spirited they’ll certainly be on guard for when it’s their time to be the butt of the joke. I’m not advocating a humor-free workplace; I’m saying that humor – and anything we think – will probably better received if we don’t express it the very second we think it.

Enough about humor. Another example: someone leaves a meeting to retrieve something he forgot at his desk. As he leaves, the boss makes a comment that is interpreted as less than complementary. The boss doesn’t think anything about it because it’s always been accepted, but the result is a trust killer: everyone else around the table now knows that the boss talks about them behind their backs. Not acceptable.

A board president makes an innocent comment to a new board member in response to his suggestion: “That’s not really the way we do it here.” The comment is accepted by the other board members, but the president just proved that she’s not interested in diverse thought and confirmed what the new member already anxiously thought… he’s an outsider. Accepted but not acceptable.

We roll our eyes in response to a suggestion. We just devalued that person’s experience and professionalism in front of others (at least that’s the perception). Public humiliation is always a morale booster.

We nonchalantly comment about someone’s clothing. Okay, Judgey McJudgeface, we just made others self-conscious as they assume we’re judging the way they dress. We just showed our genuine selves to them. Again, accepted behavior for years but not acceptable for a leader trying to build team cohesiveness and trust.

These are not big things to us, and we’re usually not even aware we’re doing something unacceptable. And because we’ve long accepted that behavior from others – including from those who lead us – we accept if from ourselves. It’s become a bad habit that we don’t know we should break.

And like most bad habits, breaking them isn’t difficult (just stop it!), but it’s not easy either. It requires us to consider others before we let that thought whirling around in our head like a centrifuge come flying out of our mouth.

As leaders, our small but unacceptable words and deeds are usually – and unfortunately – accepted by others. But they certainly shouldn’t be by us.

We have to be intentional about demonstrating acceptable behavior. After all, leading by example isn’t an option.

How about you? Acceptable or just accepted?

It’s up to you, leaders.

Pin It on Pinterest