Leadership Move #5: Require ‘Unsolicited Updates’

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Is that assignment being actively worked or has it been totally forgotten?

When bosses are asked what bugs them most about delegating work to their direct reports, the answer often has something to do with them never really being sure about an assignment’s status. And they’ve learned, all too well, that regularly asking for updates causes their staff feel like they’re being micromanaged, which is NOT a good thing.

If only there was a solution to this all-too-common occurrence – and its many variations – you lament.

Changing Update Parameters

Fortunately, there’s a pretty simple solution to this ‘black hole’ of status reporting: Require, as part of the assignment, that you be provided with ‘Unsolicited Updates.’

If they’ve worked with you for any amount of time, it’s likely that your staff already knows the type of questions you ask given the circumstances. So, the idea is that if they come and give you the answers to those questions … BEFORE you even have to ask … everybody wins!

It’s a surprisingly easy thing to implement, as well. Simply make it a part of any assignment you give them or anything important they come to know about:

“I don’t care if it’s good news or bad news. What I want to know about is NEW news! And, yes, the absence of progress is new news, too.”

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

Now it’s important – VERY important – for you NOT to shoot the messenger when the news is bad.

Let me repeat that: It’s VERY important for you NOT to shoot the messenger when the news is bad.

Why? Because you DON’T want them to conclude that it’s ‘safer’ to withhold information from you and hope you don’t find out about it. That’s the exact OPPOSITE of what you want!

So provide them with some specific language to use – and permission to use it – should they ever feel you are responding inappropriately to an update of theirs. Something like: “Do you mean to be shooting the messenger, right now?” has worked well for me. It’s just enough to make the point while giving me the the opportunity to reset my tone and tenor, accordingly.

Making It Easier to Comply

Additionally, you’ll want to publicly recognize and reinforce their giving – and you receiving – these Unsolicited Updates early and often:

“Thanks to Art, everyone, for bringing me the news about the system problem as quickly as he did. By doing so, we were able to vendor attention sooner, rather than later, and notify all the potentially affected parties BEFORE they even noticed that there was a problem. This really helped build our credibility, which is one of our central themes. So thank you, Art, for bringing me this news so quickly. Good job!”

With public praise like that, you can count on others wanting to provide you with their Unsolicited Updates – even if it’s just so they don’t feel so left out.

Some other ways to help you get Unsolicited Updates flowing, include:

  • Having regularly scheduled Open Forums, Roundtables, or Skip Level meetings to create opportunities for important issues to percolate up.
  • Encouraging employees elect spokespersons or come visit you in small groups. (Some folks have great information and ideas to share, but just don’t like to be the ones to do the talking.)
  • Implementing an Open Door policy. (Ironic how so many of Open Door-type meetings occur behind closed doors, isn’t it?!)
  • Modeling the way by showing how YOU share new information with staff and others (in meetings that both you and your staff attend).

Accountability and Consistency

Lastly, it’s important that your direct reports know that you’re serious about these Unsolicited Updates. So, in the even that they fail to comply, it’s important that you talk with them about it in no uncertain terms.

  1. Start with why it’s IMPORTANT FOR YOU. (Examples: So you don’t get caught unawares by your boss or other key stakeholders; so you can deal with issues on a more real-time basis; so you don’t miss opportunities to raise an issue with a relevant someone you see in the elevator or at a meeting on a completely different topic; so you can stem the tide before things get increasingly worse; etc.)
  2. Continue with why it’s HELPFUL FOR THEM. (Examples: Remind them of how lousy your decisions can be if you don’t have the relevant facts in hand; remind them how increasingly difficult and frustrating their work becomes when you make lousy decisions; etc.)
  3. Insure that they know that it’s a NON-OPTIONAL part of their job and something they WILL be held increasingly accountable for.
  4. Assist them becoming increasingly skilled at providing you, and others, with Unsolicited Updates.

You’ll be very glad you did.

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Leadership Move #4: Get Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them

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Some ideas improve when we restate them in an upside down manner.

To that end, several years ago I wrote a piece titled, “Capable of Doing versus Paid to Do.” The idea behind it is that while there are probably a lot of things you’re able  to do at work, there are some things that ONLY you can do. The point was that your time and talent are best used when working, as much as possible, on the things that no one else, but you, can do.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this means that, while one way to get things done is by doing them yourself, but a far better way – especially for leaders – is by not working on them, that is, empowering others to get it done. Indeed, the mark of a good leader is when his/her team’s performance holds steady, or even improves, when the boss is out sick, on vacation, or promoted out of the area.

The Power of Effective Delegation

To do that, though, you need to have top-notch delegating skills, even though learning the ins and outs of effective delegation can be quite challenging.

Yes, the learning curve is admittedly steep. You have to know, as example, how to:

  • Accurately determine if something can, or should be, delegated (Make a point of letting your boss know why you’re delegating to whom so you get credit for taking an interest in developing your team members.)
  • Appropriately determine to whom you can delegate. (Look for abilities and desires of the team member you are delegating to, and puleeeze, do NOT force a project on a high performer if they do not really want it!)
  • Effectively articulate precisely what it is that you’re delegating and what outcomes you require.
  • Sufficiently monitor progress – and request ‘unsolicited updates from the delegatee – so that you know if things are going wrong before it’s too late.
  • Ably mop-up should they go wrong, anyway.
  • Meaningfully debrief with the delegatee afterwards, good or bad. (Make sure you give the recognition for what went right and not place blame if something went wrong. After all, it’s still YOUR responsibility for whatever happened. Also, ask for input regarding how the experience felt for the person: How did they enjoy the experience? What did they learn about getting things done? What did they learn about themselves? What would they likely to differently the next time? (And other open-ended questions like that.)

These are no small shakes. But delegation not only helps better position your work group to dramatically increase their capability, throughput, productivity, and morale, it frees you up to:

(a) Work on the things that ONLY you can do; and
(b) be less of an organizational bottleneck, as so many well-intentioned bosses are.

You (Plural) versus You (Singular)

Effective Delegation really IS a Silver Bullet. Done poorly, not so much. But done well, ABSOLUTELY it is!

Because the true power of effective delegation is that it allows more to get done by you (plural) than you (singular) ever could … which makes ‘Getting Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them’ a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.

What tips and techniques do YOU recommend for improving one’s delegation skills?

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Leadership Move #3: Articulate the Enablers of Success

Image Source: PixabayBeyond the obvious, does your staff know what will enable their success? Do they each how to ‘get to the next level’ vs. just obtaining results in their current position?

No matter what level you’re at, or what organization you work for, the more clearly you can communicate your thoughts on the topic, the greater the likelihood that your staff will incorporate them into their routine behaviors. That benefits both you and them at review time, you know!

What, then, are Success Enablers?

Simply put, they are what help really good performers become really excellent ones.

Employee success enables vary from boss to boss, but some examples might include things like their communicating clearly, crisply, and consistently; providing timely updates; asking helpful questions; honoring their commitments; knowing where they stand in terms of primary and secondary performance indicators so they’re not surprised come review time. Also important is them knowing how to handle mistakes or misunderstandings should things go wrong; and one of my all-time faves: ‘no bad news on Fridays’ – shame on them if they didn’t realize until Friday that there even was a problem, and even more shame on them if they did know, but chose to wait until then to let the boss know.

Some Additional Examples

A Supervisor can enable greater success of a Clerical Support Team by articulating the value of:

  • Applying what they know to make existing processes and procedures that much more efficient
  • Having them demonstrate their competencies so thoroughly that others can’t help but respect each and every member of the team
  • Never, ever, underestimating anyone’s capacity to learn and master new things

A Manager can enable greater success of Sales and Marketing personnel by articulating the value of:

  • Knowing more about their prospects more than anyone else
  • Insuring that the details of their proposals make good business sense to both their prospect’s company – and your own
  • Regularly and freely sharing Best Practices and Lessons Learned with coworkers and associates

A Director can enable greater success of a department’s Project Managers by articulating the value of:

  • Having an abiding respect the due date
  • Insuring that all key parties are updated on good news and bad with equal speed and clarity
  • Consistently providing important information to those who can benefit from it, before they ask

A VP can enable greater success of Technology Services Personnel by articulating the value of:

  • Insisting that any request they receive to bypass company policy includes a cogent business justification that they can agree with and support
  • Anticipating potential system vulnerabilities – or performance vulnerabilities if you are working with 3rd party vendors – and working proactively to harden them before an outage occurs
  • Resolving whatever does go wrong, quickly and efficiently

The Ultimate Litmus

What should be YOUR team’s success enablers? Simply ask yourself (repeatedly) what would help your employees’ performance grow increasingly stronger and more consistent. THAT’S what you want to be sharing and discussing with them on a regular basis.

In the simplest of terms, your job is to help them know what they’re supposed to be aiming at.

Why? Because once they know exactly how they can be even more successful, the odds of them actually being so increases rather significantly.


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Leadership Move #2: Get in ‘Front’ of Meetings

Image Source: PixabayThey say the worst place to accomplish something is at a meeting because, by then, all the real decisions have already been made behind closed doors. This is especially true if you are somewhat reserved when it comes to pushing your way into a discussion (like many are) during meetings.

So what does it take to be part of those pre-meeting discussions? It takes you ‘getting in front of’ your meetings. That is, it takes you having certain conversations with key players – in advance of the ‘formal’ meeting on a particular topic. Then, when the formal meeting actually does occur, the probability of things going ‘your way’ dramatically increases.

Here’s how to do it:

Step One: Get a clear understanding of what you need to know.

  1. Who do you need to have a pre-meeting with? Specifically, who?
  2. What do you need your pre-meeting be about? Specifically, what?
  3. Why is a pre-meeting, with you, a good use of THEIR time? Specifically, why?

To ready yourself, create a clear and compelling ‘elevator pitch’ for all of the above. As in literally, because, as things happen, you’re likely to find yourself sharing an elevator ride with one or more of your specifically who’s and you’re going to want to be ready.

Step Two: Actually have the conversation beforehand.

Elevator door opens. You walk in. Who’s there? Precisely!

Or maybe it takes a phone call. (Emails and live chats are not encouraged – remember, you’re not just trying to inform, here, you’re trying to influence.)

Then enjoy the fruits of your labor – or learn what didn’t quite work, as intended, and be smarter and more prepared for the next time.

What if you’re not be able to attend a particularly important meeting?

On vacation? Overbooked? Not invited? No worries.

Simply proceed with your pre-meeting, per above, with the following adjustment: Notify whoever is chairing the meeting that while you cannot attend, you would like to ‘weigh in’ with your input.

Then ask what’s likely to be on the agenda, what decisions will likely be made, and when you can call back to share your views once you’ve thought about things. Once shared, specifically ask the chairperson if s/he would be so kind as to share your perspectives with the group, at large, during the meeting. S/he will likely be happy to because: (a) S/he now knows what your views actually are; (b) since you’ve prepared, as you have, your views are likely meaningful; and (c) it’s not an unreasonable request you just made.

Want to increase your impact even more? Get further in front of the meeting by also calling the other attendees and sharing the same perspectives you shared with the chairperson.

Having an impact even when you’re not in the room. That’s a pretty good Leadership Move, wouldn’t you agree?!

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Leadership Move #1: Make Sure That Everyone Knows The Goal

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To be effective, leaders must be able to ‘move’ flexibly AND consistently, responsively AND proactively, powerfully AND respectfully.

If you can’t, you can’t call yourself a (capital L) Leader.



End of story.

But because the world needs more (capital L) Leaders, this, then, is the first of several ‘Leadership Moves’ that I’ll be sharing with you over the next few weeks:

LEADERSHIP MOVE #1: Make Sure That Everyone Knows The Goal

Make no mistake about this: A leader’s Number One job is to make sure that everyone knows – and can state with total clarity – the goal for each and every new assignment, initiative, project, task, and/or strategy you involve them in. You can’t just assume that your staff already knows, or can figure it out:

  • Sometimes it looks like the goal is about reducing costs when you really mean it to be about improving profitability.
  • Sometimes it looks like the goal is to increase repeat sales when you really mean it to be about increasing market penetration.
  • Sometimes it looks like the goal is maintaining current operating procedures when you really mean it to be about carefully revamping an internal workflow.
  • Sometimes it looks like the goal is about avoiding conflict when you really mean it to be about solid building inter-department relationships.

But when employees pursue the ‘looks like’ goal instead of what you actually want them to do, it wastes time, money, and resources – not to mention what it does to morale, productivity, and your credibility to be constantly telling them you now want something different.

Sure, there’s a training and development aspect of having employees figure things out on their own, but when it comes to understanding what we might call the ‘Conditions for Success’, there’s no real upside to making them guess.


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