Leadership Move #30: Model How To Handle Failure

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Quit pretending you’re perfect – even trying to be is a ridiculous timesink.

Excellence versus Perfection

Striving for excellence is good. Striving for perfection is not. To help clarify the difference…

Striving for excellent is a three step ‘competency plus’ model:

  1. What do I need to do to meet the minimum requirements of the assignment?
  2. What might I do to meaningfully exceed those minimums?
  3. Let me go do those things.

Striving for perfection, on the other hand, is a four step ‘never good enough’ construct:

  1. What do I need to do to do a perfect job, here?
  2. Let me go do those things.
  3. Uh-oh, it’s not quite perfect, yet.
  4. Repeat steps 1-4, ad infinitum.

Failure in Failure

Any time we’re working on something that’s both challenging, we’re likely to fail. And what that means is that, from time to time, we’re all going to do something that makes us look a bit…foolish.

So be it.

But it’s how we ‘be’ in those moments of failure and foolishness that makes the biggest difference – as in the difference between a good laugh that reinvigorates everyone around you (including yourself) and a continued awkwardness that erodes your credibility, trustworthiness, and relevance, as a leader and team member.

Indeed, there are few things more absurd than a boss who did something wrong and won’t admit it. Truth is, everyone already knows it was a screw-up – the only question is whether the boss is adult enough to admit it. Or aware enough to see it.

Yet so many bosses think that a clever explanation gets them off the hook.

Not so.

Furthermore, this bizarre face-saving behavior encourages – that is to say, trains – staff to react in similar ways when they err.

To state the obvious, that’s a full 180 degrees in the wrong direction.

Excellence in Failure

Mistakes, slip-ups, and failures are a normal part of business. And while it’s important to minimize them when we can, it’s even more important to show your staff how to appropriately handle them when they do occur.

Defensiveness? Blame? Denial? No.

Lessons Learned? Growth and Development? Perspective? Yes.

Show them how to react.

They’re watching and learning from you – whether you’re doing good or not.

 


Leadership Move #29: Establish S-T-R-E-T-C-H Goals

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The thing about personal/professional development goals is this: If they’re too easy, people get bored by them; If they’re too difficult, people get unnerved by them.

Either extreme falls short of its intended aim. So the key in establishing quality goals is to have them sufficiently s-t-r-e-t-c-h the person, but not overwhelm them.

Here are three ways to do that with your staff:

  1. Trial-and-Error – Try a few things, see what works, what doesn’t, and modify the goals accordingly over time. It helps to realize that you don’t have to get it exactly right the first time; the best learning (and striving) is always iterative.
  2. Report Back – The idea here is for them to create their own goals and then tell you about them. Then build some stretches around what you hear. Just keep an eye out for whatever bias your staffer brings to the process, though – some people will purposefully UNDER-estimate what they can achieve (sandbagging) ; others will OVERstate it (wishful thinking). Your job is to find the sweet spot.
  3. Collaborate – Engage WITH others on random assignments to: (a) see how they perform; and then (b) create their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals WITH them. Using the best of ways 1 and 2, identify meaningful, relevant, and sufficiently challenging goals that build their skills and are aligned with their interests.

Whatever way you choose, be sure to remind people that you are noticing whether they’re working on their goals (or not) … and watching their progress (or not).

In other words, help them keep their s-t-r-e-t-c-h goals top-of-mind so they actually DO stretch.

After all, the things we pay attention to are typically the things that actually get done.

 


Leadership Move #28: Maintain Strong Fiduciary Controls

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To quickly undermine your credibility, as a boss, just mismanage your budget.

Routinely spending too much is, obviously, bad. But it’s important you know that spending too little is also problematic. Why? Because routinely striving to come in UNDER budget – an approach that (far too) many leaders take – also proves you’re ill-equipped, or flat-out unable, to properly manage the company’s money.

Rather, strive for your actuals to come within +/-5% of your budget** – THAT shows you know how to work with money AND make money work for you.

Tips for Maintaining Strong Fiduciary Controls Throughout the Year

  • Review your financial reports within 3 hours of receiving them.
    If you aren’t receiving your financial reports on a timely basis, complain to someone who can do something about it.
  • Note any variances of +/-8%, or more, off of expected amounts**
    Request a written Explanation of Variance (EOV) from the appropriate manager(s) for each and every line item variance.
  • Make sure you actually receive those EOVs from your managers.
    Why? Because you often won’t.
  • Make sure their EOVs make sense.
    Why? Because they often don’t!
  • Adjust spending monitoring and authorization accordingly.
    Variances happen. But it’s your job to insure they don’t continue to happen as a matter of course or because no one was watching what needed to be watched.
  • Insist on hearing the BUSINESS justification for any/all expenditures PRIOR TO any actual spending.
    Be open to requests for budgeted (and non-budgeted) moneys, but always – ALWAYS – require staff to articulate the business need for such expenditures as a prerequisite for even considering their request/proposal. You can do this by simply asking, “What is the NEED, here?”, “Why is it not just a nice-to-have?” and “Why can’t it wait until next year?” and probing into whatever is said. Do this enough, and you’ll find they start answering your questions before you even have to ask them!

Tips for Establishing Strong Fiduciary Controls During Budget Season

  • Pay particular attention to the calendarization of expenses.
    Very few line item expenditures divide neatly over a 12-month period, even though the spreadsheet you’ll be working with will likely auto-populate in that way. Indeed, most mid-year EOVs result from some sort of easily-avoidable calendarization error.
  • Give spending control some thought before the year starts – not just once it’s too late.
    Across-the-board increases are easy enough to propose, but rarely stand up to even the most modest of push-backs. Why dilute your credibility so unnecessarily?
  • Identify two-to-three line items to meaningfully REDUCE.
    Consider how, exactly, you can make that happen. Look, specifically, at large, seemingly fixed, line items: How might you effectively negotiate those rates downward? Also look at where you mis-categorized moneys in the past. Don’t just carry mistakes forward, clean up your mess.
  • Identify two-or-three line items that deserve an INCREASED investment.
    Crisply articulate your rationale (in business terms) for adding to this part of your budget. (Think ‘essential upgrades’.)
  • Identify two-or-three ongoing initiatives to wind down.
    Just because continuing last year’s project is approval-capable doesn’t make it automatically approval-worthy. One of the biggest sinkholes of next year’s money comes from continuing to fund in support of last year’s sunk costs.
  • Identify two-of three brand new initiatives to recommend.
    Again, crisply articulate the business justification for each, being sure to clearly address the ‘Why?’ and ‘Why Now?’ questions.

Showing that you can ably manage money builds trust and credibility in you as a leader … which makes MAINTAINING STRONG FIDUCIARY CONTROLS a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.

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** To be sure, check with your accounting department to find out what they consider to be acceptable variations in your organization as some uses a tighter +/-3%, while others are far more lax.