The Buck Stops Here

Robbie Hardy, Author, UPSETTING THE TABLE: Women Mentoring Women.

The Buck Stops Here

It’s still dark outside. You can’t sleep and you’re staring at your desktop wondering “how did this happen?” How did this project, or product, go so wrong? It is over budget, behind schedule, and the scope has spiraled beyond your imagination. What went wrong? Who dropped the ball? And why are you just now learning about the problem, when it is too late to change the outcome? You say to yourself, “I am in charge, I set the direction, and I have been VERY clear how important this is! This project cannot be late and it certainly cannot be over budget!” But the facts are the facts and now all you can do is regroup, cut your losses financially, and work to appease your clients and customers.

You are angry and frustrated. Once you deal with the cleanup, someone’s head will roll. STOP! We have all had this type of experience. Look in the mirror, what do you see? Are you the root cause of this disaster?  It is always the best place to look first, before pointing fingers and placing the blame on your team.

Often times managers and CEOs say, “The buck stops here!”, when frequently the buck starts in the very same office.  It’s unintentional, but unless you step back to identify the underlying problem, you’ll find yourself repeating the same failures. In my experience, there are some simple factors to keep disasters from happening.  

1. Shadow of the Leader

You are the leader and you cast a shadow in everything you do, write, or say. It’s almost like patterning, where what you repeatedly do is what others do. If you are always five minutes late to meetings, suddenly the whole company is five minutes to late to meetings. If you are short-tempered, brash, or intimidating, then people just avoid any contact or communication with you unless required. So when you are looking in the mirror, do you see characteristics that might have contributed to no one telling you that the project or product was in trouble? Were they afraid to deliver bad news early rather than waiting until it was too late to change?

You are in a position of leadership. You set the tone, you set the agenda, and you cast a shadow. If your shadow is a positive influence on those it touches, everyone is rewarded.

2. Setting Expectations

Over my career in the software business, it was always a challenge to set expectations and buy-in on every level. In a company with many projects and many priorities, getting everyone to agree – and remember they agreed – to a timeline is difficult.

When you successfully manage to set expectations, several things happen. First, and most obviously, everyone knows what to expect. This might be a “duh” to you, but for some people, juggling a million different priorities and projects, agreed-to expectations automatically gives a project higher visibility on the “to-do” list. It is best to have the expectations in writing, so if there are unforeseen staff changes or other hiccups, there is a documented plan to refer to.

The second thing that happens with set expectations is that it levels the playing field. There is one vision, one mission, and one goal. There isn’t pulling rank, there isn’t trying to weasel someone into doing the work for you. It’s a level playing field because everyone knows what they are expected to contribute in getting the project completed. Like a soccer team, the players each have their positions and their expected duties when the ball comes their way. Their coach (you) is very clear on the goals.

The third thing that happens with set, written expectations is that you have to get buy-in from all the major stakeholders. They have a chance to voice their opinion, explain their particular challenges, and state what they need to get the job done. Through this process, they grant buy-in to seeing the project to completion with no surprises, but candid feedback. They are all invested in the outcome.

3. Visualization

Visualization can make or break your career. When you, as the leader, can get everybody to see and share a single vision, you can achieve it. A strong vision, articulated with a clear understanding of the objectives, will keep everyone’s efforts focused and driven to achievement. It’s amazing what can be accomplished if everyone involved sees and understands the goal.

You will know when you have achieved visualization when your colleagues and stakeholders are able to share your vision and articulate it back to you. How well your vision is regarded and understood has a direct correlation to its success or failure.  

4. Upsetting the Table

Who is at your “table,” or on your team?   Look carefully at each one (not literally but figuratively) and ask yourself, “Are these the right people to make this company or this project a success?” Success requires diversity on many levels including both professional experience and personal skills. So evaluate your team by asking the following questions:

  • Are they better than you in their respective areas of expertise?
  • Are they collaborative?
  • Do they listen?
  • Are they bullies?
  • Are they all men?
  • Are they all women?

Success is enabled with diversity. It is not a secret that women are not historically equal to men in their titles or their pay, but they should be treated as equals at your “table.” Women are, more often than not, raised to be polite. Do you take the time to listen to them, as they are not generally as abrupt or succinct as their male colleagues? Do you let others interrupt them and then let them take credit for the idea or solution? Women often take a more cerebral approach to problem solving by taking in and analyzing the data that is available to them. 

When disaster strikes, it is tempting to “fix” a problem without really understanding the root of the  problem. With enhanced visualization, clear expectations, increased team diversity, and / or a management adjustment, it is within your power to rework the dynamics of your company to achieve success.  Reflect on what your company needs to overcome the obstacles you face. Ultimately, a mirror is one of the best assets a leader can leverage.

About the Author

Robbie Hardy spent 20+ successful years in the corporate sector before finding her true calling in the entrepreneurial world.  She is author of the new book UPSETTING THE TABLE:  Women Mentoring Women.

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