Leadership

Why leaders must stop accepting trying over doing

Today, more than ever, leaders need results; but with fewer resources, many goals are being missed. In this article, executive and leadership coach John M McKee provides an approach that will improve performance and ease the load on the leader.
It's often said that diets don't work. That's wrong. Most diets work fine - it's the people who don't work. It's the same for leadership.

Think about it - as a leader, how many times each day does someone tell you something like this: "I'm going to try to get that done by the time requested."

And then what do you do? Accept the statement? Or push back? Most leaders, unfortunately, accept it.

When someone is committed to something, that means they intend to do it. And then it gets done. On the other hand, if someone can only say that he or she will try to do it, that's different. The implication is that there are so many variables in the way; it's pretty unlikely it's will actually get done as requested.

Next you'll hear, "I couldn't get it done because of x or y or z. There wasn't anything I could do about that. Sorry."

That person's off the hook. But the task wasn't completed in a timely fashion, so the organization is behind or misses a critical path indicator. And you, as the leader, have to deal with the outcome.

When I am working with a client who says that (s)he is going to try to get something done, I hear an alarm bell. I become alerted to the idea that they are probably going to come back to me with a reason why something didn't get done, as opposed to how they achieved the objective we had. You can check my rationale easily. Start paying attention to the real successes in your organization. Doesn't matter what level they're at, most very successful people say things in a manner that makes it really clear what is going to be done. On the other hand, the rest of the population use words that leave them "wiggle room" for an outcome that is less-than-desired. An old Chinese proverb says, "there is no try, only do."

As a leader, it is very important that you learn to always speak powerfully. Avoid words and watch for any of them from others that leave a back door open for escape. Sometimes, commitment is called for even when you don't know how you will get something done. It can be scary, but it's very powerful.

At Business Success Coach.net, we started using something with some of our clients called "commitment bonds". These work by helping the individual to face the fact that they are skating around an issue and not dealing with it head-on. Here's how it works:

Say you know someone who says he's going to quit smoking. But you've heard this before. Ask them for a date by when they'll quit smoking, and then ask if they are truly committed to it. When they say yes, ask them if they are so confident that they'll make a commitment bond that causes them to do something if they fail. In the example, I may ask the client if he'll write me a check that can be cashed if they crater on their commitment. And the kicker is, the check has to be made out to some organization that they really would never want to support. For example, perhaps a strong Democrat might have to make the check to the Republican National Committee. Or someone who is very pro-environment would have to make the check payable to a lobbying firm retained by a mining consortium in Alaska. You get the picture.

If the individual is truly committed they give me the check. The others show their real expectations for the outcome.

As a leader, it is up to you to figure out how to help your team members accomplish their goals. A good start would be your decision to stop accepting the words, "I'll try."

- john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

45 comments
darije.djokic
darije.djokic

When someone says ?I?ll try? there may be more than one reason for a supposed lack of commitment, and one of them may be the You. If a leader (whatever that means) will not take a ?no? for an answer, or has unrealistic expectations, the other person (specially if underling) will loathe to give a straight negative answer even if true but will try ?to wiggle?; very few people have the necessary testicular mass to oppose even their peers and specially the bosses. But, the problem there is not in the ?I?ll try? person, it is in the one that thinks that pressuring people into unrealistic goals is always the best method of pushing the limits.

jde.pbt
jde.pbt

What an unbelievable crock of stupidity! In organizations of any size and with tasks of any degree of complexity, there are generally so many factors outside the control of the task manager that affect his/her ability to accomplish the task that commitments to accomplish HAVE to be contingent. I have been working for the last several days on the preparation of an online course, with a promised deadline of yesterday. It's not done completely, The reason is NOT that I haven't done my work -- it is that the authoring system provided by management is buggy beyond belief, and keeps rewriting my code in apparently random ways -- I've spent much of my time fixing and re-fixing things that were right once but have since been molested by the technology. Tech support offers no help, and management has clearly signaled that the system is not going to be fixed in the near term and that we just have to live with that. I have no problem committing to a goal, but there is simply no way that I can commit to a timetable when the tools at my disposal can't be relied on. To insinuate that my failure to finish the job by yesterday is the result of some character flaw on my part doesn't help much -- and it does no good at all for my supervisor to tell me that my delay is "unacceptable", because NO MATTER WHAT I DID the task would still be rendered unpredictable by the buggy system that I'm required to use. Bottom line -- any organizational task commitment must be contingent on availability of resources, coordination of joint effort, support, and continuity of task requirements. No matter how well paid one is to do it, making bricks without straw is still a sucker deal. Commitment must be a two-way street; otherwise, it's simply an exercise in futility and a way of shifting blame. I'm sure that the author of this crock gets quite a lot of money from managers to tell them that it's all right to blame their subordinates, regardless of why problems might have occurred. Better that the money should have been spent on fixing the problems leading to nonperformance than finding new ways to affix blame for its occurrence.

RPip
RPip

I worked under a Project Manager with a similar attitude. She would not allow the words 'hopefully' or 'I/we hope to...' to be spoken on our conference call updates. Those that did were fined something minimal, like a quarter per incident. There was no animosity, it was just understood up front that our vocabulary was to be positive, and the results followed suit.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Talking positive doesn't in and of itself lead to a positive outcome. I'll talk positive if required to lie Massage the outcome so it looks positive Be massively pessimistic so I never fail. Or I can just tell the truth, and if it hurts, maybe the real problems will be dealt with, sich as I can't honestly promise anything, except I'll try....

aaltermanlac
aaltermanlac

Too many leaders think leadership means getting everyone else to perform superhuman and heroic activities to complete more work than should be handled in a given timeframe. This invites burnout and mistakes. Don't confuse leadership with dictatorship. Manage client expectations well and it's easy for your team to respond with "I will" rather than "I'll try."

dwdino
dwdino

The author is correct in identifying "I will try" as an alert trigger. This open ended statement precludes responsibility and commitment. With that said, most professionals use this apprehensive phrase because of a viewed limitation between them and successful completion of the task. The limitations are numerous and veried; some real, some perception, and some forced from outside impacts. Now, how to handle the alarm. Stop with the forward pressure and pull back. Identify with the employee by recognizing the apprehensive position. Ask for informaiton to identify the root cause for concern - "are there too many things on your plate", "do you have the necessary resources", "what does this require of you". Now that you have stepped into the employees shoes and grasped their perception of the request - align, prioritize, purge, and mobilize. Align - If there are perceptions that are in error, correct them and help the employee to see the request accurately, remove wrong information, and insert the necessary views for completion. Prioritize - One of the biggest disparities between management and employees is prioritization. Empower by setting clear directives and expectations. Purge - Remove items that are not necessary or can be delayed. Some tasks need to be re-evaluated and re-assigned. Mobilize - With a new agenda and clear expectations, remove the road blocks and provide necessary resources to drive efficient resolution. Using this methodology, I have resolved many issues with "oh, ok, I can do that". The key is to accomplish alignment and empowerment. Now this is not an all roses world. There is a time to drop the hammer and demand 110% production. Those crisis moments need to be managed well or your personnel will be driven to the lowest common denominator of "try" instead of succeeding with "do".

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

that this is a much better approach. Well put

santeewelding
santeewelding

Everything lookin better, then. Even punctuation.

santeewelding
santeewelding

Like you have seen the elephant. Or, a couple three of them.

dwdino
dwdino

Please enlighten me on the details of these elephants. I would appreciate your views.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I understand that was the source of the confusion with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The CIA said WMD meaning 5-10 year old kids and Bush thought they meant bio-weapons and atomics. Then again, maybe they are the same. (Sorry politics aside, couldn't resist.).

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

are very useful against armies in the field and for random destruction. However, trained attack cats are much better at surgical strikes, as are attack falcons. For random destruction you can NOT beat a five to ten year old child in full 'Tantrum' mode - very destructive and noisy, very.

dwdino
dwdino

Thinking good, spelling bad.

santeewelding
santeewelding

"Laboratory". Pronounced the way Boris would, emphasis on the second syllable. And, don't need no steenkin laboratory. Think, innate.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Here I've been wasting my time on attack cats.

dwdino
dwdino

The removal of the elephant is noble and wise, but what havoc could be weilded by a well trained attack elephant. hmmmm... Off to the labratory... muhahahaha

dwdino
dwdino

Ahh, I see now. Thank you. Funny thing I learned about elephants. They hate to be ignored and get very angry. Once angry, they begin a stampede that either drives all to flee or be crushed under its venting. Therefore, I have made it a practice to hunt elephants while they are young.

santeewelding
santeewelding

They are so big that most can't see from one end to the other; nor top to bottom. Means necessarily they have no idea, either, of another side. You sound like you do.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

too often there are things outside of a tech's control. A server goes down, a managers HDD fails, waiting for responses from multiple people including help desks (and getting the runaround often enough). There are many reasons why I have had to put things off. Today, I was supposed to take an hour training course (actually I have another month to take it, but I told my manager it would be done this week). I barely had time to finish up with todays tasks due to 2 issues that arose, that took time to fix. In a support role -- many items are reactive, not proactive. I know many would be with me on this -- if something happens that is more important, or needs immediate attention -- other items gets kicked back until these tasks are either complete, or in a stable enough state to work on something else. Edit: All that can be gained by forcing some sort of payment/punishment would be that the person may drop other items in favor of said task -- and possibly cost the company even more

GSG
GSG

I had a bad team leader who insisted that I drop everything for some silly reason that I can't remember, and would not listen to me when I tried to tell him that the task I was working on was more important. I waited until his manager walked by and said, "OK, since you seem to be OK with patients dying, I'll stop trying to fix the xyz medical system, and do your mindless little task instead." That person was not a team leader the next day. Now, any team leader that I report to is told that I know what I need to do, and if they have something for me to do, just ask, and don't try to force timelines on me.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I can see where he's coming from, but... To establish a proclivity, an inclination, a tropism, a policy is one thing. To push it -- damn the torpedoes -- can blow up in your face. Unless you are God. And, then, even I hit snags.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I said try because I knew you was going to use up the time I needed with something else. I was right wasn't I, again. Next Wednesday isn't a time it's a duration....

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

who makes a point of NOT overloading my staff with unrealistic deadlines on unrealistic workloads, unlike the majority of the people who'll get the 'trying' response. I meet with my people, when I have them, to know what they're doing and where they're up to on a regular basis. I know how much time they have and if they can get the new task done. When a higher boss comes along I evaluate the task and slot it in where it can be done. If we do NOT have enough time the boss has to either extend the deadline or identify a task that can be extended to create the required time. I then pass that information on to my staff. Only once did I have a senior manager refuse to extend any deadline or cut a task already assigned, I refused to accept the new project. he went to complain to the Managing Director, I had a new Department Head two days later. I've always wondered exactly what went on in that meeting. Most people respond like you say in your article because you, a poor leader, have overloaded them or demotivated them to perform below their best.

GSG
GSG

"If we do NOT have enough time the boss has to either extend the deadline or identify a task that can be extended to create the required time." I have a manager who is like you. She will press me for a time, and when she hasn't liked the time I've given, we will sit down and discuss my other projects, and what will happen if those are delayed to slip this one in. Most times, she has allowed my original estimate to stand, but occasionally, she has pushed other deadlines back. And the best part is that SHE is the one who talks to the others and tells them that their requests may be delayed and why. I will work harder and longer for someone who negotiates timelines with me, rather than someone who dictates them to me.

Anita Y. Mathis
Anita Y. Mathis

You sound like someone who has a good handle on things. The style you indicated above obviously works very well in the environment in which you operate. The article was probably written regarding getting results in a setting such as yours.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

[i]alarm bell...[/i] Maybe the alarm that should be ringing is the one that tells a leader that his/her staff member is over-worked and/or over-pressured.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

That the boss isn't willing to hear the word "NO". In my experience, "I'll try" is code for "There's no F***in' Way! But you won't listen so guess what .... SURPRISE!". Of course, sometimes it's code for "I don't know whether it will work"... which means "probably no". Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

ToR24
ToR24

And here's the bill for the expedited services for on-time delivery to add to the deficit, even if it isn't exactly what you wanted.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I'm a consultant I understand ... yes, there is an exception. Salesmen can always say "Yes". They just leave off the price! Sorry, guess I should have prefaced my comments by saying I was commenting from a management skills view. Sorry about that. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.trainingnow.ca

jdclyde
jdclyde

the lazy SOB's had BETTER move faster! :D

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

the deaf association sheltered workshop - yelling only caused them to laugh when they saw the mouth moving too fast or too wide to lip read.

jdclyde
jdclyde

or I will type very sternly at you.... :D

santeewelding
santeewelding

Of when a so-called disability proves to be of inestimable value! Thank you, Ernest. I don't think I will ever forget that one.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

when I had them. They were a great bunch that loved what they did, and I loved helping them improve, providing the training they needed, backing their @sses when that was called for, and just being there to listen when they were having problems. Sometimes just listening works wonders. They'd usually work out their own solution as they were spilling their troubles. I'd have that job back in a heartbeat, but odds are way, way against that.

Fregeus
Fregeus

Failure is not an option, you WILL do what I tell you, If you don't, I'll get someone who does. Sorry for being careful and wanting to take into account that some things in this world are not under my control. And guess what. The world will not quit running if I don't make the dead line. Trees will still grow, it will still rain somewhere and birds will still sing. So don't come and give me extra pressure because YOU don't want the truth, you want YOUR truth. I totally disagree with the view of this author. TCB

GSG
GSG

I rarely commit to an exact date or time, and I'm considered successful. What if I promise to have something done by 4pm, then a server that I'm responsible for dies? Am I going to do this other task that's not a critical task, or take care of this other issue? I don't need someone pushing me for deadlines or commitments, because I'm an adult and I know how to manage my workload. There are just so many factors that have to be considered that my answer is usually to ask what their absolute deadline is, and if they tell me "Today", I ask for more info to discover why I wasn't told earlier. In some cases, it really is an emergency, and I will do everything I can to get the task completed (State Audit or JCAHO audit which are unannounced), or if the person knew about it for a week, I'll let them know about any other committments that are more pressing and tell them that I'll start their task when the other is complete.

gji
gji

just do it !!! the author of this article seems not have heard of kaizen and other improvement tecniques - what a pitty -

jdclyde
jdclyde

was it a reasonable time line in the first place? Who says it is? Is it a normally completed task, so you know how long it takes, or did someone pull a number out of their a$$? Most projects don't get done on time because of the incompetence of the planner, rather than failure to work at a respectable pace.

MikeGall
MikeGall

I follow the Scottie principle: under promise over deliver whenever possible. I don't qualify very often with I'll try (only when someone really tries to cram a deadline down my throat). I say "I'll have that ready for you tomorrow", even if I think I can get it done by this afternoon. This gives me a nice window to fix anything that goes unexpected, to take my time researching things to make sure I'm doing it right, dealing with more urgent things that might crop up etc. If I get it done when I think I would, I let them know and they think I'm a hero, if I don't then I get it to them when they thought I would.

bill.folger
bill.folger

Your the only IT guy and you never get ahead. Oh crap I have to go replace a hard drive right now.

CareerCoach
CareerCoach

Give it a test drive.

SFNative
SFNative

"An old Chinese proverb says, 'there is no try, only do.'" Um, yeah. That's Yoda.

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