Film: The AristoCats
Release Date: December 24, 1970
Scenario: Thomas O’Malley, the street-wise alley cat, is nonchalantly roaming the French countryside when he comes upon the beautiful Duchess on the bank of a stream. He immediately becomes smitten with her, flirting and serenading her like the smooth-talker he is. However, he soon finds out that Duchess has 3 kittens, and belongs to an elderly, rich woman in Paris. Heavy back-peddling ensues.
Leadership Lesson: Make sure you have all of the facts before committing your team to anything.
In today’s business world, there can be a lot of pressure for us to say “Yes!” To everything. All the time. This can lead to trouble in several ways, such as over-committing ourselves, or getting distracted with helping others to the point that we’re not accomplishing our main goals or duties. Hopefully at this stage of the game, we know how to prioritize our time and our teams to the point of knowing when to say “No.” If not, I’m sure that this much-broader topic will come up in another film down the line and we can take a look at it then. For now, let’s look at another pitfall that we can run in to if we’re not careful: committing ourselves and/or our teams before getting all of the facts.
When we are approached by a colleague or a superior in regards to assisting with or fulfilling a task, project, etc, it can be very easy for us to assume that the request has all of the information necessary for us to make an informed decision. However, this is not always the case. There may be additional pieces to the task that the requester assumes are common sense but that we know nothing about. Most of the time this is unintentional, but we may also come across a situation where the additional information is intentionally not disclosed in an effort to get our agreement more easily. In either case, it is imperative that we gather as much information about the request prior to committing ourselves, our teams, and/or our resources.
The best way to gather information, of course, is to ask questions. Each request that we receive will come with it’s own unique questions that need to be asked, but here are a few that are fairly universal:
1. What is the deadline / turn-around time required for this request?
2. How many of our team members will be needed for the request?
3. In addition to the request itself, what preparation work will be necessary for us and/or our team?
4. What other resources will be needed to complete the request? (Meeting rooms, equipment, supplies, etc)
5. Once the request is complete, what follow-up work will be needed?
6. How will our team members be recognized for their contributions? (I feel this is very important as there are too many times that a primary group receives all of the credit for a task or project when a great deal of assistance came from other sources that do not receive credit. This is a big morale killer.)
I once worked for the manager of a training department who made commitments based on the following principle: Under Promise, Over Deliver. He knew, as we all should, exactly what his team was capable of accomplishing, and continuously pushed us to grow and become even better. However, he also knew that our morale would suffer if we were constantly teaching class after class, working long hours to accomplish non-classroom duties, and being seen as “accomplishing what was expected of us.” So, whenever he would be asked to create a class schedule, he would always leave room for at least one team member to not be involved in a class so that we had time for other duties, personal development, etc. This schedule wouldn’t be ridiculously easy for our team to accomplish, but it was something he knew was within our ability to do successfully. When presenting the proposal to other managers, he would present it as a rather difficult task that we were going to try to execute. As a result, our team was always able to deliver above what was expected, while still keeping our sanity and boosting our morale and self-confidence. As more and more was asked of us, we were ready and able to meet these demands as the time we had taken for personal development gave us additional skills and ideas to use.
We must resist the pressure to immediately respond to all requests with a “Yes!” Our teams are depending on us to ensure that we are giving our full consideration to their time, goals, and capabilities when making these kinds of decisions. If we are seen as having little-to-no regard for their well-being and aspirations, we will quickly lose their trust and their loyalty. Without those two things, what kind of a leader are we?