leadership

Focused businessman is reading through  magnifying glass documen

Several years ago, my sister gave me a book about how to deal with the controlling perfectionists in our lives. She said I might benefit from an impartial description of — get this — me.

Ouch.

Okay, so I only had two standards: perfect and unacceptable. That didn’t make me a bad person did it?

It’s not like I imposed my unreasonably high standards on my family or people at work. After all, I’ve always said, “Don’t let perfection get in the way of good enough.” And I talked plenty about building a culture where failures are learning experiences and not short-cuts to the unemployment line, of embracing our own failures as stepping stones on the road to self-improvement, yadda yadda yadda.

Other people’s failures, of course.

So what’s the problem with having unreasonably high standards?

The problem is that is makes us damned hard to work for. And guess what, as leaders it’s not about us; it’s about them. We don’t get the best from people when we bully them — yes, perfectionists bully, even if that’s not our intent.

Perfectionists notice only what’s wrong and not what’s right. But if our feedback style doesn’t include some encouragement about the good while we’re delivering the bad and the ugly, we’re liable to stop seeing the good at all.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

It used to be a gold-star day when someone got a report past me without needing some re-work. Did that motivate them to try their best? Only initially, but when they learned their best would never been good enough, they started sending me crap knowing I’d put the effort into polishing the turd. Hardly the practice of a high-performing team.

Perfectionists are inflexible, resistant to change, and stubborn about having it done our way. Nothing wrong with that, since our way is the best, right? I can assure you that when we aren’t willing to let others do a task less well than we would do it ourselves, we end up pretty much doing everything ourselves anyway. Then we complain about being overworked, underappreciated, and short on the time and energy we need to be spending as leaders.

My mother would say, “You kind of brought that on yourself, didn’t you?”

With a tip of the hat to Maya Angelou, “…people will never forget how you made them feel.” Perfectionist bosses make others feel like they can’t do anything right. Not the legacy I wanted to leave as a leader, but what was I to do? ‘Good enough’ is the last thing I wanted to be remembered as.

Oh, that’s right… it’s not about me; it’s about them.

The good news: it’s simple to change. The bad news: it’s not that easy.

First, admit it — like any good twelve step program. Admit that you’re holding others to a standard that you, yourself can’t meet, and in the process holding the organization hostage.

The second step simply requires you to reframe success. Is perfection success? Probably. What about excellent? How about fully compliant and on time? What if your email gets the message delivered effectively but is missing a comma? Can you see where I’m going with that?

That’s it. That’s all it took for me. (Okay, like anyone in recovery, I’m a work in progress.)

Make sure your people know what success looks like, and when they get there, let them know it. Set clear and reasonable (achievable) expectations for them — and yourself — and celebrate when they’re met. That doesn’t mean settle for good enough; by all means, shoot for the stars, make continuous improvements, set audacious goals. Just make sure you’ve effectively communicated what success looks like and be happy when you get there.

What about you? Are you impossible to please?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Leaders Develop Leaders

There’s been a lot of clamor lately about companies wasting their leadership development dollars. Many do, but that doesn’t mean leadership development is a waste of money. The simple truth is: if you’re not getting the bang for your buck, it’s because you’re doing it wrong.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

  • You’re wasting your money if it’s a canned training program not integrated with your company’s mission. And developing leaders doesn’t end with an end-of-course survey.

I don’t deny you might be able to learn the what of leadership from a book or a once-and-done training program, but you can’t learn how to be a leader without practice – over time, in real life situations. Let your people try and fail. Let them articulate a vision and try to get people to follow. Encourage them to be vulnerable and more open to feedback. Hold them accountable for doing what they said they’d do.

Let them learn to lead.

  • You’re wasting your money if your whole senior leadership team isn’t involved. Leaders develop leaders. That’s a critical part of your job.

You should be having regular discussions about leadership with the people going through the program. Not the “how’s it going” type, but real conversations that reinforce what they’re learning and help them see from a different perspective how their actions affect their teams. Coaches can help, but it doesn’t get you out of participating.

Mentoring is key… I’ve never talked to a real leader that didn’t give credit to the person(s) who saw something developable (or salvageable) in them and set them on the leadership path. God knows I needed more than one (I’m forever thankful to Mike, Scott, and Steve for giving me the rope to hang myself but faithfully talking me off the ledge), and your senior leaders probably did, too.

  • You’re wasting your money and your effort if you’re not evaluating your leaders with regards to how well they’re… well… leading. You can’t know if your program is making an impact if you don’t know if your leaders are leading.

We tend to make people managers and then call them leaders, as if the two are interchangeable. We watch them manage their team, and at the end of the year we evaluate them based on how well they managed stuff. But rarely, as in almost never, do we evaluate their leadership. By the way, their teams don’t want to be managed; they want to be led.

Our government is (in)famous for this. In a recent conversation with a good friend and senior government executive, I asked how he could hold his direct reports accountable for leading their teams if there was nothing in their job descriptions about leading. You know, specific and measurable…

His answer was, sadly, he couldn’t. And didn’t.

Is your company any different?

If you support the idea that leaders can be developed and leadership outcomes can be observed, you should be able to evaluate whether the leaders you’re developing are making a difference in your organization. It’s time to own the return you get on your leadership development dollars.

Ask yourself if there’s a difference in the team’s performance. What evidence do you have? Is there a renewed sense of vision and purpose? How’s the team’s motivation? Has cohesiveness and collaboration improved? Is the leader developing and empowering the team in new ways? Do you see a difference in their interpersonal skills? What about trustworthiness and accountability?

It doesn’t have to be rocket surgery, especially since you already compare leaders using some sort of scale – everyone does (even if it’s a scale known only to them). Start there and have a conversation with your peers, your boss, and your direct reports. Decide how you’re going to evaluate leadership effectiveness and make it part of every feedback discussion you have.

So if you don’t think you’re getting your money’s worth out of your leadership development program, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; change how you’re doing it! Make sure your program’s integrated with the company’s priorities; get – and keep – your whole leadership team in on the effort; and evaluate how well your leaders are leading.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick!

Manage vs Lead

You’re making them leave!

Finding and keeping talented employees is at or near the top of nearly every senior leadership survey I’ve seen lately. Seems like the time is right for the talent management gurus to show off their stuff and make a bundle – which would be a huge waste of your money.

Why? Well, guess what leaders? Your talent doesn’t want to be managed any more than you do.

They want you to put your leadership pants and skirts on and create a work environment where they’re motivated and challenged to do exceptional work.

In short, lead them!

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

A couple of times in my military career, I was fortunate to be able to selectively recruit people for my group. Counterintuitively, I didn’t go after the fair-haired wonders out there. No, I looked for the under-utilized and under-appreciated talent from other groups that I thought could fit into our can-do culture. And they jumped at the chance because they knew they would trusted with challenging (and sometimes dangerously exciting) jobs, flexibility in their working conditions, plenty of recognition and appreciation, and opportunities to grow and develop.

You already know this, but I’m going to remind you: Your employees chose your company because they thought they wanted to be part of what you’re doing. Your talent is leaving because they don’t like the way their boss treats them.

And I’m not stereotyping by gender or generation, although it appears that the younger talent is even less willing to stay in an environment that reeks of “old school” management than a middle-age guy trying to juggle a mortgage, car payments, and college tuition.

No, I’m talking specifically about your most talented employees – from any generation and at any level of the organization. They’re the ones who can’t stand to be treated the same as your employees who only deliver the minimum required to keep their jobs. The ones who give the extra effort because of who they are, and will give you even more if you motivate them. The ones who know that work is something you do, not somewhere you go.

So what does your talent want? What motivates and inspires them? It’s not about the money, and you’ll never keep the ones who really believe it is.

Here’s an idea: ask them!

I did just that with a client’s high performers recently, and the answers were anything but surprising (to me, anyway). Every single suggestion they had for improving their company was a leadership issue – things like more development opportunities, more communication, less favoritism, more follow through and respect – the free stuff that leaders ought to be doing anyway.

It’s not that difficult, folks!

You want to keep your talent? First, get rid of your dead wood. Our experience is that as involuntary attrition goes up, voluntary attrition goes down. Not theoretically – in actual practice, because your talent hates that you tolerate underperformance.

Next, here’s what the high performers said made leaders great (really, I didn’t make this up): “Be approachable, act like you care, follow up, encourage, trust, motivate, give recognition, be open to feedback, communicate more, be willing to help, listen, be humble, build teamwork and rapport.”

Not exactly rocket science, is it?

While loyalty to a particular company may be a thing of the past, loyalty to a particular leader is not. Your talent won’t leave leadership like that.

The same high performers then said they’d bail on a boss who “shows favoritism, lacks trust, lacks integrity, lacks professionalism, is selfish, unfair, unengaged, closed minded, or a micromanager.” Try a few of those, and you’ll be stuck with a bunch of Donny Do-Nothings. Count on it.

I doubt this is new information for any of you, but if you’re having a problem keeping talent these days, your organization’s leaders aren’t doing what you’re paying them to do. Or maybe you’re not.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

they follow courage.” Braveheart

Are you a courageous leader? Is that why people follow you?

Okay, some of you might think it’s a stretch to call what corporate and government leaders do courageous. Like former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s admission that he colluded with then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to mislead the public and shape the government’s messaging during the 2008 Lehman Brother’s collapse in a book called – get this –  Courage to Act.  Heaven forbid we perpetuate the over-inflated sense of self-importance many senior leaders have.

But the question’s still valid: do people do what you say because of your title or because you’re a courageous leader?

I like the Braveheart quote, because during my long association with the military’s special operations community, I got to know a lot of really courageous leaders – some with titles and some without. They were followed because they had the courage to go forward in the face of extreme adversity, and they had the courage to admit failure when their best wasn’t good enough.

They had the courage to speak out against a bad plan, but they had the discipline and commitment to fix the plan and execute it with everything they had. Some even showed courage by hanging up their spurs when the organization’s culture grated on their personal integrity like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Great corporate leaders do those kinds of things, too, so I guess courage isn’t reserved for the battlefield. History is full of examples where those with the guts to take risks, forge ahead, and lead change during trying times are remembered for their courageous leadership.

So one more time: do people follow you because you display confidence and gutsy leadership, or are you hunkered down behind the status quo exercising your authority over them? And yes, I watched the movie to the end and saw Mel Gibson’s character meet a painful and gruesome demise. I’d like to think that was against your company’s HR policies.

Here are some of my favorite ways I’ve seen leaders display courage away from the battlefield:

  • Be real. No rose-colored glasses or pretending it’s all unicorns and rainbows. Confront hard reality head-on and be honest about it with the people you lead so they know the true state of the organization.
  • Tell it like you see it. That doesn’t mean you get to use the truth like a club, but sometimes real conversations can be awkward, and it takes guts to not avoid them. Especially when you have to tell the boss what she doesn’t want to hear – naked emperors ruin organizations.
  • Encourage constructive debate. Have the guts to stand in there in the face of dissent, knowing that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is generally better off.
  • Indecision kills. Make a decision and move on. Even if it’s unpopular. And then have the guts to make a better decision if that one doesn’t pan out. That kind of courage is contagious when you build a culture where people aren’t afraid of the occasional failure that comes with taking risks.
  • Don’t tolerate bad behavior. You endorse what you tolerate, and if you put up with negative performance issues, everyone knows it. It’s demoralizing to your high achievers to listen to Billy Do-Little BS with his pals about how long is too long to take for lunch. Back to having hard conversations, don’t let bad behavior slide – reinforce expectations and get a commitment from the miscreant to improve – or get rid of him.

About 20 years ago in the Air Force’s senior service school, I was part of a group of a half-dozen or so having an intimate chat with a recently retired Air Force Chief of Staff. We talked about selfless service, leadership, integrity, and courage, and I asked him how he knew it was time to leave. His answer should resonate with all leaders.

Though he could have stayed in his position much longer, he said after he knew in his heart that the moral compass of those above him was pointing in the wrong direction, leaving was the only option.

He didn’t follow a title, he followed courage.

EQ man

Why know what your EQ is if you don’t use it?

It’s been 20 years since Daniel Goldman’s book “Emotional Intelligence” was published, and interest in the subject doesn’t seem to be losing steam. There are volumes of research that link social and emotional abilities to personal success and seemingly countless self-help books on improving your EQ. A recent unscientific consultation with The Google quickly returned about 14 million hits on the subject.

Not to sound blasphemous, but emotional intelligence is just not that complicated.

Most people have way more EQ than they give themselves credit for. In fact, I’ve only met two people with really low emotional intelligence: my teenage daughter’s boyfriend and a senior government executive whose entire Johari Window is a blind spot.

Using sophisticated words to describe your EQ may make you sound sagacious at the office cocktail party, but measuring your EQ matters much less than using what you have for good instead of evil…kind of like a super power.

If the answers to any of these questions ring a bell, you probably have a higher EQ than you think:

Is it important to be aware of your emotions and how they influence interpersonal and group dynamics? Absolutely. Can I always control my emotional response because I know what pushes my buttons? Nope.

Does being able to recognize another person’s emotional state help you respond in a way that de-escalates the situation and yields a more positive outcome? Certainly. Do I occasionally pass on the opportunity to de-escalate just for the entertainment of watching a jerk lose his mind? Yep.

Can showing empathy to a frustrated co-worker turn things around and bring them back off the ledge? Almost always. Do I occasionally poke the badger because I’m tired of the whining? Guilty.

See – you don’t need to know your EQ score or fancy vernacular to know whether a response to a given situation is going to make it better or worse. But if you’re looking for the success that comes with more developed social and emotional abilities, you have to be intentional about using your EQ for good.

Look at it this way: If you’re forever finding yourself in emotionally charged or awkward exchanges, you’re either doing it on purpose, or you’re too self-absorbed to realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Either way, it’s YOU. Like my oldest daughter told me the other day, “if everything around you smells like $#!+, you should probably check your shoe.” If you’re doing it on purpose, that’s using your EQ for evil – stop it! Assuming it’s the latter, a little EQ boost is easier than you think.

  • Begin with some healthy introspection about your interactions with others and how you view your co-workers.
  • Start appreciating what your teammates are contributing, and treat them like human beings that have good days and bad days.
  • Look for the good in others (instead of expecting the worst), and don’t just help them because of what they can contribute to your cause, but because helping others is what we’re on the Earth for.

Good leadership creates an environment where using EQ for good comes naturally. It creates a “we” organization with people who have a shared sense of purpose. It develops people who know how to have healthy disagreements without the emotional escalation that stems from a lack of trust. It builds a culture where feedback isn’t a dirty word, and it creates teams that know success isn’t hiding behind a thin veneer of playing nice.

So, you can be content with the EQ you have, or you can read the books, attend training seminars, and take as many self-assessments (notoriously unreliable for those with low EQ) as you can stand to measure your EQ improvement. Just know that regardless of how emotionally intelligent you are, if you’re not using your “super power” for good, your organization is better off without you.

How are you using your EQ?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Changes Ahead

If we want change to be lasting and more effective, we have got to get better at leading it.

A group of us were talking the other day about leading through change, and I couldn’t help but recall the many reorganizations I’ve watched (or been part of) during my years in the Five-sided Puzzle Palace. It might surprise you to know that not all my experiences with change in the home of the world’s greatest military were positive. Some were slightly less painful than others, but almost all were less than effectively executed – yes, I’m being charitable – because the changes weren’t well led.

In fact, we’ve led it so badly for so long, the very word “reorganization” has taken on an adversarial connotation. I’ve heard it called realignment, refocus, transformation, shake-up, even “simply changing who people work for,” but not once did it feel like we were doing anything but reorganizing.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Here’s some lessons that came from examples I’ve see of how NOT to lead during change. I know there are other kinds of change besides a reorganization, but the leadership lessons learned – or not learned – apply across the board.

Most importantly, don’t plan the change in secret. I know… you don’t want to distract anyone from their work by giving them something else to stand around and have fact-free conversations about. Well guess what – too late. You can’t stop the rumor mill with secrecy, and they’re already distracted all day long by wondering “How does this change affect me?” They’ve even given it a pet name, like The Great Disorganization of 2015, Musical Cubicles or Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic.

Instead, communicate, communicate, and communicate some more. To the whole organization. Start with the “why” you’re changing, follow with “what” you’re trying to get out of the change, and continue with soliciting “how” it might work better from the people whose day-to-day activities are affected by the new way of doing thing. You’re trying to get buy-in from the doers, not the affirmation by middle management that they’re okay with the new power distribution.

Next, pleeeeeese don’t change the organization to fix someone’s lack of performance. As in, don’t move a function away from a poor manager and give it to a top performer as a reward. If you do, you can bet you’ve just sent a horrible message to your workforce.

Instead, make sure the change is about the good of the organization. Individual needs do not override the collective goals of the organization (thank you, Mr. Spock). If a manager’s not getting the job done, get him some help (development, coaching, etc.) or replace him. It shows that accountability is more than a slogan on the break room bulletin board.

Finally (almost), don’t continue down a dead-end road just to save face. Not all newly-created organizations work the way they’re envisioned. Teams don’t gel, new leaders don’t lead, promised resources don’t materialize, etc., etc. In fact, a lot of changes don’t pan out the way we think they’re going to, so…

Fix what you messed up, and don’t be shy about telling people why you need to change again. Help your people build change resiliency, and keep everyone’s focus on organizational performance.

Okay, really last… don’t drag out the implementation date. It’s hard on people to have to dance between their current, but soon-to-be-former boss and their soon-to-be boss. Would you rather have your tooth pulled in one appointment or have pieces of it extracted over a series of months?

Change happens, and there are winners and losers in every re-shuffle, but the only people who are happy with change are those in charge of it and those who benefit by it. Still, led properly, growth and success are its by-products, and everyone can get behind that.

The alternative is not as good.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

Sorry Key Shows Online Apology Or Regret   

      Admit nothing, deny everything, and make counter-accusations (not!)

I didn’t see much press uproar last month after Southwest Airlines grounded nearly a quarter of their fleet because they hadn’t conducted required inspections on a backup system, resulting in over a hundred cancelled flights.

I wondered why it didn’t reach the media screech most companies get for public safety compromises (think GM’s ignition and Nissan’s break switch lawsuits). Could it be because they caught it themselves, admitted fault to the appropriate oversight, presented a plan to fix it and then did?

I won’t get started on my disdain for mainstream media, but would it be too absurd for me to believe Southwest actually handled this correctly, and so there wasn’t much chum in the water to feed the media?

Let’s assume that’s the case. Is that how your organization admit mistakes? Or does it?

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Early in my Air Force career, I was a squadron Safety Officer (an additional duty, which shows the priority leadership put on it). It was one of those thankless jobs, but one that required unquestioned integrity to be effective.

During my tenure, a boat we were carrying on our airplane vented fuel into the cargo compartment right after takeoff, which required an emergency return to the airfield. No doubt our fault, since we believed (but didn’t confirm) that the boat’s tanks were empty. I properly reported the incident to higher headquarters – and was thoroughly wire-brushed by the commander for admitting our mistake.

But we fixed our processes as a result, and it didn’t happen again.

It can be hard to admit mistakes, especially as a leader. But nothing cements the trust a leader has with followers like saying, “I made a mistake; here’s what I’m going to do to make it right.”

The alternative is the equivocation and “conflation of events” that we keep hearing about in the media, usually resulting in a scab that keeps getting picked. Or, worse yet, we don’t hear about the cover-up until it threatens the very success of the company.

It’s really not that complicated to admit a mistake, but there seems to be a palpable resistance in many organizations to do it. After some very unscientific research, I turned up nearly a zillion versions of How to Make the Perfect Apology. I’ve summarized them for you:

1. Act quickly.
2. Don’t cover it up.
3. Own the mistake.
4. Take the necessary steps to make it right.

It’s that simple, and my hat’s off to Southwest for getting it right this time.

What about your organization? Do you have a culture that encourages people to admit mistakes, or hide them?

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

photo

Probably too many attempts have been made to define leadership.

Everyone seems to have their own favorite definition. More often than not, it comes down to “I know it when I see it.”

So instead of struggling to identify good leadership behaviors, try looking at the leaders you’ve known through a different lens. Ask yourself, “What did their leadership feel like?”

We follow leaders because they make us want to, not because we have to.

It’s an emotional decision to choose to do more than we have to. Good leaders get our discretionary effort because we appreciate how they make us feel – about them, about ourselves and about the organization.

Over the course of my Defense Department career, I had the privilege of working for and with a number of great leaders…and some not so great ones. There were as many different styles as there were leaders. I tried to emulate the good ones; the bad ones…well, let’s just say not everyone served as a good example.

I’ve got the stick for a minute

My favorite leaders aren’t necessarily charismatic or outgoing; they’re not all what you would call mighty warriors; some can’t (and never could) hold their own at the club on Friday nights.

But they all have one thing in common: they have a certain presence about them – leadership presence – that makes me like being around them.

Here are my three favorite traits that I think contribute the most to their leadership presence:

They have integrity. They don’t just do the right things when no one’s watching. They also have integrity you can feel, knowing in your heart that they’re going to do what they say – or own up to it when they can’t. No false promises and no excuses. Because of that, I trust them.

They’re genuine. They’re comfortable with who they are, and there’s no pretense in their behavior. Their compassion is real. That doesn’t mean they’re cuddly – far from it – but I’m certain of what they stand for and what they care about. They don’t have a need to be seen as more than they really are, and they don’t hide behind a veneer.

They’re present. They make me feel like what we’re discussing is important to them. They don’t act distracted by what else they could be doing, and they’re not casting glances at their computer screen or caller ID. It’s very calming, even if it is only for the few minutes I’m with them.

How do you make your followers feel? Look for the common traits in your favorite leaders and decide where you could improve your leadership presence.

It’s up to you, leaders.

You have the stick.

T-birds

 

As a leader in your organization, who’s got your back? Are the people you work with watching out for you, or do you find yourself covering your six to keep from being stabbed in the back?

I’m a huge supporter of the new “Got Your Six” campaign to unite nonprofit, Hollywood, and government partners to support our veterans. The commercials touch my heart when they explain how “got your six” means we’ve got our veterans’ backs as they transition from military service to civilian life.

They also remind me of lessons I learned in pilot training about how to keep enemy pilots from maneuvering to my ultimate position of vulnerability: my six o’clock position – the blind spot directly behind me where I wouldn’t recognize I was about to be killed. Translated into corporate language: where someone is about to make us look stupid or incompetent without us realizing it.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

“Covering your six” is what pilots have wingmen for. Wingmen fly behind and above (or below) their lead to make sure no one sneaks up on them. Pretty easy analogy to apply to the corporate world, but who’s really going to watch your back in the dog-eat-dog of office politics?

Your followers, that’s who. The ones who trust you and know you have their backs as well.

When a leader is intentional about creating an environment of trust and cooperation in the office, coworkers watch out for each because they want the organization to succeed. It’s much more difficult to blindside an entire group of people watching out for each other than it is an individual outside the circle of trust.

You build that environment of trust by having non-negotiable integrity and demonstrating you both care more about your employees than you do yourself (compassion), and you can and will use their efforts for the good of the organization (competence).

You instill that trust only if your actions are consistent with your words. If you’re one who talks about others behind their backs, you can assume you’re also being talked about. If there is even a hint that you might sacrifice one of your people for your benefit, you’re headed for a Julius Caesar ending.

Now, I’m not Pollyannaish, and I’ve certainly worked in places where the motto was something like “it’s not enough that I succeed; others must fail.” Competition can be fierce, and insecure or power-hungry people backstab from a variety of motivations.

But you can’t focus on helping your employees achieve great things if you’re always sitting in the corner with your back to the wall. You’ve got to be out there doing your best for them, trusting them the way they trust you. That’s the leader’s role, and while it’s vulnerable, it doesn’t have to be unsafe.

So who’s got your six? It’s up to you.

You have the stick.

Goals On Dartboard Shows Aspired Objectives

   – it’s not the same as setting goals.

I hate goal setting. The whole business of it.

That’s why I was surprised by a conversation I had with my daughter a couple of weeks ago. Home from her fall semester, she was describing her goals to me – her grad school goals, financial goals, career goals, life goals – and I was amazed. When I asked how she learned about goal setting, she unexpectedly answered, “from you, of course.” I didn’t know I’d passed goal setting to another generation, because (if I hadn’t mentioned it) I hate goal setting.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate setting goals; it’s the only way I know I’m on track to where I want to go. But there’s so much of the institutional process of individual goal setting that is all about process and almost nothing about the accomplishment of what really matters.

I’ve got the stick for a minute.

Leaders who have vision and can translate it into an executable plan that followers buy into can be the Holy Grail to an organization. On the down side, results can easily be torpedoed by the intermediate level managers who don’t know how to get the people who actually DO work to set performance and developmental goals that support that vision and plan.

I would propose that few leaders have a good grasp on the goals his/her workforce sets. That doesn’t mean they aren’t held accountable for their workforce’s results. It’s past time to get involved.

As 2015 begins, we’re all being encouraged (or required) to set goals for the coming year. We all know what SMART goals are: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound. I prefer clear, concise, actionable, and tied to organizational performance, but that would require a new acronym (C-CAT would only appeal to a very narrow audience).

The problem is that a step in any direction looks like progress to someone who doesn’t know where they’re going. Most organizations are horrible at getting individuals to understand how what they do contributes to organizational success. That breeds mediocrity at best, and sincerely misdirected efforts at worst.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: For the workforce to actually tie their performance to what leaders expect their organizations to do this year, serious effort is required at every level. Leaders and managers have to get more involved in communicating both how their people can contribute to organizational goals and how they can develop into more productive contributors.

STOP asking them to write nebulous performance goals (like “superior customer support measured by no negative customer comments”) and developmental goals (like “take an online course on how to get along with others”). They can easily meet those goals with no actual benefit to your organizational goals whatsoever.

Jack Welch said that before you’re a leader, success is all about growing yourself; when you become a leader, success is all about growing others. For those of you who think you’re leading, it’s about time you get more interested in helping others set meaningful goals than in setting your own.

It’s up to you.

You have the stick.