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 go so wrong? It’s 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.  Now all you can do is regroup, cut your losses, 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’ve all been there.  Look in the mirror. What do you see? Are you the root cause of this disaster?  It’s always best place to look at yourself before pointing fingers and placing blame on your team.


Often times managers and CEOs say, “The buck stops here!” Yet the buck starts in the very same office.  Unless you step back to identify the underlying problem, you’ll find yourself repeating the same failures. In my experience, I’ve found there are some simple things you can do to prevent disasters.


1.   Shadow of the Leader


You are the leader and you cast a shadow in everything you do, write, or say. If you are always five minutes late to meetings, suddenly the whole company is five minutes late. If you are short-tempered, brash, or intimidating, people avoid  contact or communication with you unless it’s necessary. So when you are looking in the mirror, do you see characteristics that might reveal why no one told you  the project or product was in trouble? Were they afraid to deliver bad news early, so they waited 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 challenging to set expectations and promote buy-in on every level. In a company with many projects and priorities, getting everyone to agree – and remember they agreed – to a timeline can be difficult.


When you successfully manage to set expectations, several things happen. The first and most obvious is that, everyone knows what to expect. You might be thinking, “duh,” but for some people, juggling a million different priorities and projects, setting expectations makes the “to-do” list more visible.  It’s best to have the expectations in writing, so if there are unforeseen staff changes or other hiccups, people can refer to the documented plan.


Second, set expectations level the playing field. There is one vision, one mission, and one goal. No one is pulling rank or trying to weasel someone into doing the work for you.  Everyone knows what they are expected to contribute to complete the project. Like a soccer team, players each know their positions and their role when the ball comes their way. Their coach (you) is very clear on the goals.


Third, written expectations create more buy-in buy-in from all the major stakeholders. It gives them a chance to voice their opinion, explain their particular challenges, and ask for what they need to get the job done. This process allows stakeholders to participate and feel connected to the project. They’re more likely to see the project to completion and offer candid feedback. They are all invested in the outcome.


3.   Visualization

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


You will know when you have achieved visualization when your colleagues and stakeholders can share your vision and articulate it back to you. There is a direct correlation between your team’s understanding of your vision and it’s success or failure.  


4.   Upsetting the Table


Who is at your “table,” or on your team?  Look carefully at each one and ask yourself, “Are these the right people to make this company or this project a success?” Success requires diversity on many levels, including 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?


Diversity enables success. It’s not a secret that throughout history, women have been unequal to men in their titles or their pay. But they should be treated like 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 the interrupter take credit for the idea or solution? Women often take a more cerebral approach to problem solving by taking in and analyzing the data 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, or a management adjustment, it’s within your power to rework the dynamics of your company to achieve success.  Reflect on what you and your company needs to overcome the obstacles you face. Ultimately, a mirror is one of the best assets a leader can leverage.