What's Slipping under Your Radar?

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Ben, a high-level leader in a multi-national firm, recently confessed that he felt like a bad father. That weekend he had messed up his Saturday daddy duties. When he took his son to soccer practice, Ben stayed for a while to support him. In the process, though, he forgot to take his daughter to her piano lesson. By the time they got to the piano teacher's house, the next student was already playing. This extremely successful businessman felt like a failure.

At work, one of Ben's greatest strengths is keeping his focus no matter what. As a strategic visionary, he keeps his eyes on the ongoing strategy, the high-profile projects, and the high-level commitments of his group. Even on weekends, Ben spends time on email, reading, and writing so he can attend the many meetings in his busy work schedule. Since he is so good at multi-processing in his work environment, he assumed he could do that at home too.

But when we talked, Ben was surprised to realize that he is missing a crucial skill: keeping people on his radar. Ben is great at holding tasks and strategies in the forefront of his mind, but he has trouble thinking of people and their priorities in the same way. To succeed at home, Ben needs to keep track of his family members' needs in the same way he tracks key business commitments. He also needs to consider what's on their radar screens.

In my field of executive coaching, I keep every client on my radar screen by holding them in my thinking on a daily and weekly basis. That way, I can ask the right questions and remind them of what matters in their work lives. No matter what your field is, though, keeping people on your radar is essential.

Consider Roger, who led a team of gung-ho sales people. His guys and gals loved working with him because his gut instincts were superb. He could look at most situations and immediately know how to make them work. His gut was great, almost a sixth sense.

But when Sidney, one of his team of sales managers, wanted to move quickly to hire a new salesperson, Roger was busy. He was managing a new sales campaign and wrangling with marketing and headquarters bigwigs on how to position the company's consumer products. Those projects were the only things on his radar screen. He didn't realize that Sidney was counting on hiring someone fast.

Roger reviewed the paperwork for the new hire. It was apparent to Roger that the prospective recruit didn't have the right background for the role. He was too green in his experience with the senior people he'd be exposed to in the job. Roger saw that there would be political hassles down the road which would stymie someone without enough political savvy or experience with other parts of the organization. He wanted an insider or a seasoned outside hire with great political skills.

To get the issue off his radar screen quickly, Roger told Human Resources to give the potential recruit a rejection letter. In his haste, he didn't consult with Sidney first. It seemed obvious from the resume that this was the wrong person. Roger rushed off to deal with the top tasks on his radar screen. In the process, Sidney was hurt and became angry. Roger was taken by surprise since he thought he had done the right thing, but he could have seen this coming.

By focusing only on the tasks at hand and not on the people around him, Roger was reigning in one of his greatest talents—he wasn't letting his gut work for him where people were concerned. If Roger's direct reports had been on his radar screen, his gut would have told him that Sidney needed more than just a yes-or-no decision right now; he needed help making a good hire quickly.

An important question for Roger, and for many leaders, is "How can I make sure key people are on my radar screen along with the 'to-do's' of my job?" It's not just the VIPs who should matter to you. You need to keep your team, their pressures and their projects, on your radar screen. They need to know you're leading and supporting them and not just riding roughshod over them to get things done.

Both Ben and Roger are capable and successful executives who keep their to-do's and their commercial goals on their radar screens all the time. Yet they both find it hard to think of people in the same way.

Here are some approaches that helped them get people onto their radar screens without bumping off the other big things in their work lives:

Take inventory. Who is slipping under your radar? Whether the people you need to keep track of are family members, direct reports, or others, simply taking a head count can help you keep them on your screen.

Write it down. For each person you need to track, make a brief list of what you think is on his or her radar. Even if you don't remember everything you wrote, just writing it out will help you keep those people and their priorities in mind. It will also tip you off if there is someone in particular who needs extra attention right now.

Say it. Before meetings and before making decisions, say out loud what you'd like your impact to be on other people. This approach puts your intentions toward people on your radar screen.

Ask others to remind you. At work, your assistants can help you keep track of what's happening with key people. Let them know you want people—not just tasks—to be on your radar. That will empower your assistants to remind you, in a low-key way, when some of your priorities have slipped off the screen. At home, try asking family members to leave you notes in writing when they need to get something on your radar. That will help you remember and will also help your family members articulate their needs and what's important to them.

Take just a little time each day, consistently, to put key people on your radar screen. It's worth a five to ten minute personal update to determine what's on their radar screens so you don't miss out or mess up. The effort will be well worth it.

For more information about Dr. Karen Otazo, check out www.global-leadership-network.com.
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