Diligent follow-up and follow-through will set you apart from the crowd and communicate excellence. — John Maxwell
Imagine watching a movie where the hero commits to saving the day, and then they start texting with a friend and forget about it.
Following through consistently is an important focus for anyone in the world of leadership development.
For example, imagine if in the movie Back to the Future, Doctor Emmit Brown tells Marty McFly that he would figure out how to get him back to 1985 and then he forgets about it because he decides to focus on other projects.
What if in Terminator, Arnold says, “I’ll be back,” but then we watch the story unfold without him ever returning.
These are the types of things that would give people trust issues.
Your decision to follow through (or not) should not be taken lightly. Following through every time sends the message you respect yourself, your work, and the people around you. It is especially important as you develop your leaders.
Some of us are better at this than others. Those who succeed are viewed as dependable and respectable. They are considered the people to see when you want the job done. They get a promotion or a new client. Their customers come back to them, and employees want to work for them.
When you do drop the ball (it happens to all of us, don’t be so hard on yourself, learn from it and grow), know that people saying “I understand, don’t worry about it” may be hesitant to tell you the truth because they don’t trust you.
(As I’m writing this, I’m looking through my calendar to ensure I followed up after all of my meetings today.)
Following up sends a message; this was important to me. Not following up sends the opposite message.
People view a lack of follow-through as either a lack of competence or lack of character. Those around you will connect the dots for themselves and decide whether they perceive you as someone who lacks character and decided not to follow through or someone with a skill gap who cannot effectively manage their tasks.
You don’t want either of these things as part of your brand as a leader.
If you want to inspire people, you need them to help them be the hero. As a guide, this means we need to be there for them when we say we will.
So why do we forget to follow up?
It’s because we are too confident in our ability to remember. We are only an unexpected phone call or a tangent in a conversation away from forgetting that critical piece of information. As your responsibilities and business grow, keeping up with your to-do lists becomes even more critical.
Being trusted with a new job or additional business — like a new client agreeing to pay for your services — is more comfortable when your network can see you are on top of everything already on your plate.
Always following through will make it easier for people to trust you. Here’s how to do it:
- Use technology!
- Your phone is an incredible tool with a million apps waiting to help you be great.
- Take notes, send yourself an email, put it in a calendar, create a voice memo, do whatever it takes, but if it’s essential, make sure it’s recorded somewhere.
- Break your list into one of four quadrants: Do Now, Do Next, Follow Up, and Delegate.
- Do Now. Self-explanatory, these are the things that are on the top of your list. Keep this quadrant to a maximum of five action items.
- Do Next. These items are waiting to get bumped up on your list after Do Now is knocked out.
- Delegate. Everything that someone else on your team will be responsible for. (Tip: To effectively delegate, make sure it is clear who will do What by When.)
- Follow Up. These are the items you have delegated. It includes Who is responsible, What they are responsible for, and When you will follow up.
- Set Expectations. Don’t just make up a due date or commit to do something you aren’t qualified to do. Set realistic expectations up front, and don’t be scared to say no.
It’s essential to establish and maintain this credibility.
Set more reminders than you think you will need. Write down details even if you are sure you won’t forget. When delegating, be sure you are clear with expectations and how you will follow up.
When you make a mistake, own it! Learn from it, grow, and create a plan to ensure you can do better next time.
If you have trouble saying no, establishing a routine before making commitments is a great way to allow yourself to process current and future obligations before making a new commitment.
If you’ve ever been to a fair or circus, you’ve most likely seen a few amazing jugglers. They start with a few items and then add a few more. Eventually, they might light something on fire or throw a chainsaw in the mix. It’s pretty incredible. They don’t start with the chainsaw. They start with the basics and gradually make things more challenging as they go, allowing themselves to learn as they progress their craft.
We can apply this same methodology to task management. Taking on the world before we are ready will lead to mistakes and broken trust. Be sure you are confidently juggling the items already in the air before throwing a flaming sword into the mix.
The juggler won’t inspire anyone by dropping pins all over the stage.