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  • Writer's pictureMegan Robinson

Checkbox Leadership

Have you seen this before? A company promotes a talented employee known for “getting things done” to a

management position. How does this employee, thrust into this role, know how to support their team? Of course, their managers are there to tell them what they think they need to do. Plus, their HR department provides plenty of other expectations. And armed with this information, this diligent, well-meaning employee does what they always do, develops a never-ending list, and starts working through it.

❑ 1. Engage your team.

Manager: “Team, are you engaged?” Team: Resounding Yes Manager: “Cool. Check, I have an engaged team.”

Maybe that is a little exaggerated, but how about this:

❑ 2. Brainstorm ideas with your team. Manager: “Ok folks, let’s brainstorm some ideas.” Team: … Crickets

Now everyone is feeling a little frustrated. Why isn’t this working?

❑ 3. Ask your team members about their goals. Sounds simple enough. The manager has a meeting with each of their direct reports and asks them: “What motivates you?” “What’s your big goal?” “What’s your why?”

Woof. The answers given were not helpful.

Who’s fault is that? The manager’s or the team’s?

But the manager did all of these things they were supposed to do. They checked all the boxes. So if things don’t work out now, that’s someone else’s problem, right?

If becoming an effective leader was as easy as going through a list of questions to ask your team, then you don’t really need to develop any leadership skills. You would just need a checklist.

Developing leaders must understand early on that growth and engagement can’t start with pointed questions. They first need to take the time to learn how to observe and collaborate with their team. If a leader treats their responsibilities as a checkbox item, it ultimately frustrates everyone involved.

Want a checklist to make checkboxes work?

  • Be creative

  • Be curious

  • Use trial and error

  • Develop deep listening skills

  • Grow deep emotional intelligence

And here is why my Emerging Leadership Experience programs are a year-long – I can’t hand you a checklist of things to do and expect you to be a good leader. Even in those 5 examples, you may try to check something off, but perception, practice and persistence will be your teachers. Were you really curious? Were you listening for the right things? There is never a time when we should simply tick the box and move on to the next one. Each “checkbox” item developing leaders must tackle involves significant preparation and reflection. Before a leadership moment with the team, leaders can improve their success by setting an intention. Within the moment, leaders can pay attention to the signs and use the coaching skills they have developed to be flexible. Afterward, leaders must reflect on how it went to truly grow from the experience. Without practicing all three steps, you are doomed to struggle through your leadership opportunities until they are no longer available. Together, we can see what worked, what was learned, and what we should adjust to perform better next time, all inching closer to the result you are looking for.

Because leaders don’t just check the box – they achieve the goal.


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