For many leaders, news of a miss to their business objectives is almost always followed by steps to identify the offending party responsible for the variance. After all, if each individual business unit could be counted on to do its part, the whole would achieve its goals. So, when there's a gap to the plan, good leaders go looking for those who let everybody down. Great leaders, though, go looking for a mirror. Here's why.

For years, almost as long as I can remember, I've done a little exercise with business owners and operators, in organizations of all sizes, encouraging them to stand outside the employee entrance to their building one morning, and ask every associate who walks through it two simple questions:

  1.  Are you good at what you do?
  2. Do you add value here? or alternatively, Is your job important?

I promise them in advance that at an incidence rate equal to the purity of Ivory soap, 99 and 44/100th percent, associates will answer yes to both questions. So, if, I tell them, there is a miss to anything the management of the business deems to be an important goal or objective or if, put another way, the team is not 99 and 44/100ths percent to its plan, the problem cannot possibly be with their people. Remember, 99 and 44/100ths of them just told you that they were:

  1. good at what they do, and that
  2. they add value there.

So, to conclude that any of them are responsible for the miss would be to misplace
the blame. It's been my experience, rather, in these cases that the problem almost always exists somewhere between the objective and the people doing the work. And it can almost always be found if you hand the leader a mirror.

Then ask him or her if, for each objective, these five conditions exist:

  1. Does every associate completely understand the objective?
  2. Does every person in the place know why the objective is important?
  3. Does every single employee know the part they play in achieving the goal and how to execute it?
  4. Do they check often to ensure that there are no barriers or roadblocks between any associate and them accomplishing their individual goals?
  5. Finally, and most important, does every single associate -- including the person who sweeps the floor -- understand and see how when the goals of the company are achieved, life will improve in their household?

That's because for any objective to be met, all of these five conditions must be true. All five. Not four. Not three and most of two more. All five.

True, caring leaders also talk about these five things for each objective a lot--until they are sick and tired of hearing the sound of their own voice. Only when that becomes true--when you're tired of hearing yourself talk--will you know that you've talked about things enough.

It will be then that you will be fully satisfied that every associate completely understands the organization's goals, knows why they are important, knows their part in them and how to execute them, sees a clear path to getting them done, and knows that when the organization's goals are achieved, their life will get better.

Coincidentally, then, and only then, can you be fully satisfied that your organization is fully on track to achieve its plan. Before that, or short of that, there can be no excuse for missing your plan besides to hold up a mirror then hold up your hand. Because it can be no one's fault but your own.

Blaming others when things you're in charge of go awry is never a good look. It does nothing to inspire confidence by those who lead you or those who follow you. But by taking personal responsibility then taking action to affirmatively answer five basic questions for any objective to be met, you will more often achieve the goals you and your team set out to achieve while also making the lives of others better--which is, after all, why we're all doing this in the first place.