10 Solutions To Stop Good Objectives From Going Bad

So many objectives – so many failures

That’s the refrain of leaders everywhere.

The business objectives they need to meet to be successful in their jobs are taking longer than planned, costing more than budgeted or failing outright.

Why do good objectives go bad?

My clients say the ten most common mistakes that cause their good objectives to go wrong – and the coaching solutions I helped them with to solve these costly problems.

Mistake No. 1: Not Assigning the Right Manager. Typically, more time is spent fighting for resources than finding the right person to lead. Too often, managers get picked based on availability, not necessarily skill set. This is a severe mistake as more projects failed because of the wrong manager than could ever be blamed for lack of resources.

Solution: Choose a manager whose skills best match the requirements of your objectives.

Mistake No. 2: Failing to Get Everyone On Board. Too often, objectives fail because they don’t get enough support from those affected by and involved in the project. Usually, the manager:

  1. It didn’t make clear what everyone’s role was.
  2. It didn’t describe the payoff when the objective was achieved.
  3. It didn’t tell how each person’s contributions would be evaluated.
  4. Failed to generate a sense of urgency.

Solution: The project manager should start by calling the team together and delivering a presentation about the objective and its importance to the broader organization.

Read More: How to Communicate

Mistake No. 3: Not Getting Executive Buy-in.

Solution: A ship without a captain soon runs aground. Somebody at the higher levels of the organization needs to own the objective and be personally vested in its success.

If the objective isn’t crucial to your boss, ask yourself why it should be meaningful.

Mistake No. 4: Putting Too Many Objectives on the table at One time. Most managers think that they can start and work on every objective at the same time. In reality, multitasking slows people down, hurts quality and, worst of all, the delays caused by multitasking cascade and multiply through the organization as people further down the line wait for others.

Solution: A good first step to stop productivity losses is to reduce the objectives you are working on by 25 percent. Though counter-intuitive, reducing the number of open projects increases completion rates.”

Read more about priorities.

Mistake No. 5: Lack of (Regular) Communication. Communication is the most crucial factor of successful objectives; without regularly communicating, the project will fall apart.”

Solution: Schedule time each week to review progress and stick with it. Regularly scheduled meetings and communications processes help to keep everyone on the same page and work flowing.

Mistake No. 6: Not Being Specific with the Scope of the Objective. Any objective that doesn’t have a clear goal is doomed. Mission creep is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to your project. If not handled properly, it can lead to cost and time overrun.

Solution: Define the scope of your project from the outset and monitor the project by continually asking if our work is contributing to the objective’s success.

Mistake No. 7: Providing Overly Optimistic Timelines. The intentions are noble, but missing deadline after deadline will only lead to distrust and aggravation.

Solution: Add a buffer — some extra time and money to your project.

Mistake No. 8: Not Being Flexible. While you may think of your plan as the bible that leads you to your goal, listen to new information and suggestions that come up along the way.

Solution: Step back and take a fresh look at the overall project, review how things have gone so far, and how you can improve.

Mistake No. 9: Micromanaging Projects. New managers commonly treat their job as an enforcer, policing the team for progress and updates.

Solution: Set expectations from the start that there will be regularly scheduled updates to advise the status and progress expected and encourage them to vocalize any issues.

Read more about micromanagement.

Mistake No. 10: Not Having Defined Success.

Solution: The first thing a manager should do is to ensure what will be considered a successful completion of the objective. Understanding what success looks like ensures everyone walks away satisfied at the end.

ACT, BE, DO: What Skills are Needed for Leadership Nirvana?

ACT, BE, DO: What Skills are Needed for Leadership Nirvana?

Leadership Nirvana … What the heck is that? More importantly, what skills are needed for reaching leadership nirvana?

Let’s find out.

What Skills are Needed for Leadership Nirvana?

There have been times in my career when I have experienced what can only be described as leadership nirvana. 

When I have been part of teams that achieved leadership nirvana, we seemed invincible. Teams that were much more than the whole being more than the sum of its parts: We were exponentially greater!

I am even writing this – recalling those times when the team pulsed and hummed with potential – I feel my pulse quicken, the adrenaline courses and I still get an endorphin rush.

During the early years of the Bosnia/Croatia war, I was the Sergeant Major of a company of infantry soldiers who were rated the most combat-ready in our division. We were skilled, efficient, driven, hungry and proud! (Get to know more about me here)

We were proud of our accomplishments and so loyal to each other that we would rather die than let someone down. And we were in the highest level of service to each other.

Servant leadership might be the antithesis of your thoughts on Army or, possibly, business leadership. Nonetheless, this was the ultimate example of Servant leadership—focusing first on the needs of soldiers to achieve results.

3 Actions for Leadership Nirvana

What is the underlying methodology for performing this remarkable accomplishment?

  • STEP #1 ACT
  • STEP #2 BE
  • and finally: STEP #3 DO


Wonderfully Simple. Yet, Infinitely Complex


Commit to ACTing in the manner that you want to see more of and being engaged, regardless of the circumstances.

Think about what it is you would like to see from your team and model it, try:

  • More enthusiasm. Less cynicism.
  • More results. Less business. 
  • More objectivity. Less wishing and guessing.
  • More focus. Less distraction.
  • More approachable. Fewer eggshells.
  • More patience and kindness. Less grumpiness.
  • More encouragement. Less withholding encouragement.
  • More appreciation. Less entitlement and neglect.
  • More listening. Less telling.
  • More truth. Fewer half-truths, omissions, and exaggerations.
  • More creativity. Less mediocracy. 
  • More pursuit. Less passivity.
  • More humility. Less ego and politics. 
  • More time, effort, and care. 

This also includes acting with a “team-first” mindset. Here’s how to do just that. 


Commit to BEing connected by talking, listening, and showing and sharing.

This looks like…

  • Having more frequent, intimate and meaningful conversations about what it is you and your team do and the value you and your team bring to the world.
  • Showing people the big picture more often.
  • Sharing any external feedback – good and bad – you get from the people you serve.
  • Sharing it as much as possible to help your people be more connected to that big picture.
  • Letting people know you have their back and appreciate them.
  • Sharing your purpose, your mission.
  • Telling them. Showing them. Encouraging them. Thanking them.
  • Doing it in person and doing it in writing.
  • Consider a quick daily meeting that allows everyone to share what they are working on and any challenges they are facing to help people feel more connected to each other and each other’s work.

When we are more connected to each other, we feel better about each other, more accountable to each other, and have an easier time supporting each other.

(When you ask what skills are needed for leadership, moral courage is always on the list. Click here to read why it might even be the most important leadership characteristic)


Want stronger people and to work on developing future leaders?

Do these things: 

  • DO involve them in solving the challenges you face.
  • Whenever possible, let your people lead the effort to make something happen.
  • Let them see things from your point of view, so they are better informed and have a better chance of solving problems with you. And, eventually without you.
  • Ask people often to give you their thoughts – good and bad.
  • Ask them how they would change things if they were in charge.
  • Then, really and sincerely listen.
  • When we are more involved in something and more accountable for something, we are more engaged.
  • Do whatever you can to help people be personally responsible for results and serve the people you serve.
  • Let them know that you involve them because you are interested in their development and in them becoming more valuable to the organization.

If you have created that high-trust environment and high-trust relationships, let them know you are helping them practise and perfect their abilities so they are valuable no matter where they work.

What happens in your place of work?

It may be obvious to find leadership euphoria when the goal is honourable. But trust me, it isn’t a given. All organizations struggle with developing the leadership culture required to achieve nirvana. But when you know what skills are needed for leadership development and reaching leadership nirvana, you’ve got a leg up on the process. 

That said, I felt close in less dramatic settings, like nailing a project or closing a big deal.

It doesn’t happen every day, and you may never reach it, but it is to Act, Be and Do your job as the leader to clear the path to leadership nirvana!  

Did you enjoy reading “ACT, BE, DO: What Skills are Needed for Leadership Nirvana?”

Here are three more posts to read next:

This post about what skills are needed for leadership was first published in 2019. It was updated in 2021 just for you. 

How to Motivate People When Pay is Off the Table

How to Motivate People When Pay is Off the Table

An interesting theme ran through several conversations I had over the past few weeks. People are frustrated in volunteer roles. Non-profit leaders can’t figure out how to engage volunteers. They want to know how to motivate people, which can be especially tricky in situations where pay isn’t involved. In this case, for volunteers.

Interestingly, the frustrated volunteers were exactly the type of people the other group was looking for.

After spending a significant amount of time in the non-profit sector and working with military reservists and cadets, I saw several very comprehensive programs established to lead volunteers effectively. Quite frankly, those efforts kept those who didn’t know how to lead employed and gave consultants a decent revenue stream.

(While you’re here, don’t miss this post next: Can You Name the 9 Essential Qualities of a Leader?)

Leading Volunteers vs. Employees

In my opinion, the only difference between leading a volunteer and leading employees is a system of compensation.

I recall a staff meeting when a manager started complaining about volunteers who were given tasks, and when that staff person checked in after a couple of months, the work was not done to her satisfaction. I spoke up and asked, “what would you do if one of your paid supervisors left another employee for months with poorly defined tasks and then got angry when it wasn’t done right?”

The response … “I would discipline them!” Really! The only problem I had was to figure out if this person was the pot or the kettle.

A terrific friend of mine who is a very accomplished businessperson and a community leader of the highest order related to me was asked to participate in a membership drive.

At the inaugural committee meeting, a consultant sat everyone down. Next, they instructed all of the volunteers on what they must do as part of the committee. These volunteers are all very accomplished in their own right. For them, being treated like five-year-olds must be very off-putting.

How would you respond if this was your boss talking to you like that? Let alone how you might respond
as a volunteer.

(Do you have volunteers working alongside paid staff? Then take a look at this post next)

I served with volunteers who, when given authority, responsibility, and were held to account, led the responses to some of the most complex disasters of our time. I saw reservists (when treated like the professional soldiers they were) accomplish superhuman tasks.

How to Motivate People When Pay Isn’t on the Table

If you want to know how to motivate people, paid or not, it might take going back to basics. Consider what motivates you, other than money, and imagine those same things motivate your volunteers.

Here are some ideas.

Whether paid or unpaid, people want to:

  • Have honourable and engaging work to do
  • Receive clear expectations
  • Feel they are part of something bigger than they are
  • Be employed at or above their current capacity
  • Get respect and appreciation

Could you use a little more guidance with motivating and leading your team? We should talk. Click here to read about my one-on-one coaching and get in touch.

Did you learn a lot about how to motivate people in this post?

Here are three more to read next:

This post was first published in 2017, but it was updated in 2021 just for you.

Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

Moral Courage: The Most Important Leadership Characteristic

I often work with people who are transitioning from follower to leader.

The one question that always comes up is: What characteristic makes a good leader?

I tell them the answer is moral courage. 

I have come to realize I was never as concerned about my boss’ technical expertise as I was with their moral courage, honesty, and ethics.

Coincidentally, Abacus Data shared the results of a poll examining Canadians opinions of the leadership, answering the question by saying:

“Leadership can be hard to define – but … people … know what they like when they see it. We gave respondents a forced-choice question about what was most important to them in deciding to support a … leader.  By a considerable margin, “values” (42%) were identified as the top quality to look for, followed by judgment (29%). “Ideas” (15%) and “attitude” (13%) were well back in consideration.

What Matters Most in a Leader?

For me, values and judgment add up to Moral Courage. In the past, courage hasn’t been recognized as an essential attribute for business leaders.

This is changing.

Future leaders will need the ability to act courageously.

Without question, innovation is needed in “for’ and ‘not for’ profit businesses, but it is courage that makes change possible. 

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Rosabeth Moss Kantor wrote:” moral courage enables people to stand up for principle rather than stand on the sidelines.” 

What is Moral Courage in Leadership?

Courage in leadership is doing what’s right, despite being afraid of risking negative repercussions.

Fear is the most common reason people give when they avoid being courageous. Think about how you feel when you watch a leader who demonstrates personal courage. Most likely, you will trust that leader more.

Courage comes from being very clear about essential values and working to achieve goals that are consistent with those values.

Ultimately, every leader has the choice to either lead with courage or lead without it.

Examples of Courageous Leadership Behaviours

  1. Moral courage & humility when providing honest feedback in conversations and discussions or managing up to your supervisors or boards
  2. Allowing alternative & opposing viewpoints to be shared with the rest of the team.
  3. Speaking up rather than being compliant in silence.
  4. Leading through change & not settling for “we have always done it this way.”
  5. Taking ownership when you are in uncharted territory, and the safe path is to do nothing.

How are you, or your organization, doing at removing the barriers to morally courageous behaviour? Try this simple exercise here to find out. 

Developing Moral Courage

  1. Be very clear about your vision and values.
  2. Scripting in advance what to say
  3. Anticipate those who will disagree
  4. Have the honesty to admit when you have made a mistake or took a wrong path
  5. Be willing to entertain new ideas and change your assumptions.

Courage is a learned skill, and we all can be courageous. To be brave means stepping out of your comfort zone and taking the risk.

As we invest in the future and emerging leaders, isn’t it better to learn values, judgment, and moral courage in a SYSTEMATIC and PURPOSEFUL way instead of allowing them to muddle through?

Do you think fear is driving your leadership actions? Here are 7 questions to prevent fear of leadership failure. 

If you’re interested in going deeper or moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check these out, too:

How One Word Can Damage Workplace Culture

9 Stupid Management Practices (and what to do instead)

The 6T’s To Know What To Delegate

This article was originally published on January 5, 2015, and has been updated.

The 7 Hidden Reasons Your Employees Leave You

In The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, employee-retention expert Leigh Branham discusses how companies can tackle employee disengagement and retain their best and brightest people.

Nearly 90% of bosses think their employees quit to make more money.

That means nearly 90% of bosses are wrong.

Studies show these are the seven “real” reasons that retention isn’t better:

Ask HR people their top issue these days, and it’s likely to be retention. That’s no surprise. The cost in dollars and disruption of replacing a trained employee is enormous.

What is surprising is how much employers misunderstand why their people leave, author Leigh Branham, SPHR explains that this misunderstanding is evident in one astonishing statistical comparison:

–Employers who think their people leave for more money: 89%

–Employees who do leave for more money: 12%

The latter result, says Branham, founder of retention consultant KeepingthePeople, Inc., comes from a study of 19,700 post-exit interviews done by the Saratoga Institute, an independent research group. The data identified seven “hidden reasons” employees resign. Here are those reasons, along with Branham’s antidote for each:

1) Job not as expected. This is a prime reason for early departures. Branham’s answer: “Give a realistic job preview to every candidate.”

2) Job doesn’t fit talents and interests. Branham attributes this to hiring too quickly and advises employers to “hire for fit. Match their talents to your needs.”

3) Little or no feedback/coaching. Today’s employees, and especially the younger workers, want “feedback whenever I want it, at the touch of a button.” Give it honestly and often, says Branham, and you’ll get job commitment, not just compliance.

Read to get 6 great coaching questions.

4) No hope for career growth. The antidote: Provide self-management tools and training.

5) Feel devalued and unrecognized. Money issues appear here, says Branham, but the category also includes even more employees who complained that no one ever said ‘thanks’ on the job or listened to what they had to say. Address the compensation issue with a system that’s fair and understandable, says Branham. Then listen – and respond – to employee input. “Also, ask yourself ‘how many of my employees get too much recognition?’” 

Read about Attila The Hun & Recognition

6) Feel overworked and stressed out. Branham says this comes from insufficient respect in the organization for the life/work balance of employees. Recommended: Institute a “culture of giving” that meets employees’ total needs.

7) Lack of trust or confidence in leaders. Leaders have to understand that they’re there to serve employees’ needs, says Branham, not the other way around. Develop leaders who care about and nurture their workers, and trust and confidence will develop as well.

Read about trust and high-performance

How significant is the payoff for companies that follow these guidelines?

Branham looks to Fortune’s “Great Places to Work” list, where, he says, companies apply these principles: “While the average S&P 500 company grew 25 percent,” he reports, “these companies grew an average of 133 percent. It pays to treat people right.”

5 Steps To Keeping The Waters Calm When A New Boss Enters The Pool

… of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond’ changing CEO’s should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water …

A quick note from Steve:

This article focuses on the new CEO or ED, but the discussion can apply to anyone taking on the role of ‘New Boss.’



As leaders, we often consider changes within our organization that impact our culture or our progress towards successfully achieving or goals.

The change could be a location change; IT changes, new strategic plans, economic downturns or a myriad of organizational changes that can cause ripples in our corporate waters.

In my experience, one of the least managed organizational change is a leadership change.

And of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond’ changing CEO’s should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water.

An additional complication is that boards of directors are increasingly seeking leaders from outside of their organization. 

In 2017, 44% of US companies & organizations searching for new leadership hire from outside the organization.

Often outsiders are chosen to deliver strategic course corrections, restructures, mergers, culture change, or digital transformation and under short timelines incoming CEO’s need to have a deep understanding of their leadership competencies and effectiveness. 


The new CEO as an organizational change challenge.

Most incoming senior executives, internal or external, get off to a rocky start. 

Society for Human Resource Management research shows that 58% of senior leadership hires still struggle in their new positions after 18 months on the job. 

18 months!

Therefore, it’s crucial to plan a new chief executive’s integration carefully. 


What is the key to success? 

Success must be gained by building momentum across the whole organization.

Not by acting frenetically, but by thoughtfully choosing the speed that will help the whole organization mobilize, execute, and transform effectively. 

The incoming CEO must need to:

  • gain knowledge of board expectations,
  • understand the bench-strength of the leadership team; and,
  • appreciate the organization’s culture.

This will help the CEO understand when to gather insights, when to make fact-based decisions and when to execute at pace.


Five steps to speed up new CEO integration

In my experience, new CEOs who take the following five steps have the best chance at successful acceleration.


  1. What are your unique strengths

The characteristics that have served you well so far may not lead to success in a new role as CEO. 

Success in your new role is dependent on the ability to navigate the organization’s current cultural context and to quickly understand what the roadblocks to performance are. 

Self-awareness is crucial. The ability to reflect upon and assess your strengths and weaknesses and leadership style will enable proper planning on how to change the culture and increase performance.

Consider the following questions to help align your and the organization’s unique strengths: 

  • Why was I hired for this role; what is my differentiation?
  • What is my vision for this organization? 
  • What distinctive strengths can I leverage in this context? 
  • What might derail me within this organization?
  • How do I become more self-aware and plan for my blind spots? 
  • What do I hope my legacy will be?

 Read the 7 career-saving questions you should ask before starting a new project

  1. Build an effective influence base

External CEOs are typically brought in to drive transformational change.

Everyone is expecting change, so the new CEO’s every move is evaluated and scrutinized for meaning. 

Understanding of the formal and informal sources of influence within an organization takes time.

You need to talk to your people to get a clear view of what people love, what they hate, what they see as most broken, what gets them excited. 

As a new CEO, there will be a lot of pressure—from the board, from your leadership team, from the culture itself—for you to show up and make change happen quickly. 

Don’t fall into the trap of making big decisions too quickly—you don’t know enough to know if they are the right decisions or not. 

By getting to know the key stakeholders will help new CEOs develop a plan to build the relationships that can quickly transform influencers into advocates.

Addressing the following questions is a significant next step: 

  • How do I identify the key influencers? 
  • Where are the real influencers within the organization below my leadership team?
  • What questions should I ask key constituents to build my knowledge base?
  • How do I effectively structure a listening tour?
  • How will I structure my personal story and share my vision for the organization?


  1. Define success and priorities

Incoming CEOs typically have high-level alignment with the board and other senior executives on what constitutes success and what the priorities are. 

The new CEO needs a detailed definition of what success will look like and what needs to be addressed first. 

Taking the time to define the high-impact opportunities that impact customers, products, systems, and people is essential. 

Careful management of the first 100 days to be critical to the new CEO’s success. 

This is the time when stakes are highest for both the organization and the reputation of the incoming CEO. 

Ideally, the 100-day playbook will accelerate the new executives’ integration into their new environment, while prioritizing quick wins and longer-term, strategic capabilities.

Addressing the following questions will get CEOs started on this step: 

  • What are the performance indicators for this role?
  • How will my performance be evaluated in six months and a year? 
  • How (and from whom) will I receive feedback?
  • How will I get oriented to our markets, customers, and organization?
  • How will I get clarity on and manage board expectations? 

Read more about managing competing priorities

  1. Mobilize the top team quickly

Most often, a new CEO makes changes to the senior team. 

In 2017, 91% of S&P 500 companies indicated that the CEO change would be accompanied by additional changes at the director or senior executive levels.

Given the change agenda, new external CEOs need to develop an understanding of the senior team’s performance and quickly make decisions on how to bolster the team’s effectiveness.

Addressing the following questions will help new CEOs shape and mobilize their top teams: 

  • How will I assess my team’s baseline level of performance?
  • What are the business goals or outcomes are my team members mutually accountable for?
  • How will I determine membership on my top team?
  • What operating norms do I think are needed on this team?
  • Who will support me on the development of my team to accelerate performance?


  1. Shape the culture

Organizational culture is both a key driver of change and a barrier to execution. 

In my experience, everyday cultural strengths and liabilities have become so ingrained and automatic that they are not questioned. 

If the cultural fit between the new CEO and the organization is off, execution can feel like pushing a rope.

This challenge has been defined as Culture eating Strategy’s lunch because dysfunctional cultural habits can chew up any improvement the new CEO is trying to make. 

A major study shows that 70% of all change efforts fail to achieve their intended objectives. 

The new CEO must get up to speed quickly on the cultural values, the unwritten rules, and the practices for how work gets done in their new organization. 

Addressing the following questions will give new CEOs a cultural grounding:

  • What are the strengths and liabilities of the current culture?
  • How do I shape the culture to align with our new strategic direction?
  • How do I improve high-performing behaviours such as accountability and collaboration?
  • How can I better understand the shadow of my leadership team?
  • What is the execution effectiveness of my organization?

 Read more about culture


Newly appointed leaders are at risk of failing unless they take steps to address the speed bumps that get in the way of the organizational and personal success the CEO seeks. 

If poorly made, the initial set of decisions and actions that a new CEO makes will create unintended consequences that will be difficult to reverse. 

Therefore initial actions and decisions must be carefully planned.

An acceleration requires new CEOs to:

  • assess and develop themselves to be most effective in the new context; 
  • understand their organization’s influencers and culture, 
  • how to leverage both for success; 
  • develop a detailed and shared understanding of success and priorities; and 
  • mobilize their top team. 

Those who take the time to do so put themselves on the best path toward lasting success.