The reasons a leader may miss their goals are many and varied, and too many to list in a post like this. There are, however, simple reasons that dominate a failure to deliver the results they pursue.
Failure to Effectively Delegate:
As a leader, your goal cannot be effectively obtained if it belongs to you alone. Instead, it has to belong to the people for whom you are responsible in an equal measure. The outcome, whether that may be attaining a revenue goal or launching a new offering, requires that everyone do their part in delivering it. Without every person committing to doing their part, you risk your goal. The failure here is one of not delegating the responsibility to your teams in a meaningful way.
Because there is always more work than can easily be done, you believe that everyone understands their part and is executing, having heard you share the goal. It’s more likely that everyone in your charge is working hard while spending too much time on things that aren’t critical to the target or result you are pursuing.
The effective delegation of the smaller outcomes necessary to your results requires that you establish priorities. Without providing reliable guidance on what’s most important, you leave it to your team to determine what they should do and when. Everything is important, but not everything can be most important. You improve your execution by establishing priorities.
Failure to Hold People Accountable:
If there is a root cause of the failure to execute that you might isolate from the more extensive list of reasons, it is a lack of accountability. One easy way to understand this is to look at sales results because it is one area in business where there are clear goals and individuals with much autonomy.
A salesperson needs to generate a certain amount of revenue in a period. Because they have a tremendous amount of freedom, they are left to their own to determine what they do, when they do it, and in large part, how they approach their work. At the end of the quarter, a salesperson misses their goal by the widest of margins, their sales manager having said very little to them throughout the quarter. You might argue that the salesperson failed, but the blame would lie with the manager who neglected to hold them accountable.
Failing to hold people accountable at a frequent enough interval to ensure they are tracking in producing the smaller outcomes that deliver a larger result all but guarantees you miss your goals through a lack of accountability. Worse, when there are no consequences for not executing, there is no accountability.
Failure to Delegate and Hold People Accountable:
It is possible to fail to delegate effectively while also failing to hold people accountable for their results. These twin failings might be more common than their opposites, excellent delegation and accountability.
Everyone is working hard, doing their best to deal with the obstacles and problems that show up each day, while their real priorities go undressed, and little of the most important work gets done. They have to answer their email, attend meetings, and respond to the requests others ask of them. Who would deny that these things are important?
Working hard is necessary but not sufficient for reaching your goals and flawlessly executing. Without delegating priorities and imposing accountability, your goal will belong to you alone. Without delegating the work and providing priorities, your people will lack direction. Without responsibility, your goals will lack both a sense of importance and a sense of urgency.
No Accountability for Growth:
If you are going to go from “good to great” or “struggling to flawless execution,” you need your people to improve, or “be more,” so they can “do more,” in my vernacular. If there are people who need help in gaining the skills and capacities they need to succeed, reaching your goals requires that you help them grow.
One mistake made often enough is hiring people who have experience in a role, believing they know all they need to know to succeed in producing the results you need from them. If they need training, you need accountability for attending and acquiring the new skills they’ll gain from instruction. Development is even more critical, which is the accountability for leaders to coach and develop the individuals on their team.
If there is no accountability for growth and development, you risk your goals due to a lack of people with the necessary competencies to deliver your goal.
Retaining the Unwilling:
Leaders and managers fail because they retain the unwilling. Some people quit their job long before they resign. Some people are reluctant to do the work their leader needs from them, and this is never truer than when a company needs to transform their results.
You can explain why the transformation or new results are necessary. You can share the impaction of not changing and the negative consequences of failure, as well as the positive benefits of success. You can even change the compensation structure to reward behavioral change, mistakenly believing that money is a universal motivator that means reaching your goals will require less effort and energy on your part.
The longer you retain those who are unwilling to do the work, the more you put your goal at risk. The more time it takes you to replace a person who is unwilling to do the work necessary to produce their small part of the bigger outcome, the longer it will take you to reach your goal or create a specific result.
Why the Captain Goes Down with the Ship
The reason a captain goes down with their ship is that they are responsible for the ship and all of the people on it. The captain stays to do everything possible to save the ship and the passengers. The captain dies trying. Said another way, and one that is not quite so grim, everything is your fault.
As the leader, you are ultimately responsible for your outcomes, whether excellent or poor. Your goals must cascade to the people in your charge, becoming their goals, our goals, not your goals alone. Your priorities must become your team’s priorities, something that only happens when you establish what’s most important, hold people accountable for spending their time on the few things that deliver their part of the outcome you want or need.