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What’s Slipping Under Your Radar?

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

“It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable.” - Sara Blakely, Founder of Spanx

Ben, a high-level leader in a multinational firm, recently confessed that he felt like a bad father. That weekend he had messed up his Saturday daddy duties. Ben stayed for a while when he took his son to soccer practice to support him. In the process, though, he forgot to take his daughter to her piano lesson. The following student was already playing at the piano teacher’s house. This extremely successful businessperson felt like a failure.

At work, one of Ben’s greatest strengths is keeping his focus no matter what. As a strategic visionary, he keeps his eyes on the ongoing strategy, the high-profile projects, and the high-level commitments of his group. Even on weekends, Ben spends time on email, reading, and writing so he can attend the many meetings in his busy work schedule. Since he is so good at multi-processing in his work environment, he assumed he could do that at home too.

But when we talked, Ben was surprised to realize he was missing a crucial skill: keeping people on his radar. Ben is great at holding tasks and strategies in the forefront of his mind, but he has trouble thinking of people and their priorities similarly. Ben needs to keep track of his family members’ needs to succeed at home like he tracks key business commitments. He also needs to consider what is on their radar screens.

In my field of executive coaching, I keep every client on my radar screen by holding them in my thinking daily and weekly. That way, I can ask the right questions and remind them of what matters in their work lives. No matter what your field is, though, keeping people on your radar is essential.

Consider Roger, who led a team of gung-ho salespeople. Hi guys, gals loved working with him because his gut instincts were superb. He could look at most situations and know how to make them work. His gut was great, almost a sixth sense.

But when Sidney, one of his team of sales managers, wanted to move quickly to hire a new salesperson, Roger was busy. He was managing a recent sales campaign and wrangling with marketing and headquarters bigwigs on positioning the company’s consumer products. Those projects were the only things on his radar screen. He did not realize that Sidney was counting on hiring someone fast.

Roger reviewed the paperwork for the new hire. It was clear to Roger that the prospective recruit did not have the right background for the role. He was too green in his experience with the senior people heed was exposed to on the job. Roger saw that there would be political hassles down the road which would stymie someone without enough political savvy or experience with other parts of the organization. He wanted an insider or a seasoned outside hire with excellent political skills.

To quickly get the issue off his radar screen, Roger told Human Resources to give the potential recruit a rejection letter. In his haste, he did not consult with Sidney first. It seemed clear from the resume that this was the wrong person. Roger rushed off to deal with the top tasks on his radar screen. In the process, Sidney was hurt and became angry. Roger was surprised since he thought he had done the right thing, but he could have seen this coming.

Roger was reigning in one of his most extraordinary talents by focusing only on the tasks and not the people around him. He was not letting his gut work for him where people were concerned. If Rogers’s direct reports had been on his radar screen, his gut would have told him that Sidney needed more than just a yes-or-no decision right now; he needed help making a good hire quickly.

An essential question for Roger and many leaders is: How can I ensure key people are on my radar screen and the to-dos of my job? It is not just the VIPs who should matter to you. It will help if you keep your team, their pressures, and their projects on your radar screen. They need to know you are leading and supporting them and not just riding roughshod over them to get things done. It will help if you keep your team, their pressures, and their projects on your radar screen. Ben and Roger are capable and successful executives who always keep their to-dos and commercial goals on their radar screens. Yet they both find it hard to think of people similarly.

Here are some approaches that helped them get people onto their radar screens without bumping off the other essential things in their work lives.

Take inventory. Who is slipping under your radar? Whether the people you need to keep track of our family members, direct reports, or others, simply taking a head count can help you keep them on your screen.

Could you write it down? You need to track each person and make a brief list of what you think is on their radar. Even if you do not remember everything you wrote, just writing it out will help keep those people and their priorities in mind. It will also tip you off if someone needs extra attention right now.

Say it. Before meetings and making decisions, say aloud what you like about your effect on other people. This approach puts your intentions toward people on your radar screen.

Ask others to remind you. Your assistants can help you track what happens with critical people at work. Let them know you want people — not just tasks — to be on your radar. That will empower your assistants to remind you, in a low-key way, when some of your priorities have slipped off the screen. At home, try asking family members to leave you notes in writing when they need to get something on your radar. That will help you remember and help your family members articulate their needs and what is important to them.

Take just a little time each day, consistently, to put critical people on your radar screen. It is worth a five-ten-minute personal update to decide what is on their radar screens, so you do not miss out or mess up. The effort will be well worth it.


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