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The importance of emptying your bucket

I had a conversation last week with a business owner and long-time Strategies customer. She called to share her voyage during the past few years. She told me about how toxic her company’s culture was and that no matter how she tried to fix it, it just got worse. She told me about the painful exodus of key staff and how that left her feeling ineffective as a leader - and resentful. She worked hard on systems and structure; she just couldn’t figure out why these setbacks kept happening.

What was once a determined and driven leader now felt defeated, her confidence lost, her energy gone. She fell into a state of depression and out of love with her company. So much so that she began sending out resumes and even went on a number of interviews at some prominent companies. What she discovered during those interviews was a turning point. “These companies were worse than mine,” she said. “People forgot about the interviews. Rude reception staff and phones ringing that no one seemed to hear. Why would I want to work in these places under this kind of leadership?"

“I felt like I hit bottom,” she admitted, “and it was time to climb out of this funk.” The first thing she did was take ownership of her situation and the state of her business. The next thing she did was acknowledged her communication skills were horrendous. “I was short with people. Although I thought I was clarifying my expectations, I wasn’t, and that frustrated my team. And I just didn’t give praise enough.”

Ownership of the situation allowed this leader to commit to revamping how she communicates. And this is where the breakthrough occurred. She explained how in the past each week would end with a bucketful of conversations that she avoided. The stress of that overflowing bucket is what drove employees out the door and her into depression. She figured out how to have the right conversations when they needed to be done. I could hear the pride in her voice when she said, “I never end my week with conversations waiting in my bucket - and I feel great.” Even the haphazard performance reviews are back on schedule. They begin with the leader giving praise for some aspect of the employee’s work, followed by the employee giving praise for something the leader did. From there, the conversations are open and respectful, and nothing is left unsaid.

Do not underestimate the importance of this Monday Morning Wake-Up. It’s the conversations that accumulate in your bucket that do the most damage to your company’s ability to perform at its best. Avoiding a conversation today only means a more stressful conversation tomorrow. Not clarifying your expectations always results in wasted time, resources and stress. Engaging as a leader to ensure the integrity, performance and security of the company is your responsibility. Allowing your personal leadership blockages, procrastination and avoidance behaviors to get in the way can and will result in stress, frustration and turnover.

Empty your bucket at least once per week. You will find your leadership life lighter and more effective. Your employees will appreciate knowing where they stand and what your expectations are. Communication. It’s a bigger deal than you think.

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Neil Ducoff, Founder & CEO of Strategies and author of No-Compromise Leadership

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