If I were to give one piece of free business advice to anyone wanting to take their business to the next level, (or careers in the case of recent graduates and newly minted managers) it would be
Never let waiting on someone stall a project.
In other words, declare a little professional independence. Take off the self-imposed handcuffs. I mean, you’re smart, you have good instincts, and you’re responsible. “Duh,” you think. But you might be surprised by the number of people who will quickly pass the buck on a project under the guise of “waiting on approval” when the fact is, most of the time they don’t really need input. Why?
I’m sure someone in the mental health profession could break this down beautifully, but as a reader of lots of psychology articles in places like Self magazine, having spent nearly my entire winter in one doctor’s office or another, and as an avid purveyor of Web MD, I am very comfortable offering the following psychological/medical assessment:
Failing to push a project forward independently means you need a little injection of professional confidence.
Why the lack of moxie? Because we get a nervous we are going to really screw up. Like lose a client, get fired, or heaven forbid make someone not like us. And so, we wait around for an authority figure to give us the go-ahead, someone to nod in approval, anyone out there who will back us up if it turns out we’re wrong. I’m here to help you break this cycle of passing the buck. It’s an easy process.
Step 1: Ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen if I make a move without first seeking approval?” Become an expert at understanding where to draw that line. For example, if you make a mistake, is the CEO going to hear about it? That’s one we’ll put under the boss’s nose. But my guess is more than 80 percent of steps in a project you can move forward without serious repercussion if something does go wrong. And much of the time, your boss/client/whoever is going to be thrilled with your initiative.
Step 2: Get the project as far as you can without approval, then send your boss or client a note letting them know (in the nicest way possible) that you are at a standstill on the project until you hear back from them. I like to include deadlines that are attached to goals (Dear Client: Attached please find the news release regarding your Penguin Breeding Company. If you can send changes and/or approval by Tuesday, we’ll remain on schedule for distribution by Thursday. If you won’t be able to get to this by then, please let me know so I can rearrange our distribution schedule.)
Step 3: Look at the project and see what else you can complete while waiting to hear back. Then send progress notes as a gentle reminder you are awaiting word. (Dear Client: Am very excited about announcing to the world your new Penguin Breeding program. I’ve assembled the list of media outlets and contacts, and as soon as I get your approval on the news release, we are ready to roll.)
If you consistently ask yourself “how can I drive this project forward,” it keeps you from passing the buck and becoming one of the scads of folks who make a lot of racket, but accomplish nearly nothing. And a good manager or client can spot these folks from a million miles away.
So today, put your finger on your most important project and do whatever it takes to get it as far along the path as you can. Keep track of your progress and results — because nothing builds professional confidence like a job well-done.
Happy Independence Day!
Disclaimer: No penguins were harmed, or for that matter, bred, during the writing of this article.