“Excuses are born out of fear. Eliminate your fear and there will be no excuses.” – Unknown
In the post “It’s Time To Push” I encouraged you to identify items on your performance review and that of your reports and make a plan for getting them done in what’s left of the year. I hope you found it encouraging. You may have also found it easier said than done. This post is about getting them done.
Of all the reasons why you’re not able to take action and complete these tasks, let’s talk about three of them. These three blockers to progress are all internal. They are hard fears, soft fears, and laziness.
Fear is a powerful emotion. Seth Godin wrote a great piece about the power of fear. Fear is born of deep concern, worry or anxiety. It’s an emotional tool designed to keep you safe, regardless of the cost.
Hard fears include things like a fear of heights, snakes and clowns (it’s a real thing, and a lot of people have it). I call them hard fears because they are not easy to override through thought. There is no post anyone can write that can tell you how to overcome this kind of fear. Direct coaching and experience are usually required to move through it.
Soft fears include things like a fear of failing, disappointment and succeeding. I call them soft fears because they can be overcome through thought. Though their roots inside you can be as deep (or deeper) than hard fears, they lose their effect on you the more you recognize them.
Laziness is defined as “averse or disinclined to work, activity of exertion.” There are a lot of assumptions about people who exhibit what others, including their manager, call laziness. The beginning of the definition is key to understanding it. “Being averse or disinclined” speaks to motivation. Therefore, a lack of motivation is at the root of what we call laziness. Dr. Leon F. Seltzer wrote a great article for Psychology Today I highly recommend. That may sound like a no-brainer but, as the manager, it’s your responsibility to motivate and inspire your direct reports.
Now, let’s take a look at the differences between reasons and excuses. Columnist Carolyn Hax wrote, “Reasons help the injured party feel better, and excuses help the culprit feel better.” If we apply this logic to the outcome when we fail to get the task done, we have a quick way of determining if the reason for failing is due to a soft fear or laziness.
Let’s take a look at some examples.
Across some performance reviews, I had been dinged for failing to respond promptly. This ding was exclusively in the case of having a project assigned and prioritizing status updates as lower on my to do list. I was committed to being a “fire and forget” kind of employee and didn’t understand why my manager wouldn’t just “forget,” knowing I would let him know when I hit or missed my target.
If we apply Hax’s definition to this situation, I am not an injured party. There is no fear driving my reasoning. I just wanted to do it my way contrary to the wishes of my manager. In this case, I fit in the “culprit” category making my statements excuses. Excuses are, largely, the result of laziness. After all, I had the ability to complete the task. I lacked the motivation at the time.
I noted in a tribute to my former mentor that there had been challenges in my relationship with a previous manager. Those struggles were directly related to a feeling I had disappointed my mentor and failed to earn the position this manager held.
Applying Hax’s definition, I fit the injured party category, as did my manager. I suffered an emotional loss and was actively worried about disappointing someone whose respect I valued. The soft fear was real and unaddressed. The cause for poor performance was a reason, not an excuse.
Understanding the differences lays the groundwork for how you solve the problem.
When dealing with laziness, you must introduce motivation. This is what I referenced in the previous post. For me, I became committed to never seeing that ding on my performance review ever again. This commitment was helped by understanding how my manager did trust me but needed to provide updates to his manager. At the time, I didn’t think about that perspective. Understanding that I was causing a problem triggered something inside of me that intensified the motivation to fix this issue. I was doing it for myself and my manager.
When dealing with a soft fear, you must explore the underlying concern directly. Like a mold that’s slowly destroying something from a hidden spot, soft fears often degrade when exposed to the light of day. Asking probing “why” questions is a way to get at the cause of the problem for yourself or your direct report. Once you know the fear, you can reframe it or create a plan to eliminate it if possible. Here are some examples:
- “I understand that you can’t afford to fail, but taking a shortcut to get this done may cost you the project for quality reasons.”
- “I know you don’t want to disappoint him, but this current path is doing just that. Let’s talk about the positive steps you can take that will get you the respect you want.”
- “I get that one reward for pulling this off is more work at a greater level, but you can do it. And, by pulling this off, you’ll have a track record of success that you may be able to use to earn more support and resources.”
Getting past excuses and understanding reasons, allows you as an employee and a manager to target key tasks and get them done, once and for all. Learn who and what you’re dealing with and reframe the goal to fit your or their motivations. Then take that first fearless step.