5 Priorities to Help Leaders Remain Under Control at Work

Here are five tips to help you remain in control of your commitments or to hold others accountable for theirs.


“I’m sorry. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t been able to get to that yet.” These are familiar and disappointing words that many of us hear all too frequently at work. The reality is it’s not that difficult to remain in control of your commitments or to hold others accountable for theirs. Consider prioritizing the following five recommended actions.

  1. Actively manage your day-to-day tasks using a to-do list.

It’s rarely OK to lose sight of a promise made. As leaders, we should not accept “I’m really sorry, it slipped my mind” as a valid excuse. It only demonstrates a person’s lack of organizational ability. All you require is a tracking system to prioritize the various tasks on your plate at any time. You should actively manage your tasks using a to-do list. It is simple and satisfying, offering a sense of accomplishment every time you scratch an item off your list. Over time, it becomes instinctive to record each work item that comes your way and its due date. The list should be reviewed regularly and reprioritized as necessary whenever a new entry is added. It’s surprising how many people run their personal lives this way but doesn’t think to do the same at work. While it doesn’t necessarily reduce the workload, it does help organize it. It will also help you maintain perspective and to feel more in control of your day. When you fall behind, you know it’s time to put in some extra hours at night to catch up. When you have too many items on your list, you should scrutinize each new piece of work more thoroughly. During those times, try to find someone else to take on the tasks you won’t be able to get to.

  1. Learn to say No nicely by helping to find an alternative solution.

Saying No may well be the best answer. Learning to do so nicely is critical. Inbound requests may make someone else’s life easier but make little sense in the context of your own priorities. Try to assess all requests carefully, and when you’re too busy, accept a new one only when you know you’re the right person for the job. If not, try to suggest alternate candidates. When leading a team, delegate work to your direct reports. Spending a few extra minutes to find an alternative solution is much better than dismissing a request altogether. It can help you work more efficiently, and it provides opportunities for others to grow, and be better prepared for larger roles in the future.

  1. Use a follow-up list – it’s as important as a to-do list.

In addition to a to-do list, consider a follow-up list. When someone commits that you need to track, add an entry with a due date. You should include entries for all action items you take during meetings you facilitate. People might think you have an incredible memory, but you’re just managing your day-to-day activities using your two lists, constantly reviewing and updating them. By reaching out to people a day or two before a commitment is due and asking them how their action item is coming along, they’ll soon learn that you don’t forget. Trust by verification, as the saying goes. By setting a high standard of accountability in this regard for yourself, you will demonstrate that you lead by example, and others will understand that you are only holding them accountable to the same standard.

  1. Always make time to recognize those who deliver on their commitments.

When commitments are delivered as promised, it’s important to recognize them in a suitable way. It may only be a simple thank you, but you should feel the same sense of responsibility to acknowledge follow-through as you do to express disappointment when commitments are missed. When individuals or teams meet major deliverables, recognize them more substantially. If you have management teams that report to you, encourage them to prioritize recognition events as well. The costs associated with thoughtful celebrations tend to be insignificant when compared to the benefits.

  1. Take ownership in those rare cases that you are unable to deliver.

The easiest way to earn a strong reputation as a leader and achieve your full potential is to deliver as promised and ensure others do the same. In those rare cases where something pops up unexpectedly, and you can’t deliver, take ownership. It’s far better to reach out to ask for an extension than to hope the person you committed to forgets. Even if you think you might have gotten away with it, it is far more likely that you notched a small chip out of your reputation, as people rarely forget a commitment made.

Over time, too many of these notches will limit your growth opportunities.

Adapted excerpt from the recently released book, Decoding Your STEM Career, published by Business Expert Press. For over thirty years, Pete Devenyi led a storied career in technology, both globally and in Canada. He led enterprise software at RIM/BlackBerry for 9 years and was Senior Vice President of Global Products and Solutions at Dematic, one of the largest warehouse robotic automation providers in the world. For more information, visit petedevenyi.com.