Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

The last month with our clients brought a new crop of coaching/leadership questions. Of all of our questions, one, in particular, stood out. It stood out because it seemed to spark the holy trinity of unhealthy emotions—anger, sadness, and profound frustration. We, simply, asked, “Who writes your To-Do list?

The answers to this question almost caused us to stop and start an episode of Law & Order: SVU. SVU, of course, stands for Special Victims Unit, and that’s what we got: a ton of victimization. Answers floated across the spectrum. To the question of who writes your To-Do list, we got the following responses: my boss, bad employees, agencies, incompetent or lazy peers, auditors, regulators, clients, regulators, VIPs, and corporate HQs. None of these is the right answer. Admittedly, all of the above are contributing authors to your To-Do list, but they should never be the primary author. The correct answer to the question of who writes your To-Do list, of course, should be YOU. You are the first author of your To-Do list.

One interview with a rising star executive speaks volumes. She told us that as she drove into work every day, she mentally reviewed her To-Do list. However, the day never, ever went as planned, and within minutes of walking into her office each morning, her To-Do list would, invariably, ‘blow-up.’ As certain as death and taxes, she recounted that her To-Do list and her priorities were the main and consistent casualty every day. She acknowledged the dangers that we touch on below.

When you allow or give permission for others to write your To-Do list, you are essentially making an assumption. You are assuming that a boss, an outside agency, or regulator knows your business better than you. That’s a faulty assumption, don’t you think? The person who should know your team’s or your organization’s business better than anyone is YOU. When we hold this assumption, other bad outcomes are sure to follow. Namely, we lose control and are now along for the ride. Predictably, we get into crisis management mode as opposed to addressing the important, but not necessarily urgent, matters at hand. Ultimately, we find in ourselves in an unenviable position—we respond only to the symptoms of an issue without tackling its root. In our experience, departments, divisions, and organizations that fail to assert themselves as first authors of their To-Do lists, are unfocused and undisciplined.

Before we move on to the Leadership In Action portion of our celebrated eNews, reflect, for a minute, on who exactly is the primary author of your To-Do list. If the answer is not YOU, reach out to Dr. Evan Offstein at to discuss how you can fight back. Until then, consult the Leadership In Action portion of this Newsletter to get you moving in the right direction.