Follow UpThere are two types of follow-up. First, the kind you initiate:
“I am calling about the proposal I sent you.”
“You committed to that action by Tuesday, how is it going?”
“Did you remember to send your mother a birthday card?”

Second, the kind where you are the recipient:
“I am calling about the proposal I sent you.”
“You committed to that action by Tuesday, how is it going?”
“Did you remember to send your mother a birthday card?”

There are not inherent differences in follow-up questions, no matter which side you take. So why do you screw it up?

Because, as is often the case with leadership dysfunction, you are suffering from inflated ego, irrational fear, or heaven save us, both.

Let’s review the ego-driven excuses first because, you know, ego.

“I’m sorry, I was too busy.”
A pseudo-polite way of saying, “this wasn’t worth my time.” How insidious. I know you think you are a very important person, and you are. The problem for you is that there are several billion other important people, and you either implicitly or explicitly accepted a commitment to value one of them, and you broke that promise. It would have been better to have negotiated an upfront agreement rather than erode the trust of another human being.

“I forgot.”
It happens. Our ability to recall everything at appropriate time fluctuates. Nonetheless, in this technological productivity enhancement era, where you program an app so you won’t miss your favorite show or remind you to buy laundry detergent. “I forgot” reads like, “I am incompetent.” A low-tech pencil and a post-it note could’ve saved you, but you couldn’t even pull that off. Yet, later at the bar with your friends, you’ll complain about how your company undervalues you.

“If it is important it will come back.”
That is an abdication of responsibility, and I am sorry, but you ain’t royalty. A professional knows what’s going on and when, or has the means to find out and then act on things before they are due.

This is closely related to the being disorganized excuse. Being disorganized is not a high-value trait. Quirky, eccentric, and creative, can be desirable. Disorganized thinking, planning or doing is not.

Hidden excuse: You don’t want it badly enough.
Maybe your motivations do not match the task. It is likely this will happen many times in your life. It is your job to dig deeper and either find a way to make it match or move on. That is a problem that is up to you to solve before it gets solved for you.

Not So Passive-Aggressive.
With about 20% of the workforce actively disengaged, what would you expect. These are not the “it slipped my mind” crowd. These are the defiant “No, I’m not going to do it” people. Usually, they have an ax to grind. You may have a legitimate complaint. The job probably changed, and you were not prepared nor properly trained for it. Your boss, statistically speaking, is more probable than not, miscast at their job. According to Gallup, as much as 82% do not have the high-talent required of their role. Still, none of that excuses you for being sloven. To quote some Paramore wisdom, “Don’t go crying to your mama ‘cause you’re on your own in the real world.”

Irrational Fears. Spoiler: ego is fear-based. 
Irrational fear is the head trash you carry with you. Unless the fear is related to an unexpected loud noise or an uncomfortable height, you manufactured it, so it seems to reason you can reverse engineer it and get over yourself. Your failure to follow up is related to your opinion of your competence, or how you are being perceived by others. Two ego-centric issues.

Fear of Rejection.
Rejection stinks and stings. Even the most effective, hard-charging, tough-skinned sales executives who get rejected daily are not exempt from the bruised feelings. The difference is they recover, extremely fast. Sometimes within seconds. Their self-worth is not damaged because they detach themselves from the outcome. Fear of rejection is akin to worry, and worry is just borrowing trouble.

Unclear expectation.
What was asked of you, or what you initially asked, may not have provided enough detail for success. Now, for a myriad of reasons, you are too afraid to ask for clarification. Why? Because it might make you look weak or imply you were not paying attention. So instead you avoid, obfuscate, or abdicate. Not a smart move for career advancement.

Don’t want to micro-manage.
This is a widely misappropriated label that sticks. Everyone seems preoccupied with it, yet it is excruciatingly rare. Truthfully, most people under manage. Here is a test. Does your boss know where you are and what you are working on right now, let alone this week? Did he or she give you authorization to read this? Can you answer the same questions of your direct reports? You may have a lousy manager, but it is doubtful they are a micro-manager. North Americans do not have that kind of energy, and with only 51% of managers engaged in their work, they do not even have that level of interest in you. Feel better?

Don’t want to nag or be annoying.
Persistence is enduring despite the odds, and that is on you. Annoyance is a state of being, and that is on others. You do not get to decide if they are annoyed by you or not. It is out of your hands. Following up does not make you look annoying. It makes you look competent. Based on the overwhelming lack of follow up going on around you, what are the odds that your act of professionalism gets perceived as annoying? I would roll the dice. You could also ask ahead of time when you set expectations, what would annoy them, and then respect that boundary.

Develop a system for yourself that encourages you to follow up. Doing so will help keep things on track. Projects and decisions will progress faster, and you’ll stand out as a better leader.


Karl Bimshas is a leadership consultant who collaborates with busy executives to improve the working relationships with their colleagues and direct reports to create high performing teams. He’s the author of “How to Stay When You Want to Quit; Strategies to get over yourself“.