How to get things done


Long.  Rambling.  Imagine.

A good manager/team leader (whatever) gains respect based on their ability to get things done.  Their ability to deliver.  Basically that’s all I ever asked of my bosses.  Make something happen, and allow me the latitude to do the same

So when I suddenly found myself managing a large number of people, in 5 countries and numerous states I knew I had to be able to make things happen.  

I had great tutors in life – a district manager at Radio Shack that ended up selling bogus water-purification kits and his company ended up on 60 Minutes.  But he taught me how to sell.  No – that’s not true.  He taught me how to find out what people want to buy – a much more valuable thing.

Example:  My boss, we’ll call him Charlie, was in my store one day.  A guy walks in and asks me if we sell drills.  We didn’t, and I told the customer that.  The customer said thanks, and left.  Charlie followed him out the door.  Charlie was gone a minute or so, came back in and asked me why I lost that customer.  “Because we don’t sell drills”, I answered.  “No, because you didn’t know what the customer needed.  The customer needs a hole, not a drill”, Charlie says.

And the customer walks back in the front door (later I found Charlie paid him to wait and come in on cue).  I ask the customer (again) if I an help him.  He tells me he needs a drill.  This time I ask him “What for?” and he tells me he needs to put a hole through the wall to run a phone line (yes, kiddoes, back then phones had wires!). 

Interestingly I sold a punch and a hammer that cost less than $4.00 total.  So the guy saved some money (I gotta believe that if he was looking for a drill in Radio Sack he probably never would have used the drill again), and I got a sale.  Not a big one.  But every sale you make opens the door to the next sale.  Every sale you lose makes the next one that much harder.

I’ve had a lot of other great tutors as well.  Perhaps I’ll get into them later.  This post is already too long!

I was pretty successful in my professionally career – mostly because I just convinced people I could get things done.

Convincing people you can get something done is the key.  Chances are if you convince management that you can get something done, they will support you – in staffing, funding, and in the support they show for you publicly.

The exact same is true for employees – if they believe in you, and if you promise things you can deliver, and you deliver then they will do almost anything to make sure they help you to keep delivering.

It’s in both employee and management’s best interests to have a mid-level manager they can count on – especially one that can deliver.  And you have to deliver.  You won’t be successful with this tactic unless you can.

I learned this lesson 20+ years ago – when I managed a Radio Shack (at the ripe old age of 23).  The A/C went out.  In Novato, California, in the summer.  It wasn’t overly hot, but it got humid.

After a week or so of sweating and hearing customer complaints, and employee complaints, and not having the company do anything to address it, I called OSHA.  Yep.  Turned myself in.  It was 109 degrees in that store with all of those electronics running.  Just wasn’t safe.  I promised my new employees a new central A/C unit in 3 days and I’ll be damned if we didn’t get it.  Did I cost the company anything more than they would/should have paid anyway?  Maybe a few percentage points for a “rush” job.  But I saved them more than they spent – and  I made them a hell of a lot of money in the few years after that.

I often employed this, “I’ll get it done, if you let me” strategy.  When we needed to grow from 8600 square feet to almost 16,000 I told my bosses that “I would get it done”.  My bosses were remote, and I knew we wouldn’t be successful if we let a remote manager “manage this”.  I had some experience in contracting and build-out before, but nothing on this scale – at least nothing with this visibility. 

I approached this problem just like I did most others – I looked around, and asked around, and found the best person I could to help with the task.  Often it was employees, or coworkers (or bosses), many times it was friends of friends.  In this case it was a friend of a friend – but he was a great Realtor and I gave him my parameters and he did thousands of dollars worth of work that we may have otherwise paid for – much more than Realtors normally do (like finding a moving company when ours backed out three days before the move).  He got his commission, yes.  But he earned it.  And I was happy to pay it.  He saved our company a ton of money.

I’ve recommended him to a lot of people since then.  He has made a lot of money off of me.

So don’t fall into the belief that you need to “prove to your bosses that you can do something” before you get the opportunity.  Make them prove you can’t do it.  I actually phrased it pretty close to that when it came to me taking over some foreign employees, and my bosses didn’t know if I was ready for that.  “How do you know?  It’s easy to assume I can’t do it, but I can, and I can’t prove I can unless you trust me”

If you are working for a company that won’t let you or doesn’t appreciate you sticking your neck out, you are in the wrong company.


  1. Yes – respect and trust are hard to earn and easy to lose.  They getter much more difficult to lose if you built up a history though.  I probably made bad decisions 10-15% of the time.  But at least I made decisions – and the bosses I had at the time realized that (and appreciated it).

  2. I couldn’t agree with this post more. It is not just a matter of trust but rather a mixture of trust and respect that allows this sort of response from those for whon you are working. Both are hard to earn and easy to lose but the journey is a worthwhile one.