Use the Big Deadline


Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote a fascinating piece on President Obama’s wide-reaching use of deadlines – on Gitmo, health care, Iran, Russian arms deals, and a wide array of other issues – in yesterday’s New York Times.  She suggests the risks can be high when deadlines pass without action or action is forced prematurely, and she points to the upside of focusing attention that can otherwise continually push off decisions.

The President used carrots in his “Race to the Top” educational grant money and the application deadlines for that money stimulated unprecedented debate and decision-making in educational reform.  The Michigan legislature passed a slew of reforms over the weekend.  The deadline drove decision makers to press for the win-wins that have only existed on paper for 20 years and have heretofore never been close to resolution.

So we all face our most natural deadline of the year – 2009’s over in 10 days.  Why not leverage off the deadline?  Maybe you don’t have to give up on a work goal, though only a few work days remain.  Fix on it.  Declare you’ll do it.  Go after it.  Maybe you can add a carrot to a deadline with your kids to prompt them to do something you and they know they can and should complete – a college application, an oil change, or a letter to grandma.  Maybe there’s something in your own life you can complete with a firm deadline in place: a visit to an aging relative, an act of forgiveness you have withheld, a gift of food, clothing or money to people in great need, or a return to church.

President Obama takes a risk every time he announces something will be done by a set date. Hit the mark or not, he focuses attention and energy. Like him or not, he offers a way to

Lead with your best self!