It seems that Checklists are all the rage. Everyone seems to mention the Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande which I now have on my vacation reading list. Along these lines, Michael Useem, Wharton management professor, has written The Leader’s Checklist which is out now. I think I will have to read that too because it is a subject that I follow regularly and I’ve always liked his work. Useem provides the 15 mission critical principles that help leaders navigate the stormy waters of crisis and personal success. In an interview with Useem, he talks about the need for a checklist to avoid “unforced errors.” I was not sure what that meant so I looked it up and quickly found that “unforced error” is a sports term (which is why I had not heard it).
Forced Error– A forced error is when your opponent hits a really good shot (powerful groundstroke, angled volley, drop shot, lob, etc), that you have to run, stretch, dive or scramble to get. Once you get there you are unable to put it back into the court or you hit the net. Technically, you made a mistake but since the your opponents hit a superior shot, they “forced” that error. Basically, if you hit a shot on the run and it doesn’t go in, it’s a forced error.
Unforced Error– An unforced error is a mistake that you make due to simply hitting the ball incorrectly (shanks, mishits) or using improper positioning, lack of precision or just bad luck (such as hitting the let cord and having it drop back on your side). In other words, if you are playing a neutral rally and your shot goes out of bounds or hits the net, that is an unforced error.
The point is that Useem is telling leaders to keep a checklist so that they don’t make a mistake such as forgetting to remind employees about following ethical guidelines or how to treat a customer everytime they walk into a room. When it comes to a Reputation Checklist, we actually have one — 99 Tips to Safekeeping Reputation. Although there are 99 of them, they are all worth reading and takes about four minutes. Take a read. I keep mine on my bulletin board behind my desktop at work as a reminder that reputation needs to be managed daily, if not hourly.