Leadership Toolbox: the Checklist

[May 14, 2018]  Most of us associate checklists with pilots getting ready for takeoff or with home inspectors going through a house to verify it is ready for occupancy.  Leaders also use checklists and they do so as a matter of course; one that is customized to their needs and a necessary part of their toolbox.

“The checklist is one of the most high powered productivity tools ever discovered.” – Brian Tracy, Canadian-American motivational public speaker

Checklists are a crucial fit in the leadership toolbox.  It affords us with a specific, item-by-item list of things that must be done before, during, and after a task has been assigned.  Such a list must be specific, simple enough to ensure its effectiveness if used properly, and updated.

Good checklists are efficient, to the point, and easy to use even in the most difficult situations.  They don’t spell out every step but provide reminders of the most critical and important steps that could be missed.  They are, above all, practical.

It may be a stereotype but our military leaders make extensive use of a variety of checklists.  As readers of this blog know, I’m retired military.  The other day I was going through some of my things and I found my combat helmet that I had used while in the Iraq War.  Stuck inside were two checklists I had used on a daily basis, as one of the senior Coalition Engineers back in 2006-07.

As you would expect, the U.S. Army has hundreds of checklists depending on the situation.  Several that are really good are contained in their most recent “Leader Handbook” and can be found in PDF format (see link).  Just search under the word “checklist” and several popups provide good examples.

A couple of years ago I wrote on this blog that leaders always want to be on top of their game, focused, and fully proficient in duty performance.  To do so, I suggested at the time that it might be a good idea to check out the Standing Rules of Rogers’ Rangers.  These “rules” are a checklist of key leader tasks.

Leaders, be sure you create and use checklists in what you do.  There will be a time you forget something and the use of these lists will prevent that from happening.


[Note:]  I have a small mini-series on Leadership Toolboxes here at theLeaderMaker.com.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

32 thoughts on “Leadership Toolbox: the Checklist

  1. Len Jakosky

    Some people who I’ve seen as great leaders can keep it in their heads but not most of us. Checklists are a must use!

  2. Andrew Dooley

    Whether a checklist is mental or physical, they still work. My personal way is to have written checklists and they come in many forms; some detailed, some not. What I find that works best is a small notepad where I’ve taped them in so I can easily see an outline of the main tasks I have to do. In other cases, when I work as part of a team, we have more complex and comprehensive SOPs that contain detailed checklists.

  3. Billy Kenningston

    Not that long ago I retired from the business world and having worked in several major cities in the US (like LA, Chicago, and Cleveland), I find that “real leaders” are not afraid of using whatever tool is available to help them. If they had to wear pink underwear to make them better, they would do it and do it unabashedly.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Hey Billy. I too worked in Chicago. Nice place but I found it too cold in the winters to I moved to Florida.

  4. Edward Kennedy III

    Gen Satterfield is very good at taking suggestions just like those who recommended this topic. He welcomes them like any good leader who listens. Send him suggestions any time or send him a draft article like I did. Now, I’m a regular.

  5. Kenny Foster

    More leaders should use checklists. I see so many of them make downright stupid mistakes just because they don’t want to seem dependent upon a simple list.

    1. Jerome Smith

      Stupid is as stupid does. It’s hard on you when you’re stupid. Wait, I heard this somewhere else.

  6. Mark Evans

    Nicely done on a topic of my personal interests. Thanks for posting this today and, like others, I appreciate the list at the bottom that shows other “tools” that I would need.

  7. Mr. T.J. Asper

    It wasn’t that long ago that I made the mistake of not using my well-worn checklist (I’d printed it on paper) to coach my team on one of our toughest games against our rival across town. We were defeated. Not having my checklist made the contest extra hard on me by forcing me to think harder and, in doing so, I missed a number of opportunities. Had I used the checklist I believe I would have been a better coach that day and we might have won the game.

  8. Bryan Lee

    Thanks Gen Satterfield for making all your toolbox posts available for easy access at the end of this blog post. Much obliged.

  9. Martin Shiell

    Here’s another leadership toolbox website. This one costs money to use but it gives a generally good idea of the importance of tools that leaders use from tactical to strategic.

  10. Ronny Fisher

    I use checklists in my job and I would think anyone with common sense would do the same. You don’t have to do everything on them but it gives you a mental reminder.

  11. Tracey Brockman

    Anyone reading today’s article and were in the military at any rank and at any time knows that the military mandates the use of various checklists for many of the tasks they perform. When you’re tired and overwhelmed these checklists are invaluable; especially for the leader whose tasks are more complex. Thank you for this article today Brig Gen Satterfield.

  12. Joe Omerrod

    In the medical field, we use them all the time. Nurses are known for their checklists and actually make them part of their routine while out on the floor with patients. Just a few years ago they used to hang them from the bedside but with computers we are getting away from that. Nonetheless, we use them all the time. My favorite technique is to put mine on a clipboard.

  13. Dennis Mathes

    Thank you for this early Monday morning read on what leaders use, day-to-day use, in carrying out their duties. This makes good common sense.

  14. Lynn Pitts

    I once met a Gunny Sergeant who thought he was too much of a big man to have to rely on such puny stuff as checklists. One day he missed a part of an Operations Order (simple to do). He was red-faced about the whole thing as we all laughed at his mistake. Anyone of us could have made the mistake but it was easily avoided by him simply using a preprinted checklist.

  15. Army Captain

    Being a part of the US Army for a number of years, we regularly use checklists. I too have several stuffed in my helmet.

  16. Max Foster

    Good post today on a very relevant topic. It matters not what our age, job responsibilities, … no matter what, checklists are another tool that helps all of us (not just leaders) to get through the day without those pesky problems coming up and bitting us in the rear.

    1. Scotty Bush

      I’ve had the same experience. Thank you for the comment Max.

  17. Bill Sanders, Jr.

    Thanks Gen Satterfield for taking us up on our suggestion to include “checklists” as part of the leader toolbox. We all use them. Some of us may not know it, but that is the case.

    1. Tony B. Custer

      Thanks Bill, yes, it is good that Gen Satterfield takes our suggestions.

    2. Tony B. Custer

      Yes he does, so feel free to make recommendations and to foward a link to others so they can also read theleadermaker.com

    3. Joey Holmes

      I really like this website. Cheers!

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