Wednesday, April 6, 2011

CYA - The Basic Rule of Leadership

While attending Florida Southern College I took a night class entitled “Industrial Psychology.” The teacher was a retired Vice President of Human Resources for a major international heavy equipment manufacturer. The very first day of class he walked into the room, went up to the blackboard and wrote in large letters “CYA”. He then told us if we did not learn anything else in his class we would learn what CYA meant.

He went on to explain that in the real world of business this is one of the most important and basic rules to success and survival. Whether you find yourself in a positive or negative position, using CYA gives you an advantage over your competition. In all areas of business you needed to CYA or Cover Your Ass.

Every class after that he would write CYA on the board and leave it up for the entire period. Then he would teach the fundamentals of industrial psychology while weaving in his own personal experiences. Throughout the class he would refer to the board and ask, "How can you apply CYA to this situation?"

When broken down CYA involves two processes.

1. Documentation

2. Follow-up


Documentation is simply “put it in writing.” Whether it involves communication or an event, write down what was said and/or what happened. Too often not remembering exactly what happened or what was said results in a totally different outcome than what you expected.

In a conversation what was heard by one party may not be what was said by the other. Often the conversation is held in a noisy or busy area with lots of distractions. Other times the conversation is held while one or both parties are in a hurry and there is no true communication occurring.

To help avoid misunderstanding take notes during the conversation or as soon as possible after the conversation write down what was said. I have always carried a little note pad in my pocket to jot down memory notes to be used later to help retain or recap the conversation. Often when I get a few minutes I will send a note by email to the other party summarizing the conversation. This will also serve a record that we had the conversation.

At times I have kept a business journal or log of my daily activities. This is a great tool for keeping notes on the day’s events and important communications. Several months later if you have to review an event you will be glad you have this information documented.

Another good habit to get into is to save all correspondences in a file. You never know when you may need it. This is one of the great things about email. It is a written record and easy to save.


One of the phrases I hate to hear from one of my managers is, “I assumed ….” I was taught very early in my business career the old adage that when you assume, you make an “ass-u-me” and I get very upset when it happens to me. This can easily be avoided by simply learning to follow-up on events you are involved with.

If you make an assignment don’t assume it will be done, follow-up.

If you have assignments don’t assume you have done it correctly, follow-up.

If you are involved in communication with another person don’t assume there is an understanding of what was said, follow-up.

If you do anything, take the time to follow-up to insure it is done correctly. This extra step in your work process can eliminate a lot of wasted steps in the future.

If you write it, proofread it, another form of follow-up. Years ago I asked my assistant to type a letter to the Vice President of Operations of the company I worked for telling him of the production record that was broken the previous night by our second shift team. She typed it up and brought in for me to sign and I did.

Several days later I got a call from the VP asking if I had read the letter I had signed before I sent it. I learned a big lesson on follow-up that day. I pulled out my copy of the letter and read where she wrote, “The second shift set a new production standard for the operations.” The problem was she had left the “f” out of shift. Needless to say I now read what I sign.

It may sound like you are being paranoid by keeping all of these notes and constantly checking up on people, but it is not. It is a valuable tool to help make you a better leader and manager. It will help you evaluate your past performance and help you make plans for future improvements. By applying CYA in all areas of your work you will reap the benefits.

So, everyday “Cover Your Ass.”

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