Leading Success in 2014: Your 11-Step Checklist

New Year's Resolutions

The New Year 2014 is here. Now is the time that many leaders take the opportunity to reflect on the past year and to plan for the upcoming one.

But with a new year come new stresses and potentially frantic times for many.

A Less Stressful New Year

A great way to set yourself up for a less-stressful, less-frantic 2014 is to create a screening process to help you figure out which new projects make the most sense to go ahead with.

As enthusiastic, visionary people it is very easy to just jump into new projects and hope that everything works out along the way.

Unfortunately, this approach often wastes a lot of time and money.

This year, take the time to walk yourself through this eleven point checklist to make sure that you’re balancing your passion with the practical management responsibilities required to lead the project to success.

11 Resolutions to Make before you Make any Resolutions

11 Step Checklist To Set Your 2014 Projects Up For Success

1. Assess how much time your new project is going to take.

For me, this is the big one. I always under-estimate how long something is going to take and then I end up stressing myself out because I have too much to do.

This is the rule-of-thumb that I use: get out a piece of paper and write out your best guess of how much time this new initiative is going to require and then gross it up by 50%. If you can still manage the time, go to item #2 on the list.

2. Assess how much money your new project is going to take.

This item is about the literal counting of the cost. It may be that your project doesn’t take a lot of money to run, but it is important to count the costs that you might not see.

  • For example, is this going to take more of your time (that you won’t necessarily be getting paid for) equalling lost earning potential?
  • Are there going to be an increased amount of personal expenses: gas in your car, long-distance phone charges, technological tools that you’ll need?

It might not add up to a lot but having a budget mapped out will help you manage expectations and not be so surprised when there are dollars going out of your (or your organization’s) pocket.

3. Establish a realistic timeline.

Different than item #1, setting a realistic timeline is about how long you take the project to take. It’s one thing to have an ambitious goal; it’s another to be naive about how much work will be involved in seeing your project go to completion.

A great idea here is to gather your team around you and roll out the idea and see how long they think it will take.

Give yourself lots of time – under promise and over deliver is a great motto for setting a project completion date.

4. Identify how many people and which skills you need on the team.

As a leader, we have a responsibility to look at all the variables that can and will affect our ability to lead our projects to success – the capacity of your team is probably one of the biggest pieces we need to consider when charting our course.

  • It is one thing to set a goal, but have you carefully looked at the people you have on your team to see whether they have the capacity to be a part of seeing this goal fulfilled?
  • If not, are you willing to adjust your goal to accommodate your team or get a new team to support your goal?

This is my biggest weak spot for sure. I’m notoriously one of those do-it-myself people (even if it kills me) even though I know that this is a terrible strategy. As I’ve grown in leadership I become a lot more intentional about making time to map out an organizational strategy i.e.) what people and talent do I need on the team who have skills that I don’t have and then I set out to recruit them.

I love the expression; scout out those who “play at” what you “work at.”

5. Consider the potential challenges you will need to overcome.

Not to be a hater, but this one is really important. No project runs perfectly and it is critical on the front end to consider the challenges you may be facing: both personal and professional.

For example: whenever I start a project I consider first my family obligations. Being a mom of three kids, I have to factor in how much time doing child related tasks will take before I make any professional commitments.

In my case, to not factor in all pre-existing responsibilities that comes with having kids could potentially derail my project’s success and would be incredibly short-sighted on my part.

6. Get clear about “why” you’re doing it. Check your agenda against the agenda of your stakeholders.

This one is harder than it sounds and a little bit tricky to discern. Before beginning any new project, take some time to yourself and really ask yourself why you want to go ahead with this project and outline how saying “yes” will not only help you but also help your stakeholders.

Maybe there is a great media opportunity that you want to commit to because it will allow you the chance to speak and make a name for yourself in your community (which is fine.) However, the return on investment in terms of how much it will increase your ability to serve your clients will be negligible.

Consider the needs of the huge range of stakeholders you have to please before you agree to anything: your donors, your board, your community, your clients, etc. If the project is primarily self-serving, maybe “pass” on the idea or go ahead with it on your own time.

7. Write up a tentative, simplified strategic plan.

I’m not really a fan of the elaborate 5 year strategic plan. Too much changed too quickly to really be able to commit to something that structured.

My ideal scenario when starting any new venture is to boil down all the big ideas onto one page so that anyone on the team can know exactly what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it…you get the idea.

8. Do your market research. Is there a real need for this project or are you hoping it will work‑out?

This item really takes the fun out of launching a new project. I’m the queen of beginning something (that I think is a great idea) before really knowing whether anyone really wants it. Do you have an idea for a program that you think would be great? Before you commit resources to it, do some research and find out whether or not your idea is sustainable. 

Poll your client, members in your community, your competitors…Maybe a similar program was offered by a similar organization just last year and it totally bombed. That would be great to know before you try to do something like that too.

Get a few members of your core-team to form a mini-committee and being to ask around and gather some “intel” about the needs and wants are of those you serve and adjust your plan accordingly. 

9. Establish an advisory team to help you get to your goal (with a lot less headaches.)

The easiest way to save time and money when launching a new project is to develop a team of advisors who have walked this road already and can help you navigate the way to the finish line. I know I’m biased but the most effective support resource I’ve ever invested in is executive coaching.

Like you, I hate wasting time. I want to get to my goal in the most efficient way possible and I know that me trying to re-invent the wheel is a terrible use of my time and donor dollars.

Before you begin anything new, check out your operational budget and allocate a portion to hiring an executive coach who can stay with you every step of the way providing ongoing support and skills coaching.

If coaching is not a realistic option, check out your local community resource center, local networking groups or an online LinkedIn group.

10. Establish your ideal outcome for the project.

This is one that I know is difficult in the nonprofit sector. Determine which “measurables” you’re going to use to see if your project is actually accomplishing what it set out to accomplish. Set a fixed goal.

For example: instead of shooting at a loose target “we want to help feed more people in our community this year, say “our goal is to feed 100 more families this year.”

In the nonprofit world, more and more donors are looking for a quantifiable return on the money they have given to your organization. Right from the get-go, get a target that you can track. It might not be as romantic and may feel a lot more mechanical but it will be easier for people to latch-onto your vision and support your work as they understand the outcome you’re working towards.

11. If your project is going to cost money, research which (if any) grants may available to help fund your specific project idea.

Wouldn’t it be great to know where the money could potentially be coming from before you even started your project? Before you even be working on your project, start building relationships with the granting bodies you know you’ll be going to when it comes time to apply for a grant.

Take the time to figure out which specific projects they’re looking to support and begin networking to see if there are any foundations you could connect with that you may not have even heard of yet. Really take the time to short-list potential sources of grant money and identify ways you can help them hit their goals by them helping you hit their goals.

 Got a question about any of these ideas? Leave a comment below! I would love to hear your thoughts.


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Natasha Golinsky is the Founder of Next Level Nonprofits
She helps nonprofit CEO’s take their leadership skills to the next level
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L2L Contributing Author


  1. Dave Mohn on January 3, 2014 at 10:31 am

    The eleven points provide a nice listing of project eleiments. Consise and well thought out.
    However would it not be better to first to start with “Write up a tentative, simplified strategic plan” or “Get clear about “why” you’re doing it” before assessing time and money?

    • Natasha Golinsky (@ngolinsky) on January 3, 2014 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for the comment Dave. You’re absolutely right, I should have said that these are in no particular order. What would you add to this list?

  2. maconsultancy on January 4, 2014 at 4:10 am

  3. Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. on January 4, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I like the idea of an advisory team. Where do you suggest going to find the right people to give you useful advice?
    One more idea I might add to the checklist is to have a creativity session with your team–use a variety of creativity techniques (beyond brainstorming) to see what new innovations emerge. Perhaps one of those ideas can be developed.

    • Natasha Golinsky (@ngolinsky) on January 5, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Hi Jagoda, I have found that finding 4 people (whether peers, colleagues etc) who I trust and who I know have done what I need to do. Most people are absolutely willing to help if you can prove to them that you’re taking their advice and not wasting their time. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

      • Jagoda Perich-Anderson, M.A. on January 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

        Thanks, Natasha. I’m sure it would be important to be organized and focused to make good use of their time. Good advice.

  4. asimancas on January 7, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Network of thought.