Just One Thing—Cultivate Your Project Leadership Skills

Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around individually important topics. Use them in good health and great performance!

Increasingly, the work of organizations is completed in the form of projects. Strategy is executed in projects. Innovation efforts take on the form of projects. Quality improvement efforts start-out as projects. Even planning the company holiday party qualifies as a project, albeit, a particularly stressful one.

Understanding the discipline and tools of project management is now de rigueur for professionals with any intention of growing in their careers. Whether you are an individual contributor, a functional manager or an executive, it’s great to understand the issues, challenges and practices of delivering projects.

However, when I take a close look at project teams that struggle (and too many do), it’s generally not the misapplication of project management tools or practices that are at the source of the problems. Most often, it’s the absence any visible form of project leadership.

Consider: project teams are generally temporary groupings of individuals with different skill-sets but a shared interest in creating something unique. Often, these individuals have little experience in working with each other, and while they might share an interest in the outcome, it’s dangerous to assume that this group will magically or easily coalesce into a functioning unit capable of navigating all of the issues that arise on teams and with projects.

The Project Manger/Leader is responsible for guiding this team from selection and assembly through the murky woods of learning to act, decide, learn, argue, resolve, create and execute together. And for an encore, they have to coordinate the phases of the project, the use of the tools and the communication and coordination and general herding of cats necessary to move the team forward and keep the stakeholders appropriately informed.

The most successful project leaders I’ve encountered are lifetime students of human nature, relentlessly focused on engaging the hearts and minds of their team members and forming a team environment where the landmines surrounding human interaction can be safely navigated.

These individuals take the time to cultivate their leadership and coaching skills. They develop confidence in delivering tough feedback and they work hard to create visibility for and support the development of their high performing team members.

And along the way, they create remarkable value for their firms, rescuing troubled projects and safely guiding even the most challenging of these activities to success.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Remember to put the “Leadership” into your firm’s project work. If you’re a project management professional, invest in your leadership skills development and put the tools to work to strengthen your performance and your team’s performance. If the project culture in your firm is more informal, remember to bring the leadership focus when it’s your turn to plan the holiday party or plan that new market launch.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

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Just One Thing—There’s No Such Thing as a Partially Toxic Employee

Just One ThingAs managers, we tend to tolerate certain employees who straddle that toxic boundary, in large part, because we can rationalize their aberrant behaviors in the context of what they do well.

We write off destructive behaviors that live at the bleeding edge of the values of the organization, by rationalizing the situation around perceived potential or individual skills, effectively hoping/wishing that the sunshine will outweigh the thunderstorm he/she brings to every day in the workplace.

Sure, there are good days and when nothing tips in the wrong direction, we sigh and feel good about being courageous enough to keep this person on board.

And then the behaviors recur and yet we’re invested in this person and our ability to do the right thing grows weaker and weaker. Effectively, we’re caught up in the cognitive trap of escalation of commitment and we’re stuck throwing good money (our credibility as leaders) after bad.

These people become “project” employees and they suck the energy, time and healthy workplace environment right into the black, toxic hole of their personalities. They destroy the workplace environment, derail team development and force everyone to walk on eggshells around them.

And worse yet, the effort we put into these project-people is time and energy we’re not putting in to those who truly deserve our support.

Are you spending too much time with the wrong people?

I live and work by a hire slow, fire fast philosophy. Having said that, I’m a huge fan of second chances, and fair, due process always rules the day.  Nonetheless, I take heat for the fire fast component.

I’ll take a bullet for it. I have too much respect for everyone else impacted by the toxicity to do anything else but strive to strengthen the environment and eliminate behaviors and persons who that detract from performance.

It’s always clear, fair, with warning and due process. It’s also lightening fast.

You change the toxic behaviors or you’re gone. You sustain the change or you’re gone.

Go poison someone else’s well. I’ve got a great business to build and great professionals to support and develop. Your “project” is not my priority.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There’s no such thing as a partially toxic employee.  You can’t change people. You can provide them the tools to change, however, if they don’t, then you’re not obligated to escalate your commitment to them at the huge expense of your leadership credibility.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

Just One Thing—Leader: To Thine Own Self Be True

Just One ThingI was struck by the simplicity and power of an observation from one of the (early career) participants in a recent leadership program of mine.

After studying different styles and approaches and examples of leaders, he indicated that he was walking away from the program with a sense that there was no one style he was required to emulate on his path to leadership success.

From his comments, it was clear that he found it liberating that he could cultivate his own style and not force himself to fit into someone else’s template for what makes a successful leader.

For many of us, it takes years to figure this out.

While there are common building blocks inherent in effective leadership: respect, trust, guidance, teaching, coaching, setting direction etc., there are no rules on templates or molds that dictate our own personal style.

From Jobs to Hshieh to Schultz to Bezos and across all of history, great leaders achieved great results through and with others and did it in their own unique way. 

There’s pressure in our corporate environments and even in much of the training and development on leadership and management to fit into a mold.

Screw that.

There’s no growth, fun or reward in trying to fit into the molds of even the most successful leaders in your culture. And in fact, by trying to be someone your not, even in a positive attempt to emulate a good role model, you’ll be short-changing yourself and your teams.

Experiment. Display your passion. Rethink conventional wisdom.

Make your own mold. And then break it.

To thine own self be true.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

Just One Thing—Quit Playing the Role of the Office Overbearing Smarty Pants

Just One ThingI confess to having not used the descriptor “smarty pants” since sometime before I turned 11, but I was reminded of it the other day in a Wall Street Journal article on the potential nomination of economist, Larry Summers, to the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve.

In describing Mr. Summers’ past accomplishments and credentials for a potential Fed nomination, the article also pointed out some of the negatives swirling around him:

“But to his detractors—of which there are also plenty—he is an overbearing smarty pants who could be a bull in the collegial Fed china shop.”

“He’s not a very self-aware person,” said Cathy O’Neil, a mathematician who worked with Mr. Summers at hedge fund D.E. Shaw during the Bush administration. “He’s incredibly aggressively competitive, in a kind of…high-school debate champion kind of way.”

Most of us have very little real understanding of how our behaviors impact others. Some of us resemble Ms. O’Neil’s description of Mr. Summers as not very self-aware.

We cruise through our days secure in our view of our importance and convinced that our presence lights up every room, enlightens our colleagues and brings joy and prosperity to our teams and organization.

Well, perhaps the enlightenment we create isn’t so great or the joy quite as profound as we imagine.

By all career measures, Mr. Summers has the gifts and juice to back up his alleged style. However, for many of us, we might just be our own worst enemies in fighting career advancement. Don’t let the “Smarty Pants” persona be the issue that holds you back from reaching the next level.

 5 Success Tips–Just in Case You Might be the Office Smartypants:

1. Shut-Up for a Day. While it may require superhuman effort, spend a day of meetings and interactions with your mouth clamped shut. Resist the urge to show everyone the errors of their ways and the flaws in their logic or facts.

2. Embrace the Silence in Your Mind. While much like the reaction of the people who had never experienced darkness nor viewed the stars in Asimov’s classic sci-fi story, Nightfall, you might be frightened of the sudden noises you’ll hear in your brain during your day of semi-silence. These are the unique voices, ideas and thoughts of your co-workers. Now, all you need to do is to make sense of these foreign invasions to your sacred space.

 3. If You Must Talk, Ask Clarifying Questions. While you might be greeted with stunned silence from your team members and co-workers, they’ll eventually catch on to the fact that you’re asking a question, and you might just be surprised with the answer.

4. If You’re the Boss, Practice Framing Issues Neutrally. The boss’s opinion is a sledgehammer that biases the team and puts a lid on creativity. Instead of describing the conclusion, highlight the issue without expressing an opinion and see where your team members take it. If needed, encourage them to frame it both positively and negatively and develop alternative solutions.

 5. Repeat the Above Every Day For the Rest of Your Career/Life.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I love smart people who have the self-awareness and the self-confidence to help everyone around them grow a bit smarter. These people view every situation as an opportunity to learn and perhaps to teach, but not to debate. It’s time to shed the overbearing smarty pants approach.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

Just One Thing: Focus

Just One ThingMuch like my topic a few weeks ago emphasizing the importance of finding time to think deeply about the big issues in front of us, it takes deliberate and sometimes herculean effort to find focus in our work lives.

Focus is a key ingredient on the critical path to success.

Focus is frightening. It is a deliberate decision to tune-out everything else and give ourselves to something that we don’t know or don’t understand. Also, if we focus, we might fail.

Few of us are truly comfortable pro-actively inviting the specter of failure to our work activities, and so we strive to do everything but focus.

We use our devices as mind-candy, we fill our calendars with transactional meetings and activities and we do everything possible but focus on the one or two issues that will make a difference.

Days turn into weeks and quarters and while we know we should be making progress on those big initiatives, they’re daunting and frightening and we don’t know where to start. And we choose not to focus on moving beyond those self-generated bogeymen.

Management teams do this all of the time with strategy. It’s damned hard to create and execute and refine strategy, so instead of focusing on narrowing down the options and making decisions on what not to do, they live in a world that is issue to issue. Often, the outcome is a collection of activities and costs and revenue plans and budgets that have no meaningful relationship to each other. The lack of focus ensures the absence of strategy.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Focus is a very personal issue. It comes from recognition of the importance of tuning out all of the extraneous noise around us and stepping off the cliff into the unknown of new and daunting initiatives. It’s as much a battle within our own minds as it is within the external environment. Achieving focus is a battle you have to win if you expect to make meaning and move forward during your time here.

Is it time to focus?

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leader’s on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.