As we move toward the end of the year and prepare our personal and professional goals for 2015, I’ve been thinking about how someone can go from being just a manager to being a leader.
Years ago, a big project I was working on with American Express and one of its partners ran into trouble. A lot of factors probably led to that, but one still stands out to me: I was succeeding as a manager but failing as a leader. And that was the project’s ultimate downfall.
Over the years, I’ve been able to reflect and grow from that experience. Here are three ways you can use my experience to help you become more of a leader in 2015.
1. Focus on the vision. Managers are, by their nature, implementers. We get tasked with projects that we may not have had a great deal of input into. But just because we’re helping our sponsors reach their goals doesn’t mean we can’t apply our vision as well. To focus on vision in your management and leadership, start by formulating what this project means to you, the organization, the team and the end users. Then, most importantly, personalize those aspects that are likely to inspire your team.
2. Focus on important conversations.I once read that a project manager spends 90 percent of his or her time communicating. To become a better leader, focus on the most important of these conversations: ones with your sponsor and your team. They are the people who are going to be able to inform you about changes in circumstances, troubles in a project or resource challenges. While there are lots of important people to talk with, the most important are the ones who have the most direct impact on the project’s success or failure — so prioritize those.
3. Look at the long-term.This advice ties into having a vision for your project and having conversations with your important team members and sponsors. But thinking long-term also means you need to infuse your vision and conversations with a future orientation. This might mean that you talk with your sponsor about how a project fits into a long-term strategic plan for the organization. Or, it might mean that you spend time during conversations with your team members asking about their goals and values. This can allow you to shift your actions and assignments in a way that delivers on the promise of the current project. At the same time, you will have built a stronger understanding and real relationship with your sponsors and teams that will transcend your current project and have lasting benefits for projects and years to come.
What are some of the ways you’ve helped make yourself a stronger leader, rather than solely a manager?
Economic and social conditions have led us into an age where workers are extending the length of their careers. For the first time in history, three generations —Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y — are together in the workforce. The generations tend to differ in values, styles and work ethic.
Baby Boomers, the most experienced workers, can easily feel a cultural disconnect with members of Gen X and Gen Y, especially in the ethical approach to work-life balance.
While many Boomers believe in working long hours, both Gen X and Gen Y believe they can accomplish the same task in less time through the smarter use of technology. This generational difference can result in misunderstandings.
Consider this example:
Julie Phillips, a Baby Boomer, is the project manager and sets a team meeting at 5:00 PM on Monday. She feels the meeting is needed to prepare for a briefing with the executive sponsor that will occur the next day.
Her team member, John, a Gen X’er, leaves early without informing her to attend his son’s soccer match. Kevin, a Gen Y’er, leaves at 5:00 to volunteer at his favorite charity.
Jane sends an email to John and Kevin indicating a lack of dedication and poor professional conduct, noting that the behavior is costing the project and the company.
What should be done to avoid such conflicts? How does work ethic play a role? What would you do in this situation?
Claudio Fernandez-Araoz, writing in Harvard Business Review, finds that the impact of demographics on hiring pools is undeniable. (“21st Century Talent Spotting," 2014.) As Boomers retire, organizations must support the rising leadership of Gen X and the increasing population of Gen Y in the workforce. (“4 Ways to Retain Gen Xers,”HBR Blog, 2014.) Millennials will represent 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. (“Deloitte Millennial Survey,”2014)
To reduce the potential for clashes, organizations must establish and communicate their ethical values and standards of conduct. A strong ethical tone starts at the top. Organizations should define expectations for professional conduct that meet business goals and respect generational differences in values and approach.
To get optimal performance from the entire workforce, a cross-generational dialogue is useful. Dialogue as a tool can uncover inter-generational dynamics that may be affecting your company’s environment and build the bridges of communication.
For project management professionals, the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and the PMI Ethical Decision Making Framework are available to guide ethical behavior and address any ethical dilemma irrespective of the situation or the generation.
Claudio Fernandez-Araoz. "21st Century Talent Spotting.” Harvard Business Review, June 2014.
Deloitte Millennial Survey. Rep. Deloitte Touche Tomatsu, 2014. Web. Sept. 2014.
Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. "4 Ways to Retain Gen Xers." Web log post. Harvard Business Review. HBR Blog Network, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.
Voices on Project Management Guest Blogger Shobhna Raghupathy MS, PMP is a member of PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group. She has more than 20 years of strategy and portfolio management consulting experience in telecom, healthcare and finance. A longtime volunteer leader of PMI, she is a recognized speaker at PMI® Global Congress and Leadership Institute Meetings. She is also a requested presenter at PMI chapter professional development days and symposia. Currently, she is an invited member of the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council.
A few years ago, after I finished a presentation about multigenerational and multicultural teams in Mexico City, Mexico, someone in the audience asked me what kicked off my interest in these topics, which have become a bigger trend in the past decade. The first thing that came to mind was a proverb that my late father used to say to my brother and me: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. He wanted to remind us that we need to adapt to the conditions of our environment.
My father was a member of the Silent Generation. He faced many challenges during his childhood and adolescence, but he was able to adapt to every circumstance and went on to explore opportunities in many fields: factory worker, amateur sportsman, mechanic, and opera and popular music singer. Through his interest in opera, he taught himself foreign languages -- he wanted to know what he was singing so he could add emotion to his act. Later, when he explored popular music, he learned to play guitar and created his own performance style. This is how he adapted to different environments -- by learning constantly and proactively.
Despite being from the Silent Generation, my father was an extrovert in his own way, which led him to be a great relationship builder. During our Sunday strolls in Mexico City, he always looked for tourists who needed directions and took the opportunity to practice the languages he had learned and ask questions about their culture. Adapting is as much pushing yourself to learn on your own as it is learning from others.
And while my father and that good old proverb inspired my interest in these topics, here's one piece of advice I can give you from personal experience: To master multicultural and multigenerational issues, it's pivotal to keep a positive attitude and accept the challenges that different environments offer.
What sparked your interest in multicultural and multigenerational teams? Was it second nature, or did you need to do so for a project?
Communication is a core competency that significantly impacts the outcome of a project. But mastering communication skills has been one of the toughest tasks I have faced as a project practitioner because those skills have evolved and grown along with the fast pace of technology in multigenerational project environments.
Some of us may be used to more traditional ways of communicating (as I discussed in a recent blog post), such as an in-person meeting or a telephone call. But these methods may not be effective with the newer generation of project practitioners. The generation gap may be a source of conflict or a barrier to defining common ground, since communication that may seem negative to one person may be the norm for others. For example, I remember one time when a younger team member sat three cubicles away from a senior (and older) team member, and would ask him questions via instant message. The senior team member considered this rude, since those questions could easily be asked face to face. Meanwhile, the younger team member thought he was being more productive in multi-tasking mode, asking questions via IM and emailing about project tasks.
To break down these types of barriers and diminish miscommunications, you will first need to identify the communication preferences of all project team members or stakeholders, and share them with the team. I typically meet with each team member individually, and then create a matrix listing all members and specific communication preferences for each.
When you meet with Gen Y team members to understand their preferences, use the time as an opportunity to learn about new collaboration tools that you can apply to the project as well. For me, this is how I learned about instant message chat lingo and how to share my computer desktop with others while on a video conference call. It is also during these meetings that I share with the Gen Y team members my project experience, exposing them to real-life project situations.
Finally, be aware of pushback following any kind of changes to project communications that may disturb already established practices. If you introduce too many new technologies, they may not be welcome. The best way to make sure the team adopts new forms of communication is by proposing, not imposing.
How do you ensure your project team and stakeholders adopt new communications tools?
Read more about effective communications in PMI's Pulse of the Professionâ„¢ In-Depth Report, The High Cost of Low Performance: The Essential Role of Communications.
Any project manager or team member can appreciate the value of historical data to learn from previous project experiences and reduce associated project risks. But have you considered whether it's available in a format that appeals to Gen Y team members?
The traditional way of capturing lessons learned is by using a template to record the lesson and saving it in a repository. But given their collaborative nature, Gen Y team members may perceive this as a limited source of information, based on the experience of a single individual.
Instead, many Gen Y team members are pushing for a more collaborative approach, in which all project documents can be classified under categories, linked to wikis, referenced in blogs and be shared via micro-blogging or clouds. The goal is to prevent having valuable project documents stuck in one person's hard drive.
This new approach stands in contrast to the traditional view of knowledge as a finite asset, living and managed inside the organization's boundaries. With a more collaborative approach, it doesn't matter if the author of the lesson learned left the company, because the organization still "keeps" that employee's knowledge when she or he is gone.
One happy medium is to limit the collaboration environment to the employees in the organization and restricted to the project team until the project is completed. The adoption of this new way of managing organizational process assets will require the endorsement of senior management. You will also need to implement a strategy that's attractive to all team members for full adoption of a new collaboration approach to lessons learned. To do so, introduce a collaborative approach that best suits your project environment. Perhaps task the Gen Y team members to present this new method and highlight its benefits to the project during a team meeting. Finally, remember that individuals take time to accept new practices, so have patience.
How easy or difficult would it be for you to embrace a collaboration approach for lessons learned? What are the benefits for your team and your organization?