Project Management

How To Tell Your PM His Leadership Skills Are Terrible?

From the The Project Shrink Blog
Bas de Baar is a Dutch visual facilitator, creating visual tools for dialogue. He is dedicated to improve the dialogue we use to make sense of change. As The Project Shrink, this is the riddle he tries to solve: “If you are a Project Manager that operates for a short period of time in a foreign organization, with a global team you don’t know, in a domain you would not know, using virtual communication, high uncertainty, limited authority and part of what you do out in the open on the Internet, how do you make it all work?”

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This week in the Project Shrink question box:

"Dear Project Shrink. How do you tell your Project Manager his leadership skills are terrible?"

Ah. A nice topic full of booby traps.

First there is this whole idea that your boss should not have to motivate you. You should be a self-starter, self-motivator, one happy-always-smiling-so-jolly-you-get-sick employee. And who needs leadership? You are a paid professional, you should know where you are going. Vision? Bah! Humbug!

I personally don't think that this is how it works. For some people, perhaps. But certainly not for everyone. So yes, you might demand from your Project Manager he has leadership skills.

So, how to address this issue?

Be sure of your arguments on which you base your opinion. What actions did he perform that bothered you? Which actions were neglected you would have expected? I prefer to collect examples of certain situations as it helps you to do two things: 1) it helps you to communicate what it is you mean, and 2) it assists you in reflecting on your perception of the situation: is it just a feeling or did it really happen?

I am always in favor of talking directly to the person that bothers me. Note that I said "in favor", not "like doing". I am not sure there is a right way of doing this.

Like Statford and Waldorf, the two old Muppets on the balcony: "Booooo! Boooo! You are terrible! Booooo!"

Ok. It need to be respectful.

"Dear, powerful boss. Let me first express my sincerest appreciation for allowing me into three meters distance of your eternal wisdom. I cannot remember working for such a great and wonderful human being."

Short and on topic. Definitely that.

"Dear Chief. Bill has some problems with your way of leading. Bill, that is that guy, over there."

And keep it focused on your opinion. About what you personally experience.

How would you tell your manager?

Posted on: July 08, 2010 07:09 AM | Permalink

Comments (8)

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I would comment on specific behaviors &/or processes, e.g. too much paperwork, too many interruptions, too much micromanaging, lack of communications, too much communication, lack of availability, lack of focus.....
Try & keep personalities out of it, because if that''s the problem, you might as well leave. You can''t change personalities, but you can change behaviors.

So true. Thanks for the comment.

I think a lot of how you tell them depends on what you expect to happen afterwards. For example, when I've had PMs who I thought might have a chance of improving, I try to take a softer, more encouraging approach. When there are PMs who do not seem open to the idea of any reality other than their own, then I may be far more direct.

The hard thing to remember through your own frustration is that if you really do want to communicate an encouraging, honest criticism to someone and not have them only hear "DUDE, YOU TOTALLY SUCK", then you have to be able to see far enough past your anger to consider it from their perspective? What could you say that has a better chance of hitting home and getting your point across?

I think it also depends on your relationship with them in the hierarchy. If they are a PM and you are a PM who just happens to be doing some work for them this time round, you are peers having a discussion. Bringing this up with a direct superior is very difficult, but it can be done, and as Ray says, make it about behaviour: "when you do x, the impact on me is y, and this is how it makes me feel" or something like that.

It takes courage and confidence to tell your boss his\her leadership skills leave much to be desired! One approach which is not aggressive is the 'have you considered this approach\option'. A couple of years ago, there was a Senior Project Manager that was contracted by the organisation to Lead and deliver a high level strategic project. He behaved in a rather pushy, 'do as I say and do it now' approach. Pushing his way through and demanding that staff drop whatever they did to accommodate him stating that if any of the staff had a problem he would take it further up the hierarchy to ensure he got what he wanted. Of course staff began to resent his autocratic pushy approach and many obliged to his demands as fear was drummed into them. This contractor felt at home, he walked the floor with authority and had high level friends supporting him. It takes confidence to challenge these type of people, it can be done and was done... no one was fired but the working atmosphere became a friendlier place, as for the bully he had no choice but to adapt his behaviour very quickly to the organisational culture and behaviour expectations. Did he survive... not for long.. damage was done.

OK, Vasoula, so how was it done?

Certainly the main problem I have run into is where a senior leader surrounds themselves with old cronies, making it pretty near impossible to get near enough to have that conversation. Your example is pretty close to that model -- a person operating well ouside the bounds of appropriate behavior, but having the apparent friendship with the big guns. How did you get past that?

Respected hard working members of staff of the organisation have a voice and are heard even with the old cronies around - I call these old cronies the old school. The organisation is striving to change culture, behind the scenes is a different story line all together, their pattern of behavious is the same creating havoc. It makes matters worse when organisational policies implemented are ignored. As we know every organisation has a grape vine a very powerful communication channel that flows right through to most members of staff, it reaches top level management eventually and it is usually sooner than later. Staff complained about this individual, people did not feel comfortable working for him or with him when that happens the damage is done, even if behaviour is altered it is just a little too late what could be salvaged exactly. Either people fit-in or they dont. Faced with an odd shaped peg that does not fit a round hole will never work. He was replaced.

Constructive criticism is only constructive in the eyes of the giver, never the receiver. I agree with Elizabeth's approach: "When you do x, the impact on me is y, and this is how it makes me feel" - period. Don't offer any advice how to handle it better the next time.

If a person is going to change, they have to seek out behavioral guidance. Now, if they ask you for advice, that opens the door. However, avoid using phrases starting with "You should". Offer guidance in a manner that again leaves it up to that individual to adopt. "One thing you could try is X" or "Something that has worked for me in the past is Y"

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