Viewing Posts by David Wakeman
by Dave Wakeman
I recently had a chance to chat with Mark Herschberg, author of a great new book, The Career Toolkit. Mark was an interesting person to talk with at this point because his book lays out a few essential skills and ideas that will help us navigate the rest of the pandemic, but also put our careers on a stable trajectory going forward.
Here are three key takeaways from my conversation with Mark:
We’ve all recognized this at some point in time. We see the person with the big job title who doesn’t want to take responsibility and barks out some form of “because I said so.” In Mark’s opinion, the best leaders understand that leadership is a tool, not a position on the org chart. And often the most successful form of leadership is influential leadership: the ability to get people to buy into a vision of a better future that isn’t guaranteed but is worth the effort and the risk of failure.
One example I fall back on is a quote I learned about while working on a project with EB Research Partnership, an organization focused on finding a cure for epidermolysis bullosa. One of the organization’s co-founders is Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder, and he said the nice thing about having such a big platform as a musician was his ability to shine a light on organizations doing great work. That’s influential leadership—and it’s often a better door to success than just relying on positional authority.
When I’m communicating with an audience or a team, I always try to remember that I need to tell people what they need to know, not everything that I know. One effective method for keeping the user in mind is to bullet point the key ideas you’re trying to deliver. At the start of a talk, for example, I lay out the three or so key ideas I’m trying to get across so folks can see that everything I’m leading up to is built on those points.
The way that Mark talks about negotiation reinforces that it’s an essential skill. As people delivering projects, all any of us do is negotiate. But when I was listening to Mark, I realized that we aren’t always labeling it negotiation.
We might call it meetings. We might call it leadership. We might call it communication. But really, it’s all negotiation: We’re trying to win people over to see things the way that we’ve seen them or in the way we need people to see them. That’s an oversimplification, certainly. But it’s also a good way of thinking about the way we lead our organizations and teams—not through brute force, but through the delicate balance of negotiation.
Time constraints, limits on our resources, specific skill sets: All of these are things that need to be negotiated to help us arrive at success.
How do these leadership lessons align with your own experiences?
by Dave Wakeman, PMP
I’ve worked on political campaigns, in sports, in theater, in ticketing, in marketing and a lot more. I like to consider myself a good example of all the ways a Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification can be helpful in industries of all sorts.
Over the last month or so, I did some research to figure out how I could grow my skills in 2021. While the focus of my research directly related to my work as a marketer, the data still has some utility for project managers.
First, the details. In looking to see what CEOs thought of their marketing departments, I found that in a survey of over 500 mid-to-large businesses, 80 percent of CEOs didn’t trust their marketing departments. That was stunning and I went to look to see what I could make out of it by checking out the marketing and strategy folks to see where their heads were. In a sample of just over 1,100 marketers, 73 percent were looking to grow their businesses in 2021, 40 percent don’t have a strategy and 53 percent who want to grow don’t know where to start.
I’m sure you’re wondering where I’m going with this. Project managers should pay attention to these numbers for a few reasons.
First, in our roles, we have to win the support of our sponsors. I don’t know if the number of sponsors who are uncertain about what their project leaders are doing is similar to my research findings, but the bigger question is: Are we making certain that we have the trust of our sponsors?
The second point here is that we need to know what we want to achieve—and we need a plan to get there. That’s reflected in the marketing survey: Folks know they want to grow, but about 40 percent of them don’t have a plan to get started. As project professionals, this hits close to home, because if we aren’t careful, our plans get overrun by other activities. It’s our job to always keep our goals in mind as we move forward.
Finally, if we don’t know where we’re heading or how to get somewhere, it’s totally fine to ask for help. In fact, doing our jobs well means we need to ask for help.
For me, these discoveries led to brand articulation for the new year built around being a more focused, effective and profitable project manager.
What are your biggest goals or areas of growth you’ve identified for 2021?
A New Year, A New Kind of Leadership
by Dave Wakeman
Well, we’re about to turn the page on 2020. And while I’m hopeful that 2021 will be much less disruptive, I did want to share a few lessons I hope we take with us into the new year:
Mental health deserves our attention: This year, I’ve heard more discussion than ever before about the need to monitor mental wellbeing and encourage people to put their mental health first.
I get that the modern economy seems designed to wring every productive second out of us. So it takes a conscious effort to turn off and tune out. Only then can you recover and be able to push forward and work on new projects.
Recharging doesn’t have to be a complex thing. One of the most powerful forms of rejuvenation I’ve heard from many people this year is mindfulness.
Processes have power: We’ve seen a vaccine for the coronavirus come together faster than any effort like it before. What got us there? Science and processes. Both are help fueling innovation, progress and effectiveness.
I don’t have to tell you in the project management community about the power of processes, but we should all be hopeful that the world at large understands how important processes are now.
True leadership matters more than ever: We’ve see how bad leaders can cause a great deal of damage, especially when they aren’t forthcoming with information, lead with lies and disinformation, or just give up.
But this year has also shown us how important good leadership is to teams, countries or any organization. Now more than ever we need leaders to help pull us together and we need to step up as project professionals when this doesn’t happen.
What leadership lessons learned will you be taking into 2021?
Happy holidays. Stay safe!
Leadership, Done Right
by Dave Wakeman
I’ve spent most of this year musing on leadership—and how so much of what we’ve learned comes from watching the mistakes people have made. As we head into the end of the year, I want to revisit leadership, but through the lens of doing things the right way. Here are three tips on how to be the leader your teams, organizations and communities can look to for guidance as so many of us continue to work through the pandemic:
1. Be Consistent. One of the more apparent challenges spurred by the pandemic is how time has blended into itself. Our home life, work responsibilities, leisure activities and everything in between mix together in ways that can be unhealthy and unsustainable. Some of us can’t seem to finish things because we feel like we never have space to think or get away from a problem long enough to get a different perspective. Other people underperform because of the accumulations of stress that we’re all dealing with in ways both big and small.
One of the few normal activities our son has been able to continue this year is soccer (or football, as the non-Yanks call it). It’s been a boost to my son’s mental health because he gets to hang out with people he’s familiar with and play his favorite sport. And the coaches have been real saviors for my son and his team, driving home the need to be consistent in their efforts, their focus and the way that they approach practice.
For me, I find it helpful to be consistent in sitting down at my desk to write, setting my goals, and focusing on doing one or two things a day that I can control.
2. Communicate Constantly. I don’t have to tell anyone about information overload, with news about COVID and the thousands of pings and dings that distract us from our responsibilities each day. This means that many of us miss the information we need or want. As leaders, we need to spend some time making sure our message gets across and that we’re delivering it consistently, even if we’re repeating the same message.
Back to my son: His elementary school has been all-virtual since March and it’s been a big adjustment. But the principal of the school has been very consistent about communicating with families about what’s going on and what the kids are dealing with. He’s been scheduling weekly virtual chats and sending out a minimum of two emails a week to keep parents informed about decisions around the learning environment and the possibility of bringing some kids back to campus. He doesn’t always have the chance to share new information with us, but we know he’s going to provide us information no matter what.
3. Be Flexible: I want to combine flexibility and empathy right now because I think they go hand-in-hand. Like I mentioned at the top, we’re overwhelmed by how our lives end up blending together in ways that aren’t always healthy. We’re dealing with uncertainty, more and different stressors, and, probably, more and different responsibilities in our lives.
People aren’t going to perform the same way. All of us are navigating strong feelings or stress from different events and in unusual ways, and we need to recognize the best thing we can do right now is give people room to process what they’re dealing with and to move through it.
In turn, leaders must also extend that same grace to themselves. Spend some time recognizing when you need a break and be willing to step back and take it.
What are the biggest leadership lessons learned you’ve gained this year? Share in the comments below.
by Dave Wakeman
As we’ve moved through the pandemic, I’ve learned more and more about leadership—what good leadership looks like and what bad leadership looks like.
Since early July, the first question I pose to guests on my podcast, The Business of Fun, zeroes in on how they’ve have been leading their teams during the pandemic. Here are some of the lessons learned that can help you level up your leadership game no matter what industry you work in:
Put People First
This actually came out of several conversations I had, but Mark Fowlie and Harold Hughes, a pair of tech CEOs, really put the best exclamation point on this directive.
Mark is the CEO of Audience View and has a team distributed around the world. He said he helped his team adapt to the new normal by communicating consistently and clearly, and helping people get the space to operate, think and work in an environment where no one had a playbook.
Harold is the CEO of Bandwagon FanClub and his approach is to have daily stand-ups. This provides some consistency with the in-office experience and offers teams a place—albeit virtual—to come and talk. It also gives folks some structure to their day, so they don’t feel alone in their work. On top of that, Harold and his team emphasized socialization with baking classes, happy hours and other fun meetings to ensure the team got a chance to know their co-workers both personally and professionally.
Be Honest In Your Communications
Richard Howle is director of ticketing at The Ticket Factory in the United Kingdom and the biggest lesson learned he shared with me was: It’s totally fine to say that you don’t know something.
No one has the definitive playbook for how to deal with unexpected situations. So expecting we’re going to have all of the answers at a moment’s notice isn’t doing our team any favors—and sets us up to fail as leaders in the process.
Change Is Difficult, But We Have To Deal With It
Zoe Scaman from Bodacious shared her philosophy on communicating change, especially to an audience that may not be comfortable with change or might not want to change. Securing their buy-in goes beyond simply telling them why they need to change. You must show the exciting things possible when people create change and embrace the process.
As project managers, change is a constant and it can be disruptive in the best of cases. In my own experience, I find the need to sell change to my team a bit frustrating. But when I chatted with Zoe, her point of talking about selling the benefits and the vision of a better future helped recalibrate my thinking about what change is really about and why it matters so much.
Change is really about improvement and making the environment and world around you a bit better. In times like these, that’s actually a pretty refreshing perspective to maintain.
How have you been leading your teams during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments.