Viewing Posts by Yasmina Khelifi
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
A few years ago, my manager invited me to a meeting to discuss how to organize teams for a strategic topic. No one asked me to do it, but because I was delivering these projects for a while, I prepared some detailed slides to give a state-of-the-art look at the current organization. In the online meeting, I was the only one who was not a manager—and the only woman. These facts laid the groundwork for stress that was triggered within me.
I began to go through the slides. One of the managers began to bombard me with questions. I answered him, and I often had to repeat answers. I got nervous and annoyed. To me, he was questioning my competence. I felt threatened and got defensive. I asked another manager to reformulate an answer for me. That gave me time to take a breath.
My second-level manager—let's call him Dave—was also present. He tried to help and play facilitator. The other managers had other meetings and left.
This meeting lasted 30 minutes, but felt like an eternity to me. When I hung up, I was tired—and angry at myself for how I behaved in front of all the managers.
What would Dave think of me? It was the first time he saw me in action. Will my professional reputation be damaged? In the past, I was labeled a bad communicator, and I had worked hard to improve it.
After the meeting, I got three text messages—none from my manager. The texts all congratulated me on the presentation. I was ashamed to receive these messages, because I thought they signalled that people felt pity for me.
I talked to friends outside of the firm about what happened. They were not present at the meeting, so they listened to the perspective I gave them. They were compassionate and supported me, but I thought it was because they were my friends. I slept badly at night in the throes of shame and anger with myself.
Two weeks later, I had a follow-up conference call with my manager. I was wondering what reproaches I would get. “By the way,” he said, “Dave appreciated your professionalism and calm during the meeting."
I couldn’t believe it. I answered with almost tears in my voice. "Thank you,” I said. “I thought I was too aggressive."
Here are the lessons learned that I gleaned from this experience—they sound basic, but I did not follow them because I was overconfident and too hard on myself:
Before the meeting
During the meeting
After the meeting
In the instance above, I dared not ask my manager because I was afraid of getting negative feedback that would have reminded me of the “bad communicator” label I got in the past. But I should have—and I also learned through this experience that I should be more kind to myself and not assume the worst intentions in others.
If you are a leader in this kind of situation, reach out to the person and give your perspective and feedback—whether positive, negative or neutral (and do it promptly…don’t wait two weeks).
Have you ever experienced this kind of reality gap, where the way you perceived yourself acting in a situation was different from the way others did?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
The pandemic has changed the skills we need to acquire and hone as project managers—and accelerated how fast we need to acquire them.
Let’s review six of the most crucial ones:
Merriam-Webster definition: of, relating to, or involving the entire world.
Why is it more important than ever? I’ve been working for 20 years on international projects. Lately, I have seen an increased shift in the globalization of project team resources. For instance, in the same project, I work with stakeholders in Africa, France, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates for the first line; and the second line with people in India and Indonesia.
Three factors have contributed to this shift:
How to improve: You need to know how to navigate a global world comprised of many cultures, countries, nationalities and religions. If you have not experienced international environments at work or in your personal life, create intentional opportunities. Can you volunteer? Can you help people from other cultures and who speak different languages?
If you work in international environments, observe the different ways of working. What works, and what doesn’t? What you like and dislike? Discuss with your multicultural colleagues.
Merriam-Webster definition: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another.
Why is it more important than ever? The importance of mental health along with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives has pushed project managers to become more “human leaders” beyond just technical skills. Team members are also more demanding.
How to improve: Do you know how you communicate with and impact people? If not, take some self-assessments or have a 360°-feedback session. Find someone who can observe you in some work situations and give you honest feedback.
Merriam-Webster definition: an informally interconnected group or association of persons (such as friends or professional colleagues) or an interconnected or interrelated chain, group, or system.
Why is it more important than ever? Projects are global; information and knowledge are not centralized anymore. Knowledge includes our ways of working and lessons learned.
Networks will be the key to success in a matrix organization where people from different teams are part of your project team. Knowing where the information, knowledge and resources are will help you solve problems quicker and discover new perspectives.
How to improve: Nurture your current network, and exchange ideas with them regularly. Reach out to new colleagues to understand what they are doing (when new people arrive, that can change the responsibilities for others as well).
Don't stop expanding your network. For example, you take part in presentations; reach out to people; check where people sit in the organizational chart, and remember it. This web of relationships will be your magic wand to address issues.
Merriam-Webster definition: actively participating in something.
Why is it more important than ever? Customers are paying attention to issues like climate change and DEI, and they request transparency. Younger professionals also increasingly expect that the companies they work for get involved in initiatives such as climate change and human rights.
How to improve: Look for communities with some shared interests or causes that are important to you. Understand how you can help. Be clear and realistic about the time you can dedicate. You can be involved in the community by volunteering or by delivering projects with a positive impact.
Merriam-Webster definition: having a quick resourceful and adaptable character.
Why is it more important than ever? The disruption of the supply chain along with other global concerns like climate change prove that project managers can't control or predict everything.
How to improve: Take the constraints and your environment into account, and remain open to embracing the unpredictable. Be agile in building relationships and adapting your communication skills and behaviors. Take a course in agile project management. Exchange ideas with peers and friends who work in agile project management.
Merriam-Webster definition: to hear something with thoughtful attention: give consideration.
Why is it more important than ever? As project manager, we need to influence, convince and negotiate with people—and quicker now than ever before.
How to improve: You can take some small steps, like…
Also remember what your team members share with you (perhaps they mentioned that they are celebrating their birthday next week, presenting a good opportunity for you to send a virtual birthday card or another nice gesture).
The future project manager must be more G.E.N.I.A.L to address worldwide challenges. What are other skills needed by the future PM?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
Humility is defined as “the absence of any feelings of being better than others.” In some cultures or countries, the trait is admired. And yet in project management, it is crucial to talk about yourself and your achievements. How can humble PMs do this while still being authentic to themselves?
Humility as a PM can translate in different ways: silence, waiting for others to ask you questions, or answering in monosyllables. This sometimes has the consequence of diminishing your value.
The risks of excessive humility as a project manager
“If you are constantly apologizing with ‘Well, I am not the expert,’ people will believe you and wonder why you wasted their time.” — Keith Ferrazzi & Tahl Raz, Never Eat Alone
When I began to work as a PM, I didn’t speak about my achievements. It was not only that I was shy—it was about feeling awkward talking about my achievements. I didn’t have a user manual on how to feel comfortable highlighting my skills and strengths.
I was convinced I didn’t accomplish anything special in my work. When I had job interviews, I entered the room insecure—and my common answer was, “That achievement was no big deal. It was just a small thing.”
What holds you back from talking about yourself and your achievements as a project manager?
Like me, you might believe two myths:
I often held back talking among colleagues at work. But talking or explaining things within a larger community was not a fear of mine; it’s sometimes easier to talk to a stranger or an anonymous crowd. I’ve begun to share more of myself on LinkedIn (surprisingly, colleagues have contacted me because they read my posts there!).
How to talk about yourself and your projects
The key is to find the right balance—and the proper angle that fits with your personality. Here are a few tips to follow:
Share in small doses as to not damage the final recipe: you as a project manager. It takes courage and practice, but your experiences can help others. Silence will not.
How did you overcome your humility to talk about yourself and your projects?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
At school in France, we were primarily evaluated by the number of mistakes we made and less by our progress. What was importance was to attain excellence and perfection.
Fast forward to my professional career, I have worked in many teams with many people—and some of them have proudly said of themselves, "I'm a perfectionist.”
I recently thought about all of the different project managers I have worked with over the years, and how I managed teams. Being in a technical environment, I have worked with technical experts and many demanding people. I used to think I was a perfectionist…until I worked with many of them. I now see how damaging it can be.
Here are some things to keep in mind with perfectionism…
1. It results in an individual mental burden.
In the long term, it can damage your mental and physical health. In some cases, perfectionism stems from a stress reaction. It can serve as a wake-up call that you need to alleviate your stress.
Think back to the last moment you were a perfectionist in your activities. How did you feel? Was it worth it? Next time, can you try to let it go and see what happens?
2. It’s a teamwork killer.
You must recognize the bigger responsibility here. “I’m a perfectionist” is a refrain you can use to explain your requirements. Don't fall into the trap of this easy excuse! Find an accountability buddy who can help you refrain from this burning desire for perfectionism. Working on changing habits and behaviors is an essential skill for leaders.
Unfortunately, when collaborating with some colleagues, you can also foster impostor syndrome. For example, take Mike—a new project manager in a new field. He doesn't have strong self-confidence. If you are a perfectionist for the work he delivers to you, it may foster impostor syndrome for him. It can also demotivate him, which will be counterproductive. (For more, read my entries Fighting Imposter Syndrome as a Project Manager and Do You Foster Imposter Syndrome in Your Team?.)
Ultimately, the expected impacts are that your coworkers will try to avoid working with you or become numb to your feedback.
3. Adopt a continuous learning mindset.
Paving the way to improve step by step will be more beneficial and less stressful for you—and your team. In addition, you’ll become a role model as a leader.
If you work with perfectionists in your projects and you’d like to help curb the trend, perhaps you can follow a few tips:
In doing so, you also instill a continuous learning mindset.
What are the acceptable boundaries you set up for yourself and your team in your projects? When can you squander? How has perfectionism helped or hindered you as a project manager?
By Yasmina Khelifi, PMI-ACP, PMI-PBA, PMP
A few years ago, I joined a new team and took over some projects from the team’s manager (let’s call him Alex). Alex was helpful: He participated in all of the meetings I conducted, was available to give me advice, explained former issues he faced to help me anticipate problems, and supported me during meetings when my answers were not correct. In this new role, I lacked self-confidence—and it was a great relief to feel helped and supported.
The conflicts came a few months later when Alex didn’t change his behavior after I had gained knowledge and confidence. He wanted to take part in all of the meetings; I told him I wanted to manage by myself and contact him when I needed help. “Why?” he answered. “What is the problem if I take part?”
I didn’t know how to reply. I felt like he wanted to deliver projects with me (which is what he did most of his life before becoming a manager). He also wanted to learn and see how I handled things. When he was in the meetings with me, even if he didn’t say much, I felt like I didn’t have any wiggle room.
On the other side, he complained a lot of being overloaded, and he was late with managing administrative tasks.
As a manager, as a mentor, as a mentee and as a project manager, how do you find the right balance between mentoring and micromanaging? Here are some simple strategies I’ve observed—and am trying to practice myself:
1. Set ground rules. Talk with your manager or your mentor about the ground rules. You can ask: Are there weekly check-ins? Shadowing opportunities? What’s the frequency? What if I think you’re too intrusive?
If your mentor is also your leader, you can also enquire about how he/she usually onboards people.
You also need to clarify your needs…
I always remember an excellent manager I had—when there was an issue, he asked general questions to help me step back and see the big picture. It was a very helpful strategy.
Mentoring is a gift—but can become a burden if the mentor’s help overlaps your responsibilities.
2. Agree about the volume of information to share. I love helping and sharing information. When there is a new team member or mentee, I send several emails with a lot of information to pave the path—well, that is what I think, anyway.
But I sometimes got feedback like this: Which email should I look at? There is too much information. I prefer receiving information when I need it.
It reveals a blind spot for me: Not all people work like me, and some colleagues need information on a different cadence—and not all at once. People can feel stressed when they receive too much information, like they’re unable to keep up with the onslaught of emails. Some perceive me as invasive.
When I remember Alex, I try to refrain from guiding too much. I need to let people decide what to do with the information—and get back to me when they want to. I need to talk openly about how and when to share information; provide information when it’s required; and not inundate people without discussing it.
3. Know your boundaries—and accept the boundaries of others. As a leader and mentor, you must acknowledge the needs of your teams. If you love explaining and helping, perhaps you can invest this energy into volunteering or blogging.
You also must accept your team members' needs to explore first, to make up their own minds and make mistakes, which is all part of the learning process. Have an open mind; listen to their worries and issues, and be ready to help when needed.
By doing so, you will encourage your team members not to hide or downplay problems—and to learn from their mistakes. You also carve out your position as a role model. This is not a one-off exercise, but it’s worth the effort.
Mentors and micromanagers encompass two different behaviors, but can overlap when we don’t realize it. By mentoring too closely—even through goodwill—you can undermine a person’s performance, their well-being and, ultimately, their growth.
Have you been—or experienced—a micromanaging mentor? Share your comments below.