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.
By Cyndee Miller
Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Trevor Noah. But even I was a bit surprised at his eloquence in speaking about managing projects—and what it takes to deliver them.
And those skills are coming in handy in these strange times.
Noah said he felt “inspired” by the opportunity to rethink how he does everything.
“It’s not often you get an opportunity to completely revamp what you do,” he said. “We cannot ignore the situation we’re in. It would be a disservice to not emerge from this without thinking about better ways of working—of living.”
That means abandoning your comfort zone. His approach? “I wake up every day saying this could be the day I get fired,” Noah said. “It makes me appreciate the fact that I’m not. It also makes me ask what else would I be doing?”
There are no rules, Noah said. And that opens up new opportunities for people to reinvent ways of working, to rewrite the rules and to reemerge better than before.
“For any project manager who’s out there thinking about the moment, try to apply yourself to thinking about how you would like an ideal system to be, as opposed to trying to apply an old system to this new world,” he said.
And yes, that includes one of the greatest questions of our Zoom-filled times: Do you really need that meeting? Or can you handle it over a text?
“We are in a situation where we can challenge conventional thinking,” PMI President and CEO Sunil Prashara said in talking with Noah. “Be realistic and optimistic at the same time. That allows you to innovate.”
Note: This optimism isn’t the kind of unchecked, unicorn-and-kittens, pie-in-the-sky optimism. Meaningful innovation only happens when it’s based in reality. And right now that reality is intrinsically linked to COVID, which is serving as a catalyst for iteration and the exploration of new systems. The little virus is the ultimate gamechanger. “There’s nothing like a crisis to ignite innovation,” said Shobhna Raghupathy, PMP.
That means ditching those old prescriptive ways of thinking and activating a new set of power skills. Adaptability, communication and collaboration are the must-haves in the age of disruption, said Erick Means of CDW.
And forget failing fast. You’re still failing, said PMI’s Scott Ambler. Project leaders should instead aim to fail less often, learn faster and succeed earlier.
Much of innovation is tied to tech, of course, and project leaders mustn’t ignore the sometimes-sticky ethical issues that will inevitably bubble up.
“Every conversation about technologies should consider, ‘Okay, what are the ethical implications? What are the unintended consequences?,’” said Rana el Kaliouby, author and CEO of healthcare Affectiva, an MIT Media Lab spin-off focused on “bringing emotional intelligence to the digital world.”
The effects aren’t always what they would appear on the surface.
“My biggest concern is not that robots are going to take over—it’s that we’re accidentally building in bias in unintended ways,” said el Kaliouby. The best way to combat that? Build diverse teams of people with different POVs and perspectives.
Mark your calendars for the next Experience PMI event on 9 September, when Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian and Lakshyashala Edutech’s Tanya Elizabeth Ken will lead the conversation on entrepreneurship and resilience. I’ll see you there—virtually, of course.
I’ll close out the same way PMI started each session throughout the day, with a simple question: What’s the one word you’d use to describe the work you’re doing today? Tell me in the comments below.
By Cyndee Miller
Project leaders are no strangers to change. But between a massive shift to remote work and a global recession looming, many wonder what it all means for their careers.
These are unprecedented times, no doubt—but previous downturns can help point to a path forward, explains PM Network® columnist Lindsay Scott on a recent episode of Projectified™. She predicts an “extremely competitive” job market, “just as it was back then in 2008 to ’11,” following the economic meltdown known as the Great Recession.
That makes networking a must, Scott says, even if it has to be adjusted to the realities of today. With happy hour mixers and conferences IRL likely not happening anytime soon, she offers up a nice hack for virtual events in a recent PM Network® digital exclusive: “Open the chat functionality on the video conferencing software to join real-time conversations during presentations. If you like what you’re reading from others, hop onto conference messaging to let them know and make more formal introductions.” The same goes for speakers: Reach out with a thank you, noting what you enjoyed most about their presentation. “It’s an easy way to warm up the introduction you’ll make later via email or LinkedIn,” Scott says.
Here’s where I add a blatant plug for PMI’s Virtual Experience Series and point you to my post about the last event—and remind you there’s another one on 25 August on the theme of The Community: Together We Rise.
Beyond virtual networking, now’s the time to take advantage of any extra pockets of downtime to sharpen skills. During the last downturn, Scott said, many project leaders neglected their professional development and were unpleasantly surprised by the underwhelming response they got from HR. So whether it’s checking out free learning resources from PMI or devoting an hour each day to keeping up with trends or prepping for a certification exam, putting in some work now can give you a real career edge.
“When it comes to a crowded marketplace with lots of people suddenly looking for work … you want to find some way that you’re going to be able to stand out,” Scott says on Projectified™.
And it’s not just about technical chops. The COVID-19 crisis is bringing communication to the fore, she says. It’s always been “a massive part of project management,” but with so many people managing dispersed virtual teams, there are new areas to learn about: “How do we keep people motivated and engaged? How do I make sure that their well-being’s all right? How do I make sure that they’re on track with their deliverables and they’re checking in and all that kind of stuff?”
Given the current climate, perhaps the most valuable skill of all will simply be the ability to embrace unrelenting change. “I believe black swan incidents, like Brexit or COVID-19, might become a new normal phenomenon in the future,” says Stephen Xu, PhD, PMP, head of the project management office for business unit infrastructure at Alibaba Group, Hangzhou, China. “That will make strategic agility even more important,” the PMI Future 50 leader told PM Network®.
For project leaders with the right skills and the right mindset, career prospects remain bright. “Organizations are still hiring,” Scott told Projectified™. “It’s about understanding what those organizations are and what their particular opportunities are.”
How are you making adjustments to your career development during the COVID-19 crisis? Share in the comments below.
By Peter Tarhanidis, PhD, MBA
The COVID-19 pandemic, political and racial division, unemployment and other serious issues are casting enormous shadows across the globe.
On top of these stressors, many of us have isolated ourselves from each other in order to lessen the spread of the virus and combat the pandemic. As such, we’ve adopted new behaviors and virtual ways of working to rightfully ensure our health and safety. And yet, these same efforts to maintain connectivity with each other have created more virtual isolation for many of us.
Especially for those working in isolation, it is critical to stay connected. While tacit interactions drive human behavior and develop relationships, what can leaders do to re-create and sustain team members’ engagement?
Below is a list of ten action items that can help project leaders improve working relationships and performance during these tough times:
What actions would you add to this list to benefit our community and colleagues?
By Cyndee Miller
For the past several years, business pundits have waxed poetic about “unprecedented change” brought on by what seemed like massive socioeconomic shifts. Well, buckle up, because it’s become abundantly clear that was just the pregame. The past few months alone have shown we’re in for some painfully uncertain times.
The one thing we do know the future is sure to hold? Change—delivered through projects.
More than half of organizations are refocusing their identities around projects and programs, according to PMI’s research. And even before the pandemic and accompanying economic meltdown hit, project leaders said the biggest project delivery obstacle was managing changing priorities.
It’s going to take a new kind of multidisciplinary team—the kind that can turn strategy into reality, even as shifts in scope or requirements inevitably pop up.
These change-ready teams are grounded in innovation, collaboration and empathy. Complexity doesn’t faze them. They’re ready for anything. PMI’s Pulse of the Profession® In-Depth Report, Tomorrow’s Teams Today, lays out three core tenets behind the new take on teaming:
In the renewable energy sector, supercharged growth is rapid-fire technological change. And that means a lot can happen between project tendering and execution, says Jeanette Ortlieb, PMP, project manager, Distributed Power Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa. “As project manager, you need to be ready for change to happen,” she says in the latest issue of PM Network®.
The most effective project leaders don’t just manage change—they rally their teams around new ways of thinking. Case in point: Rocio de la Cuadra Vigil, PMP, of Yanbal International in Lima, Peru: “I love changing all the time in search of better ways to work.”
Even amidst all the change, though, the idea of projects delivered by teams isn’t going anywhere, says Peter Moutsatsos, chief project officer at Australian telecom giant Telstra.
“I do believe that the construct of a project team will persist into the future,” he says on a recent episode of Projectified®. “It might mean that projects become perpetual in that you may have a persistent team of people working constantly through a series of iterative projects.”
That will bring its own challenges and opportunities, Moutsatsos says, as far as team composition—and keeping everyone energized and engaged. And who knows what the post-COVID team will look like. People may be suffering from serious Zoom fatigue, but are they all going to rush back into the office or hop on a plane for an in-person project launch?
What are you seeing on your teams? How are you staying ready for anything? Let me know in the comments.