Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great

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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
Tolga Özel
Graham Briggs
Cecilia Boggi

Recent Posts

To Create Change: Think Corals, Chimpanzees (and their Project Leaders)

Love that tiger

Making Connections while Missing Connections

Project Failure or Organizational Failure?

Fear or Love?  / ¿Miedo o Amor?

To Create Change: Think Corals, Chimpanzees (and their Project Leaders)

Films are so powerful in telling stories via visuals and narratives. They create change by telling stories that reach the heart and inspire action from within.

Recently, my friends and I attended a documentary film screening of CHASING CORAL at New York City because of Victoria Orlowski, a friend from work. Her son Jeff Orlowski is the young director of CHASING CORAL and CHASING ICE (2014 Emmy Award Winner). We are super proud of him!

Today, I would like to share with you (to state the obvious) some of his awesome project/servant leadership!

  • First of all, Jeff listened to Richard Vevers regarding the “Third Global Coral Bleaching” event and had the foresight to make the critical decision to start the project.
  • I love Richard’s favorite quote: “With a small motivated team, there is almost nothing that cannot be achieved.” Agile mindset!
  • Jeff had brought together scientists, filmmakers and engineers who work expertly together with TRUST for the same goals.
  • There was no mention of passion in the film, but we witnessed it throughout. They inspired a shared vision.
  • The team was cool under pressure when the first set of filming camera failed.
  • The empathy and competence (technical expertise) were evident by the extreme images and narratives: coral stunning beauty beyond words and coral “death” beyond imagination.
  • There are a lot of creativity and innovation in the film under Jeff's directorship! Do you know that Jeff did not major in film making? They have "invented" the deep sea camera to capture the images as warranted. They were able to connect with best of the best and be fast learners in challenging scenarios, but shine through out the ordeal in simplifying the most complex phenomena and become the perfect translator of the complex science to the world.
  • Project leadership in problem solving and decision-making is crucial. Hats off to Jeff for his strong leadership when he made the tough call to move on to the coral-bleaching site when they could not rely on technology due to many constraints.
  • Kudos to Jeff and his friend Zack for their stewardship and commitment to work hard despite harsh conditions!
  • Jeff and his team crowd-sourced from the globe and built the community that contributed to the film and its success.
  • I am absolutely impressed and inspired by the Corals transformation and stress response (in order not to spoil the fun, need to keep it in suspense for you to experience it yourself :-)
  • Nature and human resiliency are truly amazing!
  • New projects that started at the end of the film shared the power of healing and gave us hope and optimism to move on and work towards a better tomorrow.

Mentors are very powerful in our lives and in our leadership journey. I learned from Victoria that Dr. Jane Goodall had a great influence on Jeff. It started when Jeff attended one of Dr. Goodall speaking event while he was in high school and he chose Anthropology major in college because of her. She is one of many mentors in Jeff's creative journey.

Dr. Jane Goodall devotes her life to the chimps and she is one of the instructors for MASTERCLASS. Dr. Goodall demonstrated and taught us Love and Compassion always. Empathy is critical to observe behaviors and to help us know the right questions to ask. Her unwavering teaching is all about Hope, how human brains solve problems, the resilience of the nature and our indelible human spirit. It is very touching to see the chimps embrace Jane. It is Love! She pointed out that the difference between humans and chimps is our sophisticated language and we are encouraged to use it well!

I now understand that Jeff drew his strength from his mentors as well as his Mom and family and the community. Jeff also shared during his Q&A that he simply does not use disposable plastics. We all can make a simple change every single day in our lives that would have immense impact to our environments.

Suzan, Nelson, Lucy, Victoria and Jeff Orlowski (who took the selfie)

CHASING CORAL is a film directed by Jeff Orlowski. It was a 3 1/2 year project, filmed with 500+ hours underwater, included footage from over 30 countries and was made with the support of over 500 people around the world.

Coral and Chimpanzees: Their project leaders told us amazing life stories and taught us incredible lessons! Now, it is up to us to make simple changes every day that will have long lasting impact. The decision is ours!

FYI – Film Review (CHASING CORAL will be available via Netflix on 7/14/17)

Posted by Suzan Cho on: June 21, 2017 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Love that tiger

There is an old saying in the Medical  world - “There are no healthy individuals in the world. The ones that pretend to be must have been insufficiently examined for physical and/or psychological issues”. And, for the latter, the “usual” split is between “neurotics and persons with character disorders”.

Neurotics are individuals who assume too much responsibility and, when in conflict, they always blame themselves. Their speeches are full of phrases like: “I ought to”, “I should/shouldn’t” - illustrating their assumed “inferiority” doubled always by (what they feel that are) wrong decisions.  Au contraire, individuals with character disorders run away from responsibility and, in conflict, they always blame “the world”. The speech of an individual with character disorder will rely on “I can’t/couldn’t” or “I have/had to”, always accusing “no power of choice” and the external forces that act beyond his or her control. There is also a combination - called “character neurotics” - describing individuals who fail to find the balance in assuming responsibility in different situations.

In fact, the whole classification is built around responsibility and the pain and effort that this might bring. Assuming it too much and at a wrong time can bring a lot of bad consequences (and associated pain). Running away from it in crucial moments can ruin everything - results, relationships etc. Finding the right balance constitutes one of the most difficult problems of our lives.  

And, unfortunately, nowadays, existing environments don’t make it easier for us. All around us, there are forces that exert pressure and these forces are getting bigger and bigger: tighter deadlines, higher payments, greater expectations etc. We start to feel psychologically unsafe and either attempt to pass the responsibility to other individuals/organisations or assume too much, get too exposed and burn out quickly in a huge amount of stress.

Responsibility has become the “tiger in the room”. We either run like hell from it or jump  in front of it, waiting to be eaten. As soon as we no longer have the instruments - the whip and chair - to tame the tiger and to show our power, we run and hide or expose and accept the fate. Instead, we should use our authority and try to cope, dominate and even, love the “tiger”.

In this last case, the effort is huge. It requires discipline, a lot less ego and more emotion than rationality.  We suffer more and gratification is delayed. However, this way our self-growth will get a boost and, most importantly, as leaders, we will be ready to help and nurture our team members’ growth/development.

Let me recap: use authority instead of power, delay gratification to obtain a more sustainable result, less ego (other-focused), more emotion and feelings and, most of all, loving that “tiger” - knowing when/what is your responsibility and when/how to let it go and trust your team, your peers, your colleagues. For me (at least), this sounds a lot like Servant Leadership.

How about you - Are you ready to take responsibility and “love the tiger”?

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: June 09, 2017 03:19 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Making Connections while Missing Connections

Traveling as much as I do, I have learned that airports don’t have to be the worst, most stressful place to be during a delayed flight.  Sure, I could wax poetic about my top five favorite airports and of course the least favorite airports, but I think anyone who flies has those lists ready for conversation.  I am writing this post to highlight one particular occasion that occurred a few weeks ago and how it impacted not only my day and night, but most importantly my personal relationships at home.

Those of you in the U.S., have probably heard about the Delta Airlines delays that affected the whole country in April of this year.  If you didn’t hear about it, it might be due to the other airline controversies that took over the news.  I fly pretty regularly and was headed home on a Thursday evening traveling from Atlanta to Boston. As soon as the weather turned for the worse earlier that day, the delays started piling up.  When I arrived at the airport, my flight was already delayed and scheduled to leave 5 hours later so I figured I may as well make myself comfortable and get a bite to eat.  As I walked into the Terminal, I saw more people and longer lines than I have ever seen in Atlanta (and that’s saying a lot for such a very busy airport), so I knew it was going to be a long night.  

I got through security and located my gate and the closest restaurant.  As I sat down to order, I listened to all the chatter from everyone around me.  Eventually, I ended up getting into a great conversation with the person sitting next to me.  Within a few minutes, we found that we both had the same job title but at different companies in the Northeast.  Immediately we shared business stories, some strategies about how we handle varying situations, and overall the conversation was going great.

When we were out of business topics, we started talking about family and how we were both excited to get home to see them (whenever that may be due to the delays).  It turned out that he and I had daughters of similar age (9 and 10).  After going through some of our fun anecdotal stories, sharing pictures of our kids and so on, the conversation turned to a computer game called Minecraft - a virtual world where the player either joins in an existing location or builds their own version.  Since I have an older son who played this years ago I was familiar with it, but had never understood the draw to it.  I found the graphics weren’t nearly as nice as other games, the directions were sometimes difficult to understand, and overall I was unable to understand why my son was wasting so much time playing it.  But my newly found friend had a whole different outlook.  He saw tremendous benefits from this game and was more than happy to explain them to me.  I was fascinated that there was so much more to it than I ever knew, such as how a young person can develop insights into their physical worlds as well as even some basic Project Management techniques.

As the dinner ended and we parted ways, I knew I had to learn more about this game and see if my daughter knew anything about what he was talking about. Eighteen hours later as I arrived home, right about the same time my daughter did from school (yes, the flight delays were indeed brutal enough to push my arrival home by a day), I started asking questions about the game.  I was mesmerized by how much she knew and how to play it.  She has a whole virtual world she created and plays in with a good friend.  Since that day, she has even creatively built a house out of blocks to my specifications in her virtual world.

If you have gotten this far into my article, you may be wondering, “Why is he writing this story?”  Here’s why: it made me realize missed or delayed airline connections provide an opportunity to make many other valuable connections.  Since that adventure, I now regularly listen to my daughter explain her virtual world, its latest “crisis” and how she plans to address it.  Just this morning she was trying to save one of her virtual animals from falling off of a cliff!

It saddens me that I can’t take back all the time years ago when I naïvely dismissed my son’s interests in Minecraft rather than using it to become closer to him and learn more about his character.  It has certainly opened a whole new connection between my daughter and me.  Those of you with young, inquisitive children the age of mine know it is sometimes difficult to get beyond one-word answers when trying to connect or engage in discussion. .  My daughter and I now discuss the challenges and happiness she experiences in her virtual world, giving me insights I would never have gained otherwise. I have the feeling the same is true for her.  

So, the next time you miss an airline connection and are trying to pass the time, I hope you too are able to make a new connection, learn from that temporary travelling colleague and then apply the lesson with someone much closer to you at home.  You never know how it may change your life - it changed mine!

Posted by Graham Briggs on: May 25, 2017 05:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Project Failure or Organizational Failure?

San Pietro at nightI was privileged to present with my friend and colleague Majeed Hosseiney on May 2nd at the PMI EMEA Congress in Rome on the topic of leadership in organizations as it applies to the project environment. The gist of our presentation was that we have a tendency when a project fails to shine a light on the indicators we watch as project managers - the famous iron triangle. That is, we look within the project to find reasons for failure, and not so often outside the project. 

We asked the audience, "Please stand if you can say all of your projects delivered full scope, on time and within budget?" How many do you think stood up in a room of about 80 people, almost all of whom were project managers? Would you guess 50%? 20%? 10%? 5%? 1%?

0% is the correct answer.

Was it because everyone was too shy to stand to receive a round of applause for such an unusual accomplishment? Or was it really because 80 projects managers had never had a successful project as measured by iron triangle factors?

We then asked those who did not stand (everyone) to discuss with the person next to them what might be common reasons for such failure and to share with us. Responses included weak sponsorship, inadequate executive support, unskilled teams, and so on. You can probably add a few yourself. Or, maybe you can say that all of your projects were roaring successes. If so, please tell us what made them so. 

We had a great time presenting. The crux of our presentation was that project failure is often a misnomer. That is, project failures can often be attributed to organizational failure, and that failures can be reduced and even avoided by using portfolio, program, project management methods within a projectized organization. Project selection based on business goals and available budget has a much greater chance of producing successful projects. It makes decisions more transparent and more business goal-based. 

We were fortunate to be interviewed by Kristin Jones a few hours after our session. You can probably tell that we had a lot of fun. 

Have you found that external factors negatively impact your projects, sometimes more often than factors internal to your projects? Do you feel that sometimes projects are blamed for what might be a failure in leadership on the part of the organization? We'd love to hear your opinions.


Posted by Mike Frenette on: May 10, 2017 10:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

Fear or Love?  / ¿Miedo o Amor?

Fear or Love?

Organizational Culture and Servant Leadership

While reading Catalin Teodor’s post “Now, we are free”, I asked myself how many organizations promote a servant culture within the ranks of their leaders.

I believe, as Catalin mentioned, that most leaders feel they lose their power being servant leaders, taking care and being worried about the welfare of their collaborators.

As an example, I recall the CEO of Enel Italian Group, Francesco Starace's response to a student at the Luiss Business School who asked him how to encourage people to adopt changes made in his organization. I understand there is not a servant leadership culture in Enel; on the contrary, their organizational culture is based on fear. Starace's answer to the student was "To achieve change you must inspire fear." He added: "First, you have to locate the ganglia - centers of power – that are contrary to the change, and hit on them to create fear and discomfort." While these comments were repudiated by the international press, there are many organizations that work that way.

On the other hand, and fortunately, there are also stories of great leaders, who have generated extraordinary results in their organizations through leadership centered on the well-being of the people, using a style that has much in common with servant leadership: humility, care and concern for the well-being of others.

Examples of these leaders are Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett, who have created low-cost Southwest Airlines in Texas, having had to overcome the attacks of the big airlines who were threatened by them, and that today has more passengers being carried on domestic flights in the United States than any other.

Herb Kelleher and Colleen Barrett's leadership approach is "Employees come first," where leaders take care of employees, make sure they feel good, have what they need to do their jobs, and are supportive of their personal lives.

Just to imagine how strong the organizational culture of Southwest Airlines is, consider that the company's stock is called "LUV".

In addition, we can cite the case of Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, with more than 360 companies, who also imposes a culture in its companies that focus on employees.  In an interview, Branson stated, "If the person who works in your company is 100% proud of the brand, and you give them the tools to do a good job and treat them well, they will be happy."

Branson says that to make sure his employees are treated well, he collects feedback by walking through the cabin and talking directly to staff during Virgin flights.

Another similar and very interesting example is Vineet Nayar, an Indian executive, former CEO of HCL Technologies and author of the best-selling book "Employees First, Customers Second: Turning Conventional Management Upside Down", who managed to converse every year with each one of the 89,000 employees, asking them about their problems and giving them answers.

And it is not uncommon for these people-centered companies to have such good results, as studies show that the culture of the organization, and especially how people feel caring the climate of the company, can improve business performance by up to 30%.

Renowned leadership expert and famous TEDx's speaker, Simon Sinek, whom we were lucky enough to hear as a keynote speaker at the PMI North America Leadership Institute Meeting in San Diego in September 2016, expressed that leaders must create an environment of care, protection, and trust so that the employees feel safe. Otherwise, people spend their energy on covering their backs, rather than investing in teamwork and production.

I believe that, if organizations had this in mind, we would have more servant leaders and few"based on fear" leaders.

Who would you rather work for? Caring leaders who increase company profits by keeping their workforce content, happily focusing on customer satisfaction? Or leaders who feel a need to instill fear and crush opposition to their views?

En Español:

¿Miedo o Amor?

La Cultura Organizacional y el Liderazgo Servicial

Mientras leía el post “Now –we are free” de Catalin Teodor, me preguntaba cuántas organizaciones promueven la cultura de servicio en sus líderes.

Creo, tal como menciona Catalin, que la mayoría de los líderes siente que pierde poder siendo el servidor, sirviendo y cuidando a sus colaboradores.

Por ejemplo, recuerdo la respuesta del CEO del Grupo Italiano Enel, Francesco Starace, a un estudiante de la Luiss Business School, que le preguntó cómo lograr que las personas de su organización adopten los cambios. Entiendo que en Enel no hay una cultura de liderazgo servicial, por el contrario, la cultura organizacional está basada en el miedo. La respuesta de Starace al estudiante fue “Para lograr el cambio tienes que inspirar miedo”.  Y agregó el directivo que “Primero hay que localizar los ganglios –centros de poder- que se opongan al cambio y pegarles para crear miedo y disconfort”. Si bien estos comentarios tuvieron repudio por parte de la prensa internacional, hay muchas organizaciones que funcionan de esa forma.

Por otro lado, y por fortuna, también hay historias de grandes líderes, que han generado resultados extraordinarios en sus organizaciones a través un liderazgo centrado en el bienestar de las personas, donde se aprecia un estilo que tiene mucho en común con el liderazgo servicial: humildad, cuidado y preocupación por el bienestar de los demás.

Ejemplos de estos líderes son Herb Kelleger y Colleen Barrett, quienes han creado la compañía aérea low cost de Texas, Southwest Airlines, la cual tuvo que vencer los ataques de las grandes líneas aéreas que veían una competencia amenazante en ellos, y que hoy en día es la compañía aérea que más cantidad de pasajeros transporta en vuelos domésticos en los Estados Unidos.

El enfoque de liderazgo de Herb Kelleger y Colleen Barrett es el de “Los empleados son lo primero”, donde los líderes cuidan a los empleados y se aseguran que se sientan bien y tengan lo que necesitan para poder desarrollar sus trabajos, y también se preocupan de sus vidas personales. 

Cómo será de fuerte la cultura organizacional de Southest Airlines, que la acción de la compañía se llama “LUV”, (cuya pronunciación en inglés es similar a la palabra “love”, que significa “amor”).

Adicionalmente, podemos citar el caso de Richard Branson, fundador del Virgin Group que posee más de 360 compañías, quién también impone una cultura en sus empresas que se centran en los empleados.

En una entrevista, Branson dice que “Si la persona que trabaja en tu compañía está 100% orgullosa de la marca, y tú le brindas las herramientas para hacer un buen trabajo y los tratas bien, ellos serán felices”.

Branson dice que para asegurarse que sus empleados son tratados bien, él mismo va a recoger feedback caminando por la cabina y conversando directamente con el staff durante los vuelos de Virgin.

Otro ejemplo similar y muy interesante es el Vineet Nayar, ejecutivo indio, ex CEO de HCL Technologies, autor del libro best-seller “Empleados Primero, Clientes Segundo: Dando vuelta la Gestión convencional”, quién se las ingeniaba para conversar todos los años con sus 89.000 empleados, preguntándoles sobre sus problemas y dándoles respuestas.

Y no es raro que estas compañías que se centran en las personas tengan tan buenos resultados, ya que los estudios muestran que la cultura de la organización, y en especial como la gente siente el clima, puede afectar hasta el 30% el desempeño del negocio.

El experto en Liderazgo y reconocido orador de TEDx, Simon Sinek, al que tuvimos la suerte de escuchar en la Leadership Institute Meeting de PMI de Norteamérica que se desarrolló en San Diego en Setiembre de 2016, expresó, en aquella ocasión, que los líderes deben generar un ambiente de cuidado, protección y confianza para que sus colaboradores se sientan seguros. De lo contrario, las personas gastan su energía en cubrirse las espaldas, en vez de invertirla en trabajar en equipo y producir.

Creo que, si las organizaciones tuvieran esto en cuenta, tendríamos más líderes serviciales y menos líderes que inspiren miedo.

¿Para quién preferirías trabajar? ¿Para líderes protectores, que aumentan los beneficios de la empresa manteniendo a los empleados contentos, felices, centrándose en la satisfacción del cliente? ¿O para líderes que sienten la necesidad de inculcar miedo y aplastar la oposición a sus puntos de vista?


Posted by Cecilia Boggi on: April 14, 2017 03:06 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

One word sums up probably the responsibility of any vice president, and that one word is 'to be prepared'.

- Dan Quayle