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!

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

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Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

Project Management is All Around Us!

The Servant Leadership Way: Virtues that bring Results

Acting out...as a leader?

The Elusive PMO

Strategy Formulation is not Strategy Delivery

A recent question on Quora prompted me to spend 20 minutes writing an answer because I believe it to be a critically important question.

The question was "How is strategic management used in project execution?" I didn't really want to answer that question, so I indulged myself and changed it to “How does project management fit with strategic management?”

Organizations must have a strategy. If they don’t, let’s just stop the conversation here.

Strategy needs to have a plan of execution. It is of no use for a bunch of executives to fly to some resort somewhere and dream up a strategy, then fly back, dispersing it to the minions, expecting that they will run off in all directions implementing it exactly as they envisioned. Strategy without execution is no more than a puff of smoke. It is where the rubber meets the sky, as we used to say at Michelin Tires.

Now let’s talk about projects. This is where the rubber meets the road. Others may have said that Projects are used to execute a strategy, and therefore must be aligned with the strategy.

I take a slightly different view. That is, Portfolios of Programs and Projects must align with the Strategic Intent of the organization.

Portfolios are often based on business units, answering the question “To be successful, what set of Programs and Projects must my part of the organization execute over this period of time, and for which I have funding, in order to meet the business goals set out for my part of the organization, interleaving with other parts of the organization?” The period of time may be a year, three years, five years or more; or changing continuously as in Agile Organizations - another topic.)

So you might ask, “What is a Program, then?”. I’m glad you asked.

A Program is a series of inter-related, and possibly inter-dependent projects, all of which must be executed to achieve a business benefit or set of benefits. That is, if any one of the projects is not executed (not necessarily at the same time), the business benefit cannot be achieved.

So - Projects are part of Programs (and for various reasons, if we define it this way, we must also say that a Program may contain many Projects or even only one Project). Projects deliver products, usually on time, on budget and to the desired level of quality using either traditional (predictive) or Agile (adaptive) methods. Products of projects are used to realize the benefits defined in the strategy and in this way set the stage for delivery of benefits, albeit not the actual benefits themselves. Benefits Realization Management is another topic for another day.

So how does all this answer the [modified] question?

Strategy is a must-have for any organization. Implementation or execution of Strategy has to be funded and planned. The best way to do this, in my view, is through Business-defined Portfolios containing Programs and Projects, that are created to be in lock-step with the Strategy, and through which executives who created the strategy cause their vision to become a reality.

It goes without saying that executives who implement their Strategies this way must provide the organizational resources required: their personal support, funding, people, and careful attention to change and how it will impact the organization. This raises the specter of Organizational Change Management, also a topic for another day.

I believe executives who set strategy and then empower their people to deliver it, providing the required resources and support whenever they need it, represent the epitome of Servant Leaders. Set the direction, trust your people and give them what they need to do the job.

What do you think? What is happening in your organizations? Is strategy delivery baked into your DNA? Or is it an annual talk about corporate vision that does little but excite people for a few hours a year?

Posted by Mike Frenette on: June 21, 2019 01:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Acting out...as a leader?

“Because I said so…”. This is a “powerful” sentence that (almost) every child has heard at least once. When they are criticized, misunderstood or just denied of what they want (with no explanation whatsoever), a child’s first impulse is either to dissolve into tears and/or to push back, puffing and woofing angrily towards the “repressor/enemy” (usually an adult). They want to show that they are in pain (psychologically) and frustrated.

But when you are 4 or 5 or 7 years old, it’s almost impossible to describe eloquently your state of mind, your emotions. It’s much easier to display them. This is why, in those particular moments, children begin to shout, whimper or scream. They actually begin to (what psychologist call) act-out (their feelings/emotions/ frustrations).

And guess what? In the adult world, it’s almost the same.

As adults, we learn to restrain (even repress) ourselves from physically exhibiting our (deep) emotions. We try to explain them, rationalise them as much as possible. However, as soon as somebody is “pushing” (harder) our buttons, we tend to return to our inner (indignant) child. We sulk, puff and woof, retreating from that conversation or, quite the opposite, retaliating in a strong, powerful manner. And, more often than we think, we want  to protect ourselves by being more offensive. Instead of understanding our fears, insecurities and self-doubts, we block them and, most importantly, we turn them back on our opponent/”enemy”.

Didn’t you feel, after a dense, heated conversation and after you had time to cool off, that you might have just overreacted? That some of the actions you took and/or replies you uttered seemed (after you cooled off) exaggerated and inflamed considering the light weight of the topic itself?

That’s because you acted-out your state of mind. In that particular moment, the anger you  experienced came from the fear that you will not get what you need/want, that you are not loved, not respected, not included/accepted by the group.  

Isn’t that exactly how it was when we were kids, only with more psychological “baggage” accumulated over the years? We are adults now, we can be angry and fight back with more power and more means. We can win this one - not like when we were kids.

Oh, this is such an illusion…

Now, imagine all of these for an individual in a leadership position. The number of threats and (possible) conflicts rise exponentially. Higher expectations and greater ambition bring an increased level of stress and anxiety. All of the repressed fears, emotions find an easier way to surface and the individual (the leader?!?) is more prone to act-out in difficult times such as short deadlines, conflicting teams, disgruntled employees, stressful projects and more. Just like in childhood, acting-out brings (most of the time) many disadvantages and problems in any human relation.

Obviously, we wonder if we can avoid these situations as much as possible or, at least, reduce their probability. It’s hard to give a recipe for such a complex psychological matter.

However, I would venture a guess and offer three key elements that, in my opinion, any individual should focus on if she/he wants to be a better person (and, consequently, a better leader). As a side note - these are also core elements of servant leadership and promoted as such.

  1. Self-awareness -  we need to know who we are. We have to understand our fears, our regrets and our insecurities. If it’s not possible to solve them, we have to, at least, learn how to cope with them. Most of the conflicts and harmed relationships come from projecting our raw “bad” emotions onto the “opponent”, emotions usually coming from unresolved (childhood) issues (lack of love, rejection, feelings of not being valued, etc.). . Getting to know all of these and understanding them will bring the necessary balance for us to exist and perform in an efficient and effective manner.

  2. Collaboration - we are not alone. There is too much self-centeredness among individuals. Everyone wants to protect - at all costs - his/her “self-interest”. The laws of physics are pretty clear - pressure equals force divided by area. So, as soon as the “area” is smaller, the pressure gets bigger. Dealing with all the external “forces” alone (unrealistic deadlines, low budgets, bad bosses etc.) will bring too much pressure on the individual, making her/him prone to cave. Having a team with whom to collaborate will deflect the pressure to a larger area, making it more bearable and easier to handle.

  3. Vulnerability - we are not Supermen or Superwomen. Usually, anger comes as a means of protecting your vulnerabilities . Learning how to “let go”, be open, and divulging your feelings is a huge step. In the last century, we encouraged rationality while we tried to avoid anything that cannot be explained scientifically (like emotions or pain). Therefore, any “wounds” that don’t have a tangible cause (such as  from a lack of love or respect) are avoided or “treated” superficially. And these are the “wounds” that last and affect every aspect of our lives.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, I am sure. Emotions, sensations, feelings, fears:  all of them are part of a “world” that constitutes the foundation of any relationship;  being personal or professional. Therefore, we must not ignore them but try to understand and have them work for our benefit as individuals, especially, for the ones aspiring to lead.

To be the leader everyone expects today, we need to heal the “wounds” from yesterday or, at least,  acknowledge and start working on them. And this is the toughest leadership decision that any of us wishing to lead has to make.

Are you up for it?

 

 

 

 
Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: December 06, 2017 07:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)
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"One of the symptoms of approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."

- Bertrand Russell

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