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
Tolga Özel
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
Graham Briggs
Cecilia Boggi

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Acting out...as a leader?

The Elusive PMO

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)

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)

http://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/chasing-coral-review-sundance-1201979770/

Posted by Suzan Cho on: June 21, 2017 08:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Mentor In Us All – Dig Deeper

I was fortunate to begin my career on the most expensive highway project in the United States, The Central Artery/Tunnel Project (also referred to by the Boston locals as the Big Dig).  For those that don’t know, this was a mega-project in Boston that rerouted the major Interstate from above ground to below ground.  The final costs to complete exceeded $16 Billion.  Indeed, with a project of this size there was bound to be at least some problems.  Most of these issues led to escalating costs, schedule issues, and questionable execution.  However, after all was said and done, it has led to much more enjoyable harbor front views, public parks and allowed the interstate to run underground throughout the city.  Back then, I had very little appreciation for what I was learning and what I was a part of.

When I started working, I had an eyes wide open approach to everything at all times.  However, even though this project was the most expensive in the US, I knew nothing different in the Engineering and Project Management world.  I thought this was normal and would be like the rest of the projects that I would be on.  Twenty years later, I look back and realize that I probably won’t be on such a project again and if one comes around, I probably will treat it a bit different with regards to my appreciation for it.  However, I also remember that I wanted to learn.  I wanted to get the most out of it.  So, I steered towards the people that had been on the project a long time and felt I could learn the most from them.  By definition mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge and support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career or professional development.  Little did I know back then that this would be my first opportunity to have many mentors.  I didn’t know what a mentor was back then.  I guess I thought that a mentor would be someone who would come to me in a graduation cap and gown, sit with me,  teach me the ropes and not let me fail.

Within my first month, I started asking more questions.  I remember sitting in my first large program level meeting and being in awe of the knowledge the team members had.  While I was nervous, I learned quickly that these people… these mentors... were all around me and wanted to help me be all I could be.  That being said, I was very fortunate to have an amazing boss at the time.  His name was Al and while I had no idea at the time what he was to me, looking back he was the first mentor to whom I always found myself turning  when I had questions or concerns and wanted to seek his approval on what I was doing.  

My first recollection of finding out that a 20-something didn’t know-it-all was on a simple task of providing a construction overview schedule for Al for an executive meeting he was going to be attending.  I was so proud of myself.  I was ecstatic that I had completed this task with little or no help and thought what I had done was perfect and required no editing.  Little did I know, that was one of Al’s first tests for me.  I handed over my printout the morning of the meeting thinking I was all set.  Al thanked me and said he would review it.  I thought to myself, “Review it?!… It’s perfect.  It shouldn’t need any review.  It’s ‘good-to-go’”.  About an hour later he called me over to his desk.  He had markings all over it.  The one comment that has stuck with me out of all of the edits was that the coloring that I had chosen was all wrong.  He then explained to me that the executives would think it was too busy and would not be forceful enough for the message that it was portraying.  Now, he didn’t make me feel bad or feel like I failed, but he made suggestions on the basis that I could improve my messaging.  For years after I left that first job, I turned to Al for direction and even approval on my career decisions.  To this day, whenever I provide a dashboard or report I think back to this comment and still try to improve upon my deliverable.

Mentoring can come in all shapes and sizes.  It can occur when you least expect it or when you have signed up for a mentoring program.  Our local PMI Chapter has a great mentoring program of which many people take advantage. When they are done they are so glad they went through it.  Many of the mentors and mentees are first timers.  They also don’t have to be mentors who are perfectly aligned with the mentee’s main line of duties.  I am currently mentoring a handful of supervisors.  I find that while they can run circles around me on many of their day to day responsibilities, I am able to provide them with some guidance, more specifically in the Project Management profession since they have no formal training or formal PM education.  They find out about things that may help  right away or even a year from now, much like Al did for me.

In conclusion, I urge any and all of you to get involved with mentoring, either with your own company, with your PM organization, or even with old colleagues.  Mentoring entails communication which we all know is usually the area of breakdown in most conflicts.

 

Posted by Graham Briggs on: April 20, 2016 08:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)

Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired

As I was walking through Logan Airport on one of my many monthly commutes to/from various places throughout the US, a billboard advertisement caught my eye for one reason or another.  It could be because it was 11:30 PM and I was doing everything to keep my eyes open long enough to find the nearest open Dunkin’ Donuts. Anyways, the billboard simply stated, “Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired” and in the background it showed many nice scenes of Boston to visit. In full disclosure, I do not remember the company or organization that was the advertiser, but I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head.  It made me think about how I try to handle each and every situation this way.  Sometimes I am more successful than at other times. I mean, if we weren’t curious, why would we go to most of the destinations where we end up?  

I want to share with you my experience with the Leadership Institute Master Class (LIMC), Class of 2015.  My curiosity for this amazing experience started in 2011.  A former Mass Bay Chapter president met me for lunch at a little Mexican restaurant in Dallas, Texas, immediately after his first LIMC session.  I happened to be there because I was just about to attend my first Leadership Institute Meeting (LIM) and of course wanted some comfort food.  However, instead I listened to a person who had a new appreciation for Project Management and Leadership.  He also had a new appreciation for how much he was learning about himself, and how the program enabled him to find out about so many other cultures and parts of the world!  To say I was curious at this point would be an understatement!  Due to various circumstances and timing of everything, I ended up having to wait until 2014 just to apply to be a part of the experience.

When I was accepted to be in the Class of 2015, I was amazed at how nervous I was at first.  I didn’t think I would be, but I immediately thought maybe I was under or overqualified for this type of class, or wanted to make a name for myself and only had a short few months to “rid the world of project management disaster!”  Slowly, this nervousness led to being curious about the whole process.  I reassured myself that I was qualified and ready to attend (and that I had no chance to rid the world of project management disaster in the remaining two months)!!!

When I arrived, I immediately met those same people that I was told about back in 2011.  Right away I felt connected in a way I hadn’t felt before.  I was curious again, but now a completely different type of curious.  I wanted to learn.  I wanted to ask questions.  Most importantly, I wanted to listen to everyone and soak everything in as much as I could!  I was in a place where their language was the same as mine.  It didn’t matter whether it was spoken in one of the17 different dialects in our class of 34 people from around the world.  

Over the next 12 months, my curiosity never wavered.  We had numerous phone calls, webinar sessions, weekend discussions, and three amazing in-person classroom type sessions.  I left with a lot of different feelings.  While I was sad it was over,   I was happy that I had met so many new friends and colleagues.

But, what stays with me each and every day is that I “Left Inspired”.  I knew there was never going to be a chance I could even possibly try to rid the world of project management disasters on my own, but with effort my new friends and colleagues would be putting up a heck of a fight!  Who knew a Mexican restaurant lunch, an application, and a walk through Logan Airport looking at a billboard in order to stay awake would have opened up so many thoughts and realizations!  

I leave you with one thought… go into every situation, whether at home, work, or through your project management organization with the Curiosity and open mindedness that is required to Leave Inspired.  You will be amazed at where it can lead!

Posted by Graham Briggs on: January 12, 2016 03:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

SERVE, but don't forget to LEAD

“A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” (Martin Luther King Jr.).

Once again, using a powerful and profound image, Dr. King summarized the right “posture” of a Servant-Leader: ready to “carry” the followers, to help them “reach” their “destinations” (their life goals). However, the quote has a very interesting approach, not so easy to spot: ONLY your back should be bent JUST ENOUGH to allow the journey. There should be nothing demeaning or humiliating in this gesture or in this posture for the Servant-Leader and it shouldn’t be considered as such by the people around him or her.

This is one of the challenges of becoming a Servant-Leader and, moreover, of implementing the Servant-Leadership model in different organizations. Due to its characteristics (listen and understand, show empathy, be aware, lend a helping hand etc), Servant-Leadership is seen as a “softer” approach than any other traditional leadership approach. Competitive times - like the ones we experience nowadays - bring strong prejudices such as a leader must be tough, maybe even aggressive (if needed), ready to impose and direct people (for their “own good”) to the right path. There is no time to “listen” and “understand” completely. Leaders should be (and this is one of the most common prejudices that I encountered) concentrating on actions and less on feelings.

The Servant-Leadership approach is contradicting this trend - taking care of the feelings and then getting to actions. This is why - as I saw on several occasions - Servant-Leadership is seen as a good and interesting thing, but not fit (in terms of “power”) for the cloudy world we live in.

And this is, actually….correct. Servant-Leadership is promoting authority, not power. It is based on the skill of getting people to willingly perform because of the leader’s personal influence. Moreover, James Hunter (in “The Servant”) describes the Servant-Leader more as a “pit bull”, who “hugs hard and spanks hard”. When “it’s time to appreciate, honor and value team”, the Servant-Leader is the “first in line”. But, when the team has to perform,  true Servant-Leaders “demand excellence and have little tolerance for mediocrity”.


So, we are not soft. Not even close. We, as Servant-Leaders, are ready to move things in the right direction, engage people and motivate teams. But, at the same time, we are not doing this using the “power” whip and, more important, we always have  in mind our followers’ best interest. We do serve, but we never forget to lead.

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: October 28, 2015 06:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (11)
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