When I die Dublin will be written in my heart.~ James Joyce, writer
For a few days, a group of project managers gathered together in Dublin to talk…. Project management. For some people that sounds a little like watching paint dry. For others, it does not convey much at all!
What does it mean when 900 project managers get together to talk about project management? Are we talking about schedules, budgets, planning tasks, deliverables? Did we sit around in groups planning each others' projects? Did we compare the color coding on our GANTT charts? Or were we telling war stories and success stories?
As it turns out we were talking about a broad array of topics from Agile, to Sociocracy, to Millennials, disrupting behavior through thoughts and feelings, to design thinking, to quality assurance, to virtual teams to whether women make better project managers!
The event got off to a great start with a Keynote on leadership. The opening speech by Jamil Qureshi– "The Disruptive Leader – explored three principles.
1. Changing behavior by changing thoughts and feelings
2. Changing outcomes by changing Response Ability – E(vent) + R(esponse Ability) = O(utcome)
3. Changing leadership by challenging Belief Systems.
But where do I take you from here? I can regale you with stories of great sessions – but some of the ones I missed were just as great as the ones I attended. Instead, I will tour the event through the lens of a few character strengths:
Touring the conference through the lens of Character Strengths.
Appreciation of beauty and excellence – my appreciation was through the roof. The level of organization was terrific, the speakers were amazing, the party nights and the variety of options for us to explore our craft were excellent. Hats off to the amazing PMI Ireland chapter for hosting – here are Jackie, Frances, and Norma!
Bravery – there were a lot of seasoned speakers here but there were new ones too. They overcame their nerves to jump in and share their expertise with us. We need new topics, new speakers and new viewpoints in order to take the art of project management into the next 50 years.
Curiosity – my curiosity was piqued at every turn. I could not completely satisfy it because I could not be in all the sessions at once. Every single session seemed to have something special – and novel to offer. For example, I don’t think I have seen anyone present on Sociocracy (Dynamic Governance for Portfolios/Programmes/Projects with John Buck and Teodor Darabaneau at a project management event before. And what was that session on Why Women Make Better Project Managers from Jordi Teixido? Hopefully, there will be other opportunities to find out!
And one area where my curiosity was satisfied was about our new PMI CEO Sunil Prashara. He went out of his way to be around and available to speak with anyone and everyone. It will be great to see how he moves things forward as he becomes more oriented.
Fairness – this is a key strength for me. The most obvious way that I saw this show up is in the way that the “names” made themselves available. As already mentioned, Sunil Prashara was accessible to everyone throughout the event. Our keynote Jamil Qureshi not only stayed around and made himself available to people with questions, but he also attended other sessions. Jim Snyder was wandering the halls and ready to speak to all of us.
Spot the Keynote Speaker!!
Gratitude – this is overflowing. I am grateful to the fantastic audience who jumped in and participated wholeheartedly in our Social Intelligence session on the first day. I am equally grateful to those who made my book a sellout in the PMI Bookstore. Special thanks to Derek who was my room moderator. He sat down and joined in the session! I am grateful to all the speakers, organizers and attendees. Thank you, Kristin Jones, for making me get over my anxiety about Facebook live! And extra appreciation and gratitude to all the people who greeted me and chatted with me all through the event! Special thanks go to Manolis Papadakis who was the first to greet me on the first day and the last person I spoke to before I headed back home to the US.
Curiosity & Love of Learning
Amongst all this, I did attend a few sessions!! They included:
And just a couple of the ones I missed that I know I wish I had seen!
"I came with curiosity. I wondered what all this was about. And now I want to go deeper to learn more. My love of learning has kicked in!" Session attendee.
But conference events are much more than a collection of fun and informative sessions. They are an opportunity to network, make friends, connect with people we have only “spoken” with online. For example, during the event, I met Manolis (see the picture above). He is the first person I spoke to on day 1 and the last person I spoke to on the last day! He is also the person who took the VIA Character Strengths survey and bravely shared his strengths online.
I met Priya, and Geetanjali – fellow honorees during @Elise Stevens #celebratingwomeninprojectmanagement earlier this year. Bruce Gay and I traveled 3000 miles to say hello in person! And I met Jim Snyder, co-founder of PMI 50 years ago!
How did your top character strengths get excited by the event? If you don’t know your character strengths, you can take the free assessment by searching for the VIA Institute on Character.
If you want to know more about how character strengths improve relationships, workplaces, teams, and health, email me at through this platform or sign up for my monthly strengths newsletter at: Project Motivator Newsletter
See you in Philly October 5-7, 2019 for the 50th Anniversary PMI Global Conference!
This is the third in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....
How do you influence people? What is your ripple effect?
This is a continuation of the topic we started to explore earlier. Over time, I have come to realize that I influence others with my behaviors and my language. When I am positive and consistent, so is my team, when I am open to new ideas and tolerant of experimentation and mistakes, so is my team. When I focus on strengths, so does the team.
When have you spread positive emotion to the people around you? How did that happen?
When I focus on the strengths of others, the mood is positive. We spend a lot of time focusing on what is wrong rather than what is strong – it is human nature. Taking time to notice what others contribute and then telling them what I see lifts my mood and theirs, and as research shows, positive mood leads to greater innovation and creativity. I have seen teams do amazing – seemingly impossible things – because of our joint focus on the possible and the strengths we have to make the possible real.
How and when have you spread negative emotion?
Earlier in my career, I unwittingly spread negative emotion by complaining. My negative focus encouraged others to become negative too. When one person is being negative – especially someone with responsibility for others – it gives tacit permission for others to dwell on negatives and the mood quickly spirals downward. And as negative mood makes us less creative and more defensive, it is easy to get stuck there!
When have you had an opportunity to try something new and interesting to you and turned it down saying, “That is just not something I am good at”, or “I have never been any good at that type of thing”? What are some steps you could have taken with a growth mindset to learn?
The first time I was asked to speak to a group of people to share my knowledge on a work topic, I said no. I had no experience of presenting and actually did not like to stand up in front of others. I coached someone else to make the presentation and they went onto to exciting opportunities as a result. I could have asked someone to coach me to get ready and just experimented with the experience of presenting to the group. Now, years on, I really love the opportunity to engage with others and to share knowledge – not just mine but theirs too. I learned from that first experience that if we just say no because it is new, we may miss out on a great opportunity and a new path!
Think of a time you faced a challenge head-on, even though initially you felt you were not smart enough or skilled enough to do it. How did you push past your reluctance to try?
When I was asked to take over as project manager on my first project, I did not feel equipped to do the job. I was a technologist, not a project manager! I overcame my reluctance by enlisting the help of others to make the transition easier. I spoke to a couple of people I trusted and shared my reluctance and they counseled and mentored me. That gave me the confidence to put my best foot forward and give the new role a go. I never looked back!
Think of a time you failed at something you tried. What did you learn from that experience?
In my undergraduate degree, I did not achieve the grades I wanted. In my final year though I was asked to help another student make her grades because she had failed one of the core classes. I learned that other people matter. There was more pleasure for me in seeing her pass than there would have been for me getting a better grade than I did. That is when I realized that there are better measures of success than the grades we get!
Strategies for success:
Be hopeful: choose your language and behaviors to build hope in the team by your example.
Being mindful every day of how we show up is a small act that has big benefits for us AND our colleagues.
Be Strong: Think about one strength you can use to help your team.
I choose a different strength to focus on each day depending on what is on the schedule for the day. It might be bravery when there are difficult conversations, or curiosity when there are meetings, or judgment or perspective when there are decisions to be made. Focusing on one strength does not mean ignoring the others – but when one strength is fully engaged, it tends to make us more thoughtful and that strength may “tow” others along with it! Choosing one strength to focus on for a week so that we can get comfortable is a good start.
Be brave: Model positive team behavior, even when it is hard to do or you get pushback from colleagues.
When there is stress in the air, a project is not going well, or team members are tired, it is easy to lose momentum on modeling positive team behavior. Being hopeful – remembering that hope is a combination of mindset AND action – is hard when others are feeling negative or pessimistic. It is at those most difficult times that our positive modeling is most needed and most beneficial. Problem-solving improves when we come with a positive mindset and an appreciative point of view!
Be curious: Listen to the language you use around team members. What does it convey? Listen for the language of a fixed mindset in others and ask what learning tools are needed to make a change.
When I hear phrases like, “that is just the way it is,” or, “that is how it has always been,” or “I have never been good at,” that is a great opportunity to ask questions to get people thinking! Some questions I like are:
Model the language and behavior you want from others.
This is the second in a series of posts based on the questions I ask project managers when we explore being a Project Motivator and the concepts of strengths-based project management. I ask these questions of my readers and workshop attendees, but I think it is important to be transparent, so I share my answers too....
How does your organization view the role of the project manager?
I have worked in many organizations and their attitudes have all been different. Some see the project manager as the timekeeper with no expectation that the project manager will become a subject matter expert, other organizations have expected that project managers will be the go-to person who can represent the project and the team at every level. Still, other organizations have not known what to expect, they just believe that a project manager is necessary. These organizations can be a lot of fun because you can set the tone for what a project manager does!
What do you believe your role is in building team engagement?
I believe that building team engagement is the biggest part of our role. Team engagement directly relates to project success. Also, greater engagement means more fun on the job, means that people go the extra mile!
How engaged are you?
I have been fortunate to be very engaged in all my recent roles. The fascination I have for team engagement means that I am always experimenting and learning and engaged. My focus is on the team and getting them behind the project goals and that is a lot of FUN! My strengths of Appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, curiosity, fairness, and gratitude have all stimulated the projects that I work on. I have worked with great teams, who have been willing to try new things and that has kept my projects fresh and interesting.
What strengths do you already have?
I use many strengths in my day-to-day role which is another reason project management is perfect for me. As mentioned above, my go-to strengths are Appreciation of beauty and excellence, bravery, curiosity, fairness, and gratitude.
What do you want to learn about now?
I want to learn more about motivating project managers in becoming the focal point of building team engagement. I want to learn about what you want in order to be more fulfilled and more effective in your role as a project manager! I’d love it if you would email me with your requests and suggestions!
Strategies for Success
Be Hopeful: You will be the type of project manager who builds great teams.
Anyone who is willing to learn about team engagement and try even a few of the ideas will make a positive difference to the experience of the team!
Be strong: How can you leverage your strengths for the benefit of the team?
I have found that using my strengths mindfully – whatever they are – benefits the team (and me!) in so many ways!
Be brave: Try new things to help the team bond and grow.
I have discovered that when we try new things together, we bond, we learn, and we grow. Even if the new things don’t always work out as expected! Some of the tightest bonds are formed when things don’t go as expected or planned!
Be curious: What questions will you ask to find out what your team wants and needs?
I am reminded of the TV program New Amsterdam where the Medical Director, Max Goodwin asks all the time, “How can I help?” That is a good start. Some other great questions are, “what do you need?” “What’s going well?” and “What are your challenges?”
Over the last few months, since the publication of my book Be a Project Motivator: Unlock the Secrets of Strengths-Based Project Management I have been speaking to project managers from all around the world about how the science of Character Strengths can help us build engagement, increase productivity and creativity and help us to get stuff done.
I have been sharing my study of over 250 project managers who have taken the free VIA Character Strengths Survey to get their personalized 24-strength ranking, which shows that on average project managers are lower in Social Intelligence and Perspective than our colleagues, but are higher in Teamwork, Perseverance, Prudence and Forgiveness.
Source, ALLE LLC Study (unpublished), 2019
The feedback from the audiences has been terrific, and here I am sharing the three more answers to questions I frequently receive:
Q1. Is there a difference in the PM strengths rankings between men and women?
A great question came up in a recent webinar when we were discussing the results that show that PMs tend to be lower in social intelligence and perspective than the population in general. Is there a difference between men, women, and others in the results?
I had not looked at the data in this way before, so I immediately went back to the results. Unfortunately, we do not have enough respondents in the other category to look at their data in isolation, but we do have enough in our samples of men and women. And they were very interesting.... it was a resounding NO there is no significant difference between male and female PMs according to my data.
In this colorful, and complicated graph, you can see the strengths of the US population plotted alongside ALL PMs in my sample, Female PMs in the sample (182) and Male PMs in the sample (82).*
In general, the results are very similar. It seems that female PMs rank creativity lower than their male counterparts, and appreciation higher, but otherwise there is remarkable consistency between the group overall and the two sub-groups.
* later this year I will review additional data that has come in since this dataset was analyzed. I look forward to reporting the updated results.
Q2 Does a person's profile change over time?
There is remarkable consistency between the survey results of an individual over time. Here is the example of my survey taken in 2015, 2017, 2018.
Generally, strengths don't move around much. Within the different groupings of signature strengths (typically top 5), middle strengths (approximately 15) and lesser (bottom 3-4), they may shuffle a little, but a lesser strength is not likely to become a top strength or vice versa.
There are two key ways that strengths may move up or down the ranking:
In my profile, you will notice that many of my tops strengths have remained consistent. The movers are Hope which has gone up from 12th to 3rd and Bravery which has moved down from 2nd to 10th. These two changes coincide with me recovering from a lifetime of struggle with a phobia and associated anxiety. Bravery was a key strength for me because it was the "feel uncomfortable and do it anyway" strength. Hope floated upwards as my outlook became more positive. Of course, the big question is did hope float because I became less anxious, or did I become less anxious because I boosted my strength of hope?
I still lean heavily on my bravery strength - it has become a phasic strength for me which is one that is generally in the middle of a profile that shows up strongly under specific conditions. For me, for example, bravery is key when I have a speaking engagement.
Q3 Where do I start with Character Strengths?
In the SBPM model, there are six stages and the first three relate to YOU. Start by taking the free VIA character strengths assessment to find out about your profile. Then pick a few strengths - the top ones are a good place to start - and start noticing how you use them, how they make you feel when you use them, and how others respond when you use them. Then look for new ways to engage those strengths. You can look for different domains to express them - work as well as home for humanity strengths, community as well as work for wisdom strengths for example. And then start mindfully modeling your strengths to others.
You can find out more by watching my webinars on ProjectManagement.com here: https://www.projectmanagement.com/videos/533121/Introduction-to-Strengths-Based-Project-Management---Finding-Your-Strengths--Part-1-
Or by messaging me here!
Q1 Do you think we should work on our lowest strengths to improve them?
First, lower strengths are not the same as weaknesses. That said, the research shows that working on our TOP strengths to make sure we are using them optimally is the most beneficial. We can work on ANY of our strengths to boost them. We are most likely to succeed in lifting strengths that we truly value rather than believing are what we “should” have.
There is some research that shows that working on lesser strengths can be beneficial – particularly for people who feel familiar and connected to their top strengths already. Email me to receive a reference to the relevant research.
Q2: has there ever been a comparison of VIACharacter strengths and John Wooden's Pyramid of Success? I have always leaned on the integrity of John Wooden and his pyramid.
I am not aware of any analysis or comparison of the Pyramid of Success to VIA Character Strengths. There has been some work to compare MBTI and Gallup CliftonStrengths (formerly Strengthsfinder). Email me if you would like to receive the references to the articles.
Q3: Does this link to emorgetics?
Unfortunately, I am not familiar with emorgetics. If you can provide me with a link, I would love to learn more!
Q4: What again are the 3 Es?
Signature strengths – typically our top five strengths – are ESSENTIAL, EFFORTLESS and ENERGIZING!
Q5: As you stated that we should focus on the positive?
Character strengths and Positive Psychology are not so much about focusing on the positive, more about starting with what is strong and working from there. We are more creative, more productive, more confident, and more likely to be willing to tackle gaps and weaknesses if we first start with recognizing the positive in us.
Generally, my recommendation is to give feedback often. That way there is no special approach required. Whatever the feedback is, you can just give it. Hopefully, for most people on most days, feedback is positive and the times when the feedback is less than positive is the exception. The sandwich technique is something that is often used when the only feedback is given at annual appraisal time or when there is a problem.
For the giver of the feedback, there are a couple of questions it may be helpful to consider:
Q7: How long does the VIA Survey take to complete? –
It takes about 15-30 minutes in your first language.
Q8: We are very surprised to hear that PMs tend to have low social intelligence. Can you elaborate on why you think that is? Is this survey focused more on a specific industry?
The results are from multiple industries, but there is a concentration in IT and Financial Services. It is hard to say why Social Intelligence would be lower in PMs. Some audiences have hypothesized that project managers are the type of people who don’t want too much social interaction and so people with low social intelligence choose project management because they expect to have to deal with people less. It may also be related to the type of training and education that most project managers get which has tended to focus on tools and techniques rather than human considerations. An analysis of US Masters programs in Project Management shows that the number of credits in topics like team building, negotiation and conflict management are very low – particular when looking at mandatory classes rather than electives.
Q9: [When you discuss the survey results are you talking about strengths] most and least likely to show up for PMs? Or respondents?
Now that my sample size is large enough, I would say that it is both. I believe that this is a representative sample of project managers.
Q10: Is this a self-assessment – yes.
There is a Character Strengths 360 available from VIA institute that you can use to find out what strengths others see in you. Comparing that with your survey results can be very enlightening!
Q11: this is a self-assessment? I'm surprised the honesty is the highest. Has there been other data to confirm this besides project managers?
There are two reports that analyze findings across the world for all takers of the survey. One is an early analysis of the results for 54 Nations the other, more recent study is of 75 nations. Email me and I will send the references.
Q12: I'm not clear as to why spirituality is a character strength? I would think it might be a passion. How could you overuse spirituality?
Any of the CS can be passions/interests and any can be values we have so that’s right. But, spirituality – that pursuit toward meaning/purpose, dwelling with the sacred and specialness in life – is in all people. This has actually been shown on a genetic level in studies of children and adolescents (see Lisa Miller’s new book The Spiritual Child that reviews these). This is, of course, different from participating in religions/institutions/rituals which are clearly not universal.
Q13: If Character Strengths are only positive traits, does that mean negative traits are Character Flaws or Weaknesses?
The survey measures the strengths relative to each other. So, we express our top strengths more frequently and more easily than a bottom-strengths. Negative traits can be all sort of things – habits, practices, beliefs and so on. There is no measure – or definition as far as I know – of character flaws or character weaknesses. All character strengths are positive traits and at the same time, positive traits can be character strengths, skills, beliefs, talents etc.
Q14: What is the URL to take the survey?
The link is available in the handout under RELATED CONTENT in the webinar recording page here:
So far (as of March 27th) about 235 attendees have taken the survey!