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.
On this, Character Strengths Day, 2018, I wanted to share some thoughts about character strengths for project managers.
People who know me already, know that I am always looking for ways to engage the teams I work with. Engaged teams are more motivated, more productive, more innovative and more committed to each other and the goals of the project. I use all sorts of techniques, but one of my favorites is Character Strengths.
A couple of weeks ago I walked into my new doctor’s office for that “new patient orientation” appointment – you know the one, where they ask all the questions about your medical history that you cannot possibly remember or in some cases even know!
Anyway, a young man came in and explained that he was the medical assistant working with the doctor for the day. We got talking and he told me that he had always wanted to be a doctor. He had told his family and friends. Everyone was rooting for him to succeed. He did his pre-med course, and during school started to wonder about this doctor idea. So much debt, not necessarily the aspects of medicine he was most interested in.
He was uncomfortable at the prospect of telling his family and friends about his possible change of heart, but he knew he had to explore his options. So he spent time researching his options. After a lot of exploration, he decided the physical therapy was his “thing.” He would see more patients, see their progress, he would be hands on helping people to recover from injuries and surgeries and he would be helping them to help themselves.
He finally told his family and friends and set about getting a place in school to complete his education.
As I listened his strengths really stood out… Pause for a moment - what do you see in that story? (I’ll give you a clue, it is hard to be wrong!)
Take a look at the list of VIA Character Strengths:
I told him that I saw honesty and bravery in challenging his own habitual thinking and facing up to telling people close to him of his change of heart. I saw curiosity when he asked what else was out there, and love of learning as he explored his options more deeply. I saw judgment as he weighed his options, and perspective as he stepped back and considered his choices for a lifetime and not just as the next step in an endless chain of foregone conclusions. I could have gone on and on, but those were the ones that I shared with him.
To say he looked pleased is an understatement. He looked positively radiant. He was engaged in the conversation and his energy level rose. This is what I see whenever I use character strengths as the starting point of a conversation - even a difficult conversation. Character strengths link to our intrinsic motivation and that motivation leads to engagement.
I use lots of tools to promote that engagement, but one of the best has been the VIA Character Strengths Survey. I discovered this free survey during a course on Positive Psychology, and among all the approaches I was introduced to during that course, VIA made the biggest impression.
It met three important criteria for me:
The story above shows how strengths spotting works! How it boosts both the recipient and the giver of the strengths feedback and how character strengths awareness boosts mood and energy. And that is only the start! Over the years, I have incorporated these ideas into my teams, and the positive change has been significant.
In the coming weeks I will be posting more about team engagement, and the concept of Strengths-Based Project Management (SBPM). I look forward to sharing with you!
And come and find me at the PMI Global Conference in LA October 6th-8th!