I Just Wanna Be a PM!
Adam, an individual contributor, just finished project-managing another successful project at his company, Conset.
After the project ship party, Adam’s manager asked him to take on a people-leadership role.
Adam was very reluctant to take on a people-leadership role. He just wanted to keep delivering great projects as an individual contributor and didn’t feel comfortable taking on the cultivation of followers.
Adam finally relented, feeling the pressure to fit into the mold of “You must aspire to be a people-leader.”
Six months into the job, Adam was the most unhappy he’d ever been at Conset. He couldn’t spend time delivering great projects like he loved. He was mired down in management meetings, addressing people issues, and trying to craft the vision for his organization.
Adam’s followers grew increasingly disgruntled with Adam’s leadership style and began leaving for other jobs inside and outside of Conset.
Nine months after taking the job, Adam had had enough and left Conset; taking a project manager job at a competitor.
Before we get any deeper into this, I want to make something painfully clear: There are leaders I would never ask to project manage a mission-critical initiative, and there are project managers I would never expect to be inspirational people leaders.
There are plenty of project managers who also aspire to be great people leaders. They can paint an inspiring vision and cultivate a high-performing organization to achieve results. They actively understand the goals of their organization’s followers while equipping them to achieve those goals. They excel as inspiring people leaders.
At the same time, I’ve worked with some outstanding project managers who can paint a very straight line between the current and future state, and effectively drive team execution to successful completion. They aren’t particularly charismatic or good at imagining a tomorrow, and they aren’t especially good people cultivators. They are simply good solid project managers.
And that’s completely OK.
All too often, leaders expect that others, particularly project managers, should aspire to be inspirational people leaders. It’s as if being “just a project manager” is somehow less important or doesn’t utilize them to their full potential. Putting (or even worse, shaming) a project manager who just wants to manage projects in an inspirational people leadership role is not only potentially damaging to delivering results, it also carries the potential to adversely impact careers. Not every inspirational people leader wants to be a project manager, and not every project manager wants to be an inspirational people leader.
Project managers and leaders share many of the same attributes, such as great communication skills, removing roadblocks, providing clarity, accepting accountability, sharing praise, and problem-solving. At the same time, I see three key areas where leaders and project managers have different but complementary skillsets, as follows:
Assigning an unequipped or unwilling project manager to a people leadership role can result in the following:
The Next Steps:
Are you a project manager who is contemplating or being asked to take on an inspirational people leadership role? Consider the following next steps:
Effective project managers are highly sought after and can be worth their weight in gold in driving on-time, on-budget, and within-scope delivery. If you just wanna be a PM like Adam, then don’t fall victim to thinking “you need to be a people leader.” You don’t. Just keep delivering great projects.
The Straight A’s of Intentional Leadership
Vera and Tam have just left their manager Walt’s office.
“Did you get what Walt wants us to do?” Vera asked.
“Nope, as usual. We must have asked him five times to explain what he wanted and why it was important. Just got word salad. Again.”
“And were we supposed to do something? He just kept saying ‘the team’. That could be any of several of us. Are we supposed to communicate it out to everyone else?”
Tam smirked. “Then he launches into a diatribe of how we’re supposed to do our jobs. And I’ve got no idea not only of what he wants but when he wants it by, or even how to prioritize it with the 30 other things on my to-do list.”
Vera nodded her head. “You know how it is, he blathers for a while then forgets he even asked for something. Just stay low and do nothing, this too shall pass.”
“Agreed,” Tam said as he pushed the elevator button. “Thai for lunch?”
“Yup, then it’s back to getting real work done,” Vera said as the elevator doors opened.
You may have been in Vera or Tam’s situation; a leader who isn’t clear on what he or she expects followers to do, why it’s important, appropriate advice on how to execute, when it needs to be done, or who is expected to do it. Worse still, perhaps you recognize some of yourself in Walt; a leader who gives fuzzy direction and leaves his followers wondering what in the heck he is talking about.
Through the years I’ve made many mistakes with how I lead others; either being overly prescriptive and turning followers into errand runners or being so vague that followers couldn’t pin me down on what was needed. I’ve learned that good leadership means ensuring clarity on why, what, how, who, and when and ensuring you as the leader don’t over- or under-function in how you lead followers. To that end, I have developed a simple rule I call The Straight A’s of Intentional Leadership, as follows:
Articulate the Why
Following the straight A rule helps ensure leaders and followers understand why something is important to do, what needs to be done, what constraints need to be considered during execution, who needs to do it, and when it needs to be done. Embracing the straight A rule won’t guarantee great leadership skills, but it sure as shootin’ will help the leader be a better leader and scale up into an intentional leader of leaders.
Interested? Read on for a more thorough explanation of each:
The Consequences: Ignoring the 5 A’s when leading followers can mean the following:
Missed or delayed dates – Misaligned expectations on the five A’s can lead to deliverables that are late, not done at all, or need rework to meet the need.
Follower frustration – Followers will get frustrated with a leader who doesn’t provide clarity on the five A’s. While it’s incumbent on the follower to ask questions if unclear, the leaders should be proactive in providing clarity in the first place.
Poor leader work/life balance – Deliverables missed by followers could spell late nights for the leader to make up for any expectation shortfall.
The Next Steps:
Next time you have a deliverable needing to be done by followers:
Genuinely and Humbly Seeking Wisdom
Categories: Career Management, Communications, Leadership, Leadership
I can freely admit that this situation happened to me. I was Frank. It was painful. It was humiliating. It was also what I needed to accept that I wasn’t “all that.” I needed to be humble enough to listen to others when they were telling me the stove was hot and if I touched it I’d get burned. That’s not to say I have always put in motion any wisdom given to me, but I can say that I now genuinely seek wisdom from those equipped to give it. There have been countless times my path was altered because of wisdom given, and I’m thankful for it.
Simply put, seeking wisdom is critical to your growth as a leader and can save you a lot of heartache. Give these nine principles a look and see if any resonate with you:
The Consequences: Not genuinely seeking the wisdom of others can lead to the following consequences:
The Next Steps:
Tomorrow (Almost) Never Comes
Tom looked at the clock.
“Midnight,” he said to himself as he took a sip of coffee. The milestone review for the second phase of the project was the next day. As he updated the project plan, he came across the organizational change management tasks that were supposed to be done in phase one that got pushed to phase two. He saw that the tasks were still zero percent complete.
“We’ll pick them up later,” he said to himself as he added the tasks to the phase three workplan.
During the milestone review the next day, Tom’s manager, Gayle, asked about the incomplete organizational change management tasks.
“Ran out of time,” Tom said. “We’ll get them done in phase three.”
“Isn’t that what you told me three months ago during our phase one review?” Gayle asked.
Tom looked down. “Um, yeah,” he said.
“Phase three is even more intense than phase two, what makes you think you’ll get the OCM tasks done in phase three if you didn’t get them done in phase one or two?”
“Gayle, we’ll get them done,” Tom said.
“OK, I’m holding you to it, Tom.”
Three months later, at the phase three milestone review, Tom walked through the workplan, then got to the OCM tasks. Tom knew what was coming.
“Still not done,” Gayle said as Tom avoided her gaze.
Before we go any further, I want to articulate a principle that I’ve not only seen in countless projects but also experienced personally:
The closer you get to a project delivery date, the less time you have to complete tasks kicked down the road from prior project phases.
It’s rare that availability to do work increases as the project gets closer to its final delivery date, and that tasks deferred throughout the project now have extra time to get done. Typically, the project team is working hard to accomplish the only-most-crucial tasks to meet delivery, with other tasks either deferred to post-release or not done at all. The attitude is that those tasks can be completed later when there’s more time. I have two problems with this:
To avoid the temptation of kicking tasks down the road only to have them die on the vine, give these five takeaways a look:
Remember, the closer you get to a project delivery date, the less time you have to complete tasks kicked down the road. Resist the urge to push tasks off until tomorrow, because tomorrow almost never comes.
Three Questions to Help You Keep Perspective
Work Life Balance
Categories: Leadership, Project Management, Work Life Balance
Friday looked to be like any other day.
I got up, had breakfast, and left the house around 8:30 for a day of meetings. We had planned on having another couple over for dinner that night and a day trip with our son on Saturday. About noon, Patty called me saying she had a pain in her abdomen since getting up and it was getting worse. I asked her if she wanted me to come home. She told me she didn’t need me home, but that we should probably cancel dinner in the event she had something contagious. I was out for a few more hours and came home to her sitting on the couch, saying the pain wasn’t going away. Her temperature was 101. We talked to a tele nurse who suggested it might be an infection and that we should go to urgent care. After a short wait we got checked in. The pain continued on, now accompanied by nausea. They ran blood tests then, after seeing the results, decided to do a computed tomography (CT) scan of her abdomen. What did the blood tests reveal? Why the CT scan? What were they looking for? What’s going on? These questions raced through my mind as they took Patty away for the scan. About ten minutes later she came back, where we sat and waited for about two hours; Patty’s pain stubbornly persistent along with the nausea. Then the doctor came in.
“There’s some stuff going on,” she said as she came into the room. In that moment I don’t know how many thoughts went through my head. “It’s appendicitis,” she said. “We’re going to keep you here overnight and get you in for surgery in the morning. Pretty routine.” A huge wave of relief came over me. Certainly, the fact that Patty was going to need surgery wasn’t good news, but on the spectrum of bad news in my head this was about the best bad news we could have gotten. She stayed overnight, then around 1:30 in the afternoon went in for a laparoscopic appendectomy, where they made three small incisions in her abdomen and, using telescopic rods and a video camera, removed the angry appendix. We were back home by 5:30PM, only four hours after the surgery, where she began her recovery.
I am writing this on Sunday, the day after her surgery. She is resting comfortably and has eaten, showered, and put on her makeup. I am so thankful that it wasn’t more serious and that she is going to be back to normal in no time. What the events of the last couple of days did remind me of, though, was two words that we as leaders need to remember:
In my career I’ve had plenty of times where I thought the whole world was crashing around me. Whether it be a slipping (or failed) project, difficult issue with an employee, or totally unforeseen issue that consumed my time, in nearly every circumstance the crisis was dealt with and didn’t impact my long-term career trajectory. I’ve had a number of times in my career where I was “reminded” that what I was dealing with was minor in comparison to major life issues such as losing a loved one. Losing my sister to cancer at age 54 was a massive wake-up call to calibrate the crisis of the day and keep perspective on problems we deal with.
Now I’m not saying that we as leaders should be tone deaf when problems arise; by all means we need to address issues and not put our heads in the sand. What great leaders do, though is address issues focused and deliberately without creating additional stress along the way.
Through my career I’ve learned to ask myself three questions to help me keep perspective when dealing with issues:
As leaders, it’s easy to get consumed by the crisis du jour and allow it to wreck your day. My ask to you is that you keep things in perspective and ask yourself the three questions when you’re dealing with you next crisis. Hopefully it will give you some peace that, while the crisis is important, it may not be as earth-shattering as it feels in the moment.