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:
Intentional Decision Making
Categories: Decision Making, Leadership, Project Management
Esther walked into the conference room and saw Grace sitting there, head in hands.
“What’s wrong, Grace?”
“It’s Paul, he still hasn’t decided on authorizing me to hire SysCon. He owed me a decision last week and now we’re going to slip our code-complete date.”
Esther smirked. “Sorry about that Grace; it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a disaster at making decisions.”
“Don’t you know it. He not only doesn’t make decisions when I need them, he doesn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know when the decision will be made. Then he blames me if something slips. I’m tired of it.”
Esther leaned over to Grace and whispered. “Grace, I haven’t told anyone yet, but I just accepted a position at Miconal this morning. They asked me if anyone else was interested in coming over. You’d be a great addition there.”
Grace perked up. “Hmm. Do you have a contact there?”
“Send it on to my personal email. Thanks Esther.” Grace smiled, packed up her things, and left the conference room.
Grace’s frustration with Paul is something many of us have experienced. If you were a Grace, you got frustrated with a leader who couldn’t make decisions, didn’t make them in a timely manner, or acted impulsively. To put some meat on the bones, I’d like to contrast what I call intentional decision-making with reckless decision-making. Intentional decision-making means decisions are made on time, based on available information, by the right person, and with the good of the organization in focus. Reckless decision-making is the inverse; decisions not made in a timely manner (or at all), not based on available information, made by someone not authorized or informed to make the decision, or driven by some agenda not focused on the good of the organization. Intentional decision-making balances speed with decision quality, while reckless decision-making unduly emphasizes either speed or quality at the expense of the other.
Are you a reckless decision-maker who wants to be more intentional? Consider these 12 tips:
The Consequences: Not being intentional about decision-making can result in the following consequences:
The Next Steps:
Having the Courage to Call Out Balderdash
Categories: Followership, Leadership, Project Management
Dictionary.com defines the world balderdash as “senseless, stupid, or exaggerated talk or writing; nonsense.” It’s likely you’ve been in a meeting where a colleague, supplier, leader, or maybe even you, presented something that just didn’t make sense. Strong, competent leaders don’t let those skim by; they usually start out with, “help me understand . . .” then precision question the presenter to determine if it’s a communication issue or if the presenter is speaking balderdash. When it becomes evident it’s balderdash, the leader’s next actions reveal his true stripes. Some leaders shy away from confrontation altogether, others may gossip about it with a colleague, some may throw a temper tantrum, or even mentally save the event only to bring it up again in a performance appraisal. The intentional leader doesn’t do any of these; he calls it out, realigns on what needs to be done, helps with corrective action, and follows through to ensure the corrective action is taken. The intentional leader isn’t concerned about being right and doesn’t gloat over a victory; but is concerned about doing the right thing for the business. Calling out balderdash isn’t comfortable; it’s not supposed to be. It’s a necessary part of the job. However, intentional leaders need to know how to do it to get the ship righted and preserve everyone’s dignity.
Need to learn how to better call out balderdash and get things moving on the right path again? Give these ten tips a peek:
The Consequences: Not being intentional about calling out balderdash can result in the following consequences:
The Next Steps:
Scaling Up – 13 Principles to Scale Your “Leader of Leaders” Influence
The Message: The above scenario may be unfamiliar to some, but to others it might mean replacing Greg’s name with their own. Scaling up as a leader doesn’t have to mean longer hours and greater sacrifice. It does mean that the leader needs to adopt some new habits and adjust expectations of both himself and others to sustain as a leader.
To effectively and sustainably scale up as a leader of leaders, consider which of these 13 principles you need to embrace:
By not taking intentional action to scale your leader of leaders influence your consequences can include:
The Next Steps: