Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership…

People may hear your words, but they feel your attitude – John Maxwell

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John Maxwell is a well-known American author of more than 75 books primarily about Leadership. Recently I listened to his audio book “Be a People Person: Effective Leadership Through Effective Relationships” [2014] and liked his simple and practical interpretation of Charisma.

To start of, he is referring to Merriam Webster encyclopedia’s definition, which says: “Charisma is a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm”.

He also mentions that Charisma is a trade or quality that can be learned and developed, because it basically is a result of strong and effective communication and interpersonal relationship skills. That is important to know!

To completely take it away from the mystical, illusive and indefinable side, he breaks it down into eight different values:

C – concern
H – help
A – action
R – results
I – influence
S – sensitivity
M – motivation
A – affirmation

What do these values mean for the Pragmatic Project Leader? To come to that answer, I will share John Maxwell’s definition for each of the items first (cursive text) and than address them.

Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership, let’s break it down.

Concern (the ability to care)Charismatic people are truly concerned about people’s deepest needs and interests. They truly care and leave you feeling important.

There are a number of things that can you can do as a Pragmatic Project Leader in this area. One of them is to ‘listen with empathy’. When you are concerned with the well being of one of your team members or perhaps the entire team, you want to sit down and have a positive conversation where you primarily listen and are very mindful of the situation. Sometimes listening and acknowledging the situation is enough and all of what is being asked from you. Sometimes it entails more, in which case you often take on a coaching role and help the individual or team to think, change and achieve specific goals. Key is that you demonstrate your concern by sharing the right thoughts, speaking the right words and taking the right actions. Always handle with care and an appropriate level of discretion.

‘Standing for the team’ is another quality that you must have as Pragmatic Project Leader. Regardless of the team performance, whether is good, bad or excellent, you are always responsible for the outcome. Taking responsibility is a way of demonstrating to the team and all the other stakeholders that you care about them and that you are the orchestrator of what they do and deliver. Taking responsibility in this case has two meanings. Aside from the fact that the team is following the path that you set out for them, you are also responsible for taking corrective actions on a timely basis. A key aspect of that is the learning component. If you care about the team, you want to avoid that situations have a reoccurrence. Sitting down with the team and do a quick and effective lessons learned session is what you want to do.

Help (the ability to reach out)Charismatic people help other people with their problems. They inspire them to face their problems and offer creative solutions and hope.

The best way to reach out as Pragmatic Project Leader is to coach the person through the problem solving process, starting with awareness, assessment and acceptance. Before you move forward to the resolution phase, you want the person to accept the problem as that demonstrates ownership and skin in the game, which is needed to get into a winners mood. Once you have reached that stage it is time to set goals, create and discuss options, change and make things happen. There are a number of coaching models that you can follow. Max Landsberg describes a GROW model in is book “The TAO of coaching” [2003]

Action (the ability to make things happen) – Charismatic people are never boring. They are always creative and confident in the way they present ideas or solutions.

One of my previous posts describe key characteristics of the Pragmatic Project Leader. The ability to make things happen is in my mind based on the following aspects. Pragmatic Project Leaders have a detailed understanding of the vision and future state originally set by the Business Leader. With that understanding they are able to decompose the vision into a roadmap, timeline and actionable work packages. In other words they are far-sighted and have a plan to deliver the intended solution. Throughout the execution phase, Pragmatic Project Leaders are connecting the dots, pro actively responding to change, while keeping the project on track. In doing so, they are providing solutions that at times are creative, unique and tailored to the business context.

Results (the ability to produce) – Charismatic people are other-centered and genuinely wish for other people to succeed. This trait inspires productivity in people

Pragmatic Project Leaders are people and result-oriented at the same time. They are very capable of finding the right work-life balance for the team and often care less about how and where work gets done as long as it gets done. Delivering results and making quick wins to demonstrate performance is a key element of their overall project approach. They communicate results upwards in the chain of command frequently and clearly articulate the contribution of key individuals and teams.  Pragmatic Project Leaders understand that celebrating success and sharing the joy of making things happen collectively is the best multivitamin you can give to the team to boost productivity. Once you hit the first milestone, you want to hit the next and…

Influence (the ability to lead) – Charismatic people are natural leaders. They know how to influence people and make them follow their lead.

Pragmatic Project Leaders excel in verbal and non-verbal communications. Their intentions are transparent and they are keen on communicating what, why and how in a constructive and timely manner to the right stakeholders. Oftentimes they use visualization as a method of sharing information, because they realize that ‘pictures speak a thousand words’. Pragmatic Project Leaders understand the power of the informal network that any organization has and they are able to make it a meaningful instrument for the project and use it in achieving project goals, resolving issues and managing risks. As required, they are not shy of taking bold actions to keep the project on track. They are persistent in finding the right answers. This kind of behaviour tends to entice people and that is exactly why Pragmatic Project Leaders demonstrate it in a consistent manner

Sensitivity (the ability to feel and respond) – Charismatic people are sensitive to changing situations. They are adept at responding appropriately to the mood, feeling, and spirit of any situation.

‘Being ahead of the change curve’ is a quality that Pragmatic Project Leaders master. Because they always operate with the future state in mind, they understand what change is coming on their path and when. Pragmatic Project Leaders are successful when they give equal importance to people, process and technology. They understand that the vision can only be achieved when organizational change is marching ahead of process and technology change. Building trust within the organization, within the project team and with external stakeholders about what is to come is crucial to manifest the project goals. Pragmatic Project Leaders are well positioned to coach Business Leaders in initializing, planning, executing and communicating change as they have the helicopter view across the building blocks of the future state. As mentioned above, they are able to connect the dots at all times.

Motivation (the ability to give hope) – Charismatic people are good motivators. They are good at encouraging, believing, and supporting people in the face of despair and adversities.

Pragmatic Project Leaders understand what the team finds important and uses that as a motivator. This can differ by country, client, organization and project. They are mindful of the interest of the people and business context and offer realistic options when hurdles need to be taken. Because they are far-sighted and know how to get to the future state, they help the team to go through difficult times and overcome obstacles. Pragmatic Project Leaders are knowledgeable of people, process and technology dynamics and can motivate the team by providing a cohesive perspective on where things are, why they are where they are, and were things are going. They know that motivators are sometimes just small incentives and they are able to offer them at the right time with the right impact to the right people or team.

Affirmation (the ability to build up) – Charismatic people are good at acknowledging the accomplishments of other people. They think the best, believe the best, and express the best in others.

Acknowledging the performance and contribution of people is without a doubt one of the most important aspects of leadership. Pragmatic Project Leaders are keen on saying ‘Thank You!’ They want people to grow in their work and life and continuously help where and whenever they can. Oftentimes that is through a coaching. Sometimes people think that affirmation is equal to pizza lunches, parties or other form of social gatherings. It is good to have those kind of events for sure, but foremost and above all, it is key to understand that affirmation is as simple as a few nice words often with a bit of humour. Affirmation must be simple, must be frequent.

Now do you need to qualify on all of the eight values with the same level of proficiency before you become that person with that magnetic charm? I don’t think so. Your personality, knowledge, experience and preferences will make you excel more on certain values than others. And that is perfectly fine as long as overall your performance is such that you are able to make other people feel good about themselves, rather than to make them feel good about you. If people feel good about themselves and there are no obstacles for them to perform, they directly contribute positively to the outcome of the project. At that point you have done your job as Pragmatic Project Leader.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©

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