Tag Archives: People

Charisma and Pragmatic Project Leadership…

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

images

 

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©

Pick the right people!

images-2

In 2002, Colin Powell, an American statesman and retired four-star general in the United States Army, published one of his bestsellers: “The Powell Principles: 24 lessons from Colin Powell, a Legendary Leader.” The lessons are concise, clear, straightforward and very valuable to any Leader. If you have the opportunity to read this book, please do so. I am sure you will enjoy it as I did.

What are the 24 lessons? I am listing them here below so you get an idea of  what Powell is talking about. For this blog post, I am selecting 3 of them and share my opinion with you of how a Pragmatic Project Leader can best apply them. Here is the full list:

  1. Promote a clash of ideas
  2. Be prepared to piss people off
  3. Establish trust
  4. Walk the talk
  5. Pick the right people
  6. Listen
  7. Be vigilant in details
  8. Be a disorganizer
  9. Check your ego at the door
  10. Let change lead growth
  11. Seek consensus (but don’t be ruled by it)
  12. Fit no stereotypes
  13. Simplify
  14. Let situation dictate strategy
  15. Push the envelope
  16. Close with the enemy
  17. View People as partners
  18. Challenge the pros
  19. Don’t rely on charts and title
  20. Trust those in the trenches
  21. Make optimism a top priority
  22. Have fun in your command
  23. Strive for balance
  24. Prepare to be lonely

I can tell you that it wasn’t easy to select 3 lessons learned, as most of them are intriguing and worthwhile to address. Because I have talked about trust in one of my previous posts, I did not select ‘Establish Trust’, however my opinion is that this is the most prominent critical success factor of a project. What I did select is the following:

  1. Pick the right people
  2. Listen
  3. Let change lead growth

 

Pick the right people

 People aren’t just a piece of the puzzle, they are the puzzle. Or more accurately, they’re the solution to the puzzle – Colin Powell

Picking the right people for your project team is crucial. It is almost as important as establishing and maintaining trust. That’s a topic I have published a post about before. But how do you pick the right people as a practical project leader? That is not an easy task. Sometimes you come in when the selection has been completed and people have been assigned to the project. Making changes at that point in time is hard to do. In that case, do a thorough assessment and notify the Executive of potential skill gaps and risks you have identified. Most likely the Executive assembled the team, or at least approved it. Escalating your concerns to the Executive in a structured and informative manner is all you can do. After that: start rowing with the team you have! If you do have the option to build your team from scratch, think about the following.

Understand the complexities of the solution, the organization, the culture and the business context before you start with defining the required skill set and mix you need in order to deliver. If the initiative that you are leading has a substantial business transformation component, you want to make sure that the people you select are aligned with the vision of the end state that you are going to move towards. They must believe in the ‘product’ that the project is about to deliver. If you don’t have that certainty, you are probably going to feel pretty lonely soon and struggle with manifesting the change. As orchestrator you want people in your team that want and can sing from the same song sheet. They must be able to identify themselves with the notes and the lyrics.

How do you make sure that you are looking for the right skills? If you don’t know that for sure that’s perfectly fine, you just need to consult an expert in those particular areas and ask for input. Executives expect you to assemble the right team, not to have deep expertise in all aspects. Feel good when you don’t know as long as you are aware of it. Once you have defined the right skill set, there is one other step to take before you can start the recruitment process. You want to attract people that have the right attitude, values and beliefs. Ultimately, we all know that any team performs and delivers when people work well together. It sounds simple and it truly is. As Pragmatic Project Leader you want to work with people that are intelligent, humble and hungry. It is not only about knowledge and experience, it is also about personality. Teams perform well when personalities match. Too often I see that selections are made on the candidates resume and much less on the fit with the team. Intelligence and being humble need no further clarification. Being hungry does. What does that mean? People who have a motivated interest in joining your project and want to take the extra mile to deliver, are the ones who are hungry and are the ones you want to have in your team. They will become your front runners. When the going gets tough, they will step up and safe your bacon. Consider selecting a candidate who has less knowledge and experience, but who is humble and hungry, because that’s something that you cannot change and you have to live with that.

Once you have selected your team players, the journey begins.  Your responsibility is shifting towards managing the team and coaching each of the players such that their individual talents grow and their output and contribution to the project gets optimized. In every project that I have been part of, the team is going through ups and downs, through stages of development. As Pragmatic Project Leader you must be aware of that team dynamic and your role is to manage the relationships between the players. It is your moral obligation to grow people in their careers. That is often one of the motivations why people want to join your project.

Psychologist Bruce Tuckman came up with the memorable phrase “forming, storming, norming, and performing” in his 1965 article, “Development Sequence in Small Groups.” He used it to describe the path that most teams follow on their way to high performance. Later, he added a fifth stage, “adjourning.” If you aren’t familiar with that concept, I recommend to read it. In my future posts about team performance, I will come back on it

Listen

Good listening begets good listening. Ideas get exchanged faster and more reliable – Colin Powell

Or like Stephen Covey said: ‘Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” As practical project leader you are in a lot of meetings, conference calls, conversations and other forms of gatherings, where a lot of information is being exchanged each and every day.

Now, how often are you in a meeting where you notice that people are simply not listening, and over time topics circle back over and over again? As practical project leader you want to intervene when that happens. The best way to do that is to listen actively, thoroughly grasp the subject and speak up at the right moment. When is that? When your gut tells you to. When you speak up paraphrase what you have been listening to and ask for confirmation from the people participating in the discussion. Make it an inclusive discussion by inviting people to speak up who have been quiet before. You want to do that with people who have a serious stake in the outcome of the meeting. It is your responsibility as Pragmatic Project Leader that the right people participate, listen, speak up and make timely decisions.

There are in my mind two very effective ways to obtain valuable information that benefits the project by putting on your listening hat. The first one that I am a strong advocate of is what is often called ‘management by walking around.’ You are engaging with individuals or group of individuals on the project floor in an informal way and asks open questions about work and life. These meetings can have positive side effects as well like team motivation, team integration and collaboration. The second one that I find effective and often have are 1:1 coaching sessions, where you help improve the talented individual by making a connection between performance, contribution to the project, career development and aspirations in life. Coaching can become a fascinating aspect of practical project leadership. If you want to read more about coaching, search for books and/or articles about the GROW model.

Let change lead growth

Leaders need to encourage a philosophy in which change becomes equivalent to growth and growth becomes equivalent to satisfaction – Colin Powell

It is imperative that if you want to achieve your dreams you must change. Think.Change.Achieve is the core concept of PM Consult. Organizational change management is a key component of our advisory services. The capability to manifest ‘Change’ through an IT business transformation project is as important as expertise of business process and technology design and delivery (the solution). But why do organizations not treat it as such when they initiate new projects?

Oftentimes there is a lot of talk about organizational change management, but it hardly translates in concrete, consistent action plans that leadership follows through. There is no shortage of opinions of what must change, who must change by when and what happens if change does not occur. Having said all of that, it seems that organizations  have little experience of how you make ‘Change’ happen. Not giving ‘Change’ the right priority is really too bad and unnecessary. One of the symptoms of a failing organizational change management team is that they only perform ‘communication activities’, whereas the core focus should be on alignment, commitment, transformation and implementation.

If you read literature about why projects fail, the organization’s inability to change is over and over again mentioned as a root cause. I think that one of the reasons why this happens is that organizations do not value change management activities as they should, because it is hard to make its effectiveness tangible. It is not an easy task to find a correlation between for example ‘executive alignment sessions’ and the organization materializing the vision of the end state.

There is a saying “without great risk, no great reward”. Organizations that want to move to a new, promising future end state must change and therefore intrinsically must take risk.  And that is exactly where the problem lies. Typically organizations are risk averse and only want to pursue activities that can be planned in detail and tightly managed.  Organizational change management does not fall in that category. On the contrary, business process and technology design and delivery, the more tangible aspects of an IT business transformation, do. Organizational change management must always be ahead of the curve, meaning it starts ahead of business process and technology design and delivery.

How can we change this situation? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make the business case! An investment in change multiplies investments in business process and technology and therefore overall business value of the initiative
  2. Formulate a transparent, action oriented change management plan. Sell that plan, get alignment and commitment
  3. Recruit adequately skilled organizational change management experts on your project and follow their advice
  4. Assign a change leader who is comfortable to take great risk when necessary. Actively manage risks in favour of achieving the goals and future end state. Ideally the visionary leader that I talked about in one of my previous posts is that change leader
  5. Make the execution of the change management plan a productive journey with meaningful deliverables that contribute to the success of the project. Make it an instrumental part of project status meetings and Executive briefings

Change is fun. That is the exciting part of IT business transformation projects. Embrace and it pays off.

Bas de Baat

Program Manager Enterprise Applications, PMP©