Month: July 2014

Be Friendly – Not a Friend

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As a leader, you can be friendly with your team but you can’t be friends.  This is one of the hardest transitions to make as you move into a leadership role.  In the early part of your career, you’re “one of the guys” and that works when you’re a member of a team.  But you can’t be one of the guys once you are responsible for leading people.

First off, it’s awkward.  You’re no longer “one of the guys” and acting as though you are will only make people uncomfortable.  One of the guys can’t fire you or request that the project sponsor have you removed from the team.  Luckily, your best people probably don’t want you to be their friend – at least not while they work for you.  Strong teams want strong leaders – not best buddies.  A strong leader focuses on making smart decisions on the team’s behalf and not on making friends.  Unfortunately, your weaker players probably do want a best buddy, assuming that “friends won’t fire friends.”

Not being friends doesn’t mean you have to be a cold, calculating automaton.  Leadership is about influence, which is earned by everything you do, say or write.  Being friendly is a leadership style and while it doesn’t mean kissing up to your team, it does mean being a decent human being and maintaining a positive, open attitude.  It’s easier to earn influence if you’re friendly and approachable.

Being friendly is a good way to put your team at ease and to foster open and regular communication – the lifeblood of any good functioning team.  This also sets a positive example for your team on how to relate to other people.  A team that regularly earns influence within an organization will strengthen their ability to execute and get things done.  This is a key cultural goal for any leader in building an effective team.

Being friends with people on your team gives the appearance of favoritism and may alienate some of your more effective resources.  Instead, seek to earn your team’s respect by setting a good example and by being friendly and open to their ideas.  You’ll be surprised how forgoing friendship while working with your team will often result in true friendships after your professional relationship has changed….and I’m speaking from personal experience.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

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How To Make an Enemy of Your Project Manager

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Worst Nightmare

So you’ve decided to make an enemy of your project manager.  You’ll be surprised at how little effort will be required on your part to achieve your goal.  Here are four easy steps to quickly reduce your value to your team and your PM: 

  1. Silence: Never let your project manager know if you see any risk in making a deliverable date (particularly if your deliverable is on the critical or one of the controlling paths).  Things might clear up on their own and let’s face it, the project manager will just get mad if you tell her.  Also, don’t bother yourself with informing the owners of any predecessor or successor tasks of the risk as this will only make you look bad.  The less you say, the better.
  2. Task Information: If you break radio silence, don’t let your project manager know which task or deliverables will be impacted.  If you’re using a project plan, don’t provide task IDs or any other information that might help the project manager track the risk back to specific work-streams in the plan.  Giving your PM this information will only result in his going off to model the potential impact of the delay and start taking mitigation actions.  Better to be vague and maybe tell a few other team members and let things “trickle up” to the project manager on their own (PMs know everything, anyway).
  3. Estimates: If you go soft on providing task information, avoid providing estimates of how significant the delay might be.  This will only allow the project manager to model the impact, set expectations with project sponsors and take mitigation steps to keep the project on track.  And let’s face it, you’ll be held accountable for your estimates.  This smacks of the injustice of team members getting blamed for everything they do.
  4. Thought Leadership: Ultimately, the key to making an enemy out of your project manager is to provide absolutely zero thought leadership on mitigating or avoiding any impact to the project plan.  Don’t get creative and provide ideas.  Try “thinking for management” by filtering out any idea that you are “absolutely certain will be rejected” or that might make you look bad by appearing to question management.  As with estimates, your idea might be implemented and if it doesn’t work out, you could be held accountable.  The smart move is to sit tight and wait for someone to tell you what to do. Remember – inaction is action when it comes to making enemies on your project.

By following these four easy steps, you will not only alienate your project manager but also position your team for failure.  Communication, accountability and planning can be stressful and who knows – you may even prove to be an example for other who want to avoid this type of stress.  Only by failing to lead can you ever hope to lead others to failure.  Good luck!

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese

Present & Reporting or DRIVING & LEADING?

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Projects don’t fail due to lack of process – projects fail due to lack of leadership.  That said, there are two approaches to project management; “present & reporting” and “driving & leading”:

Present & Reporting: Far too many project leaders take the ‘present & reporting’ approach.  Geared more toward the administrative side of the discipline, this approach focuses on form and function.  Minutes are carefully taken and the project plan is meticulously maintained.  Risks are delineated, Issues documents and project artifacts are developed and socialized.  While these elements of project control are critical to success, they are not the true calling of the effective leader.

It’s not enough for the project leader to know what’s going on and to report events.  This is more the role of a project administrator or project coordinator – a supporting role in the overall endeavor.  The elements of ‘present and reporting’ are solid risk management tools, ensuring that team performance never falls below an established minimum but they do little to ensure the team attains maximum performance levels.

Driving and Leading: Motivating and influencing your team to achieve its maximum potential requires the ‘driving & leading’ approach.  This demands that the project leader live and breathe her project.  You might think of this as the ‘project Geek approach’ and that’s not a bad way to think about it.  The effective project leader is constantly thinking, talking and acting in the project’s best interests, looking ahead and seeking out opportunities for the team to succeed while also removing obstacles to that success.

An effective project leader must maintain a sense of urgency on the project, constantly seeking ways to communicate to the team and motivate them to action, while not bombarding them with emails, process and administrivia.  This is not an easy balancing act and requires focus, clarity in communications, soliciting and heeding feedback, and evangelizing about the goals of the project.  Most importantly, it requires the project leader to set the bar high by setting a good example for the entire team.

The effective project leader doesn’t need to know everything about the project; rather, the effective project leader needs to know everything about how to get things DONE on the project and how best to keep the team motivated, informed, focused and executing on a daily basis.

© 2014, Mark E. Calabrese