Monday, April 28, 2014

Who killed the conference? The zombie Project Manager

(This is a re-post of an earlier blog.)
If you’ve taken on a big assignment -- moving the office, planning a big event, or developing a new system to track employees’ mobile devices – you’ve been asked to manage a project, with or without the title. If you have amazing organizational and people skills, and luck, you may have pulled it off without a hitch...

If you are like most mortals, you had a few stumbles and bumbles. Take a friend of mine who was asked to put on a 1-day conference recently. He was energetic, dedicated, hardworking, and enthusiastic. His positive attitude was contagious so he lined up top speakers and recruited volunteers to help out.
I heard mumblings over the months as preparations continued and problems mounted. The night before the conference, he held a reception for everyone who worked on the event. That’s when I saw it was a mess...

The next day I arrived early; parking was confusing, registration was chaos, and the exhibitors who were setting up didn’t know what was going on. OK, nothing disastrous...yet. Once the main program began, things seemed mostly OK to the audience until one speaker had to repeat his presentation because the AV was so screwed up.
Behind the scenes, insanity reigned. AV failed right and left, special sessions were disorganized, and nothing – nothing – seemed to be going right. The day finally ended but the real disasters weren’t over. There was not enough sponsorship money to cover expenses and pay vendors for food, AV, publicity, transportation, or anything else. Fallout just kept coming and things are still not resolved many months later.

Could the results have been different? Absolutely! If he had used a few basic skills of project management, he might have avoided most of the problems under his control.
3 tips to manage any project:

·         Define a clear Business Purpose. What outcome are you expecting? For this project it was not, “We will have a great conference.” It should have been, “As a result of this conference X will happen.” Vet every idea with, “Will this help fulfill the Business Purpose.”

·         Assume the worst. Risk management is the first priority. A project creates a unique product or service so, of course, you’ll have a project plan; detailed tasks, done by whom, in what time frame, with what result. Predicting the risks and scanning for early warning signs is THE project activity to perform flawlessly.

·         Have Plans B and C ready to go. If risk is first, contingency planning is next on the list to deal with the most likely and devastating risks. Plan B won’t be enough. You’ll need a backup for the backup. Organizing backups creates a new mindset; Murphy’s Law is optimistic.
What would have been the difference for my friend with just these 3 items of good project management?
(1) He would have kept everyone focused on the outcomes, not just doing tasks.
(2) He would have examined the risk management plan every day as results came in and looked for those early warning signs; especially the lack of sponsorship money.
(3) He would have had backup AV, adult volunteers, and other contingencies ready to go.

You do not have to flail, fumble or fail at your next big assignment or project. Learn the most important elements of good project management in a webinar designed to keep out of the Night of the Living Dead.
If you’re not a “project manager” but do tackle large assignments, sign up for our webinar, Project Management for the non-Project Manager. Master the basics to succeed.
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(c) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

If it’s Kind to be Tough, it’s Tougher to be Kind

I’ve always been an advocate of Tough Love. Lots of leadership books advocate this approach. We admire folks who can carry it off with grace and get the job done, especially when making almost impossibly difficult decisions and forcing people to develop. In retrospect the kindest things leaders did for me was to be tough and insistent upon my change and growth.

I could recount several stories from my own life, both personal and professional and I’m sure you could also. Sometimes it took me years to see the correctness of the other person’s action and appreciate that tough love.

So I’m NOT going to rant against this kind of toughness.

What I want you to consider is an addition; Kindness.

I’m not talking about being wishy-washy, overlooking issues, or avoiding tough conversations. I’m not saying everyone gets a trophy, gold star or free pass.

I’m talking about genuine kindness. You remember what that is...think back to when you were a kid...helping a friend with her math homework when she was struggling...putting a hot water bottle in the new puppy’s bed to comfort his first night away from his mother...writing Princess Elizabeth a sympathy note when her father died...

Kindness often gets lost in our hard-charging world. I was reminded of this recently when I heard a remarkable leader talk about her "leadership secret sauce." One of her 10 rules was Be Kind. The audience of business executives was a little surprised when Marylouise Fitzgibbon announced this one. She has built a reputation in the hospitality industry as a rising star with a track record of drastically improving properties. Now as General Manager of the W Hotel on Fort Lauderdale Beach, her hotel is steadily becoming a leading representative of the brand. 

Kindness is very different from tough love. Fitzgibbon is talking about getting out of our own way. Think about a time when you’ve had an employee, peer or friend do something truly awful. We humans tend to react with anger in these situations and whether we take the flight or fight route we are almost never kind when dealing with the person. If we decided to confront the person, most of us find it extremely difficult to control body language, words, and tone when the metaphorical smoke is leaking out our ears. If we decide not to confront, the overwhelming urge to gossip and put down the other person usually takes over with just a dollop of sarcasm to keep it spicy.

The alternative kindness path is much harder than either of these reactions. Being kind in these situations is NOT reacting. Being kind means putting ourselves into a very different space; a place of genuine caring for the person who has acted so badly. It’s more than deep breathing or counting to 10. Kindness requires us to get in touch with that part of us that is capable of genuine caring about the other person. Only in this state can we talk with the other person and, more importantly, listen to what he or she has to say with openness, compassion, and engagement.

This is a tough order. It goes against some of our firmly held beliefs and the notion of what a strong leader is and does. When you are open and kind in this way, you can now deliver the tough love message so it can be heard by the other person. You are not holding back on the consequences or necessarily taking any different action than you would have in the situation. Instead you are treating the other person as a person and being rigorously honest with yourself.
You are acting. You are returning the love to tough love.

At the end of the conversation and action you won’t feel the elation of self justification or winning. You will feel a sense of peace because you acted with integrity and allowed the person to keep his or her dignity intact, often accepting the consequences, which is where the real growth we want from tough love comes from.

To learn from Marylouise Fitzgibbon’s full 10 leadership tips watch this: 

What’s an example of when you were kind when you could have been hardhearted in a tough work conversation? Share it as part of our quest for leaders who cast a long shadow.

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I'm beginning work on my new book Washington's Shadow: How Leaders Cast a Long Shadow and Create a Positive Culture. Please share your stories or nominees for leaders you know who have transformed the organizational culture positively. This will be a "how-to" book to help others do the same.