Leaders in the Mist: Life Would Be Perfect If…

on Aug 13th, 2014 in Application Development, Collaboration, Project Management, | Comments Off on Leaders in the Mist: Life Would Be Perfect If…

Wouldn’t it be grand if we could predict the behavior of people the same way we can predict system behavior? How often does what you are trying to accomplish appears straight forward but the people get in the way? I don’t know about you but for me, it’s a daily occurrence and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  People with their unique talents, unique approaches are what makes everything we do have value. The real challenge is to accept that uniqueness and make it work for you and for each individual around you. In the book,First Break All The Rules, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, unveil a different approach to thinking about people. That we, as managers, often use the word competency that encompasses skills, knowledge and talent. In fact these are very different things and should be viewed separately.  That the approach of having people “work on” competencies where they are weakest is flawed.

I can’t play basketball, never could. I could be given the best coach, play 12 hours a day and I may improve to become a poor player at best. That’s because I have absolutely no talent for it.  We work with talented people everyday. But often, we force them into trying to improve areas where they simply do not have any talent. We may be able to improve their performance marginally, just like me and basketball. So, what do we do instead?

Why not discover what people are really good at and have them do more of it in the context of their roles in the organization? Why not think of partnerships where individual strengths can complement each other?  What are you really great at? How can you take that strength and apply in a way that helps you do your job more effectively, help you set the path to being not just good but great?

People aren’t perfect – but I wouldn’t want them to be.

Project Managers: Experts at the Game of Business Whack-A-Mole.

on Aug 8th, 2014 in Application Development, BI, Analytics, & Performance Management, Collaboration, Project Management, Quality Assurance & Testing, Uncategorized, | Comments Off on Project Managers: Experts at the Game of Business Whack-A-Mole.

Why is it that when one problem seems to get solved that fourteen others seem to pop up like particularly malevolent moles in a Whack-A-Mole game? It’s because it’s the nature of what we do. No matter what the fancy title, great intentions, vision or mission statement, we are problem-solvers and experts at the game of Business Whack-A-Mole. The continuous and unsettling change in the game made it particularly difficult for me to get my footing. No sooner was I becoming accustomed to one situation when it changed yet again.

It seems to me that although I experience challenges as unique and unrelated incidents, they are, in fact, all related to one another if by nothing else than the people in the game. So the question is, are we doomed to an endless whacking of moles, one successful solution to be replaced by four new challenges? The answer is: the ubiquitous “Yes… and No.” Not a satisfying answer is it? Don’t we all want that magic solution, the silver bullet that finally puts an end to those pesky moles. Sorry, there isn’t one.  The only way to get good at the game is to try to find the special blow that can handle more than one mole at a time. Participating in the FYI Leadership program here at Ciber has helped with the endless paradox of Whack-A-Mole. The book,The Question Behind the Question by John G. Miller, has provided me with key ways to stop playing the game; by asking the right questions.

“So,” you ask, “Why is this happening?” That’s question that will never get you to an answer.  A different question might be, “How can I change so that I have more impact on the game?” Then, the key is to stop playing. Stop playing for long enough to back up and get a view of the whole game and how the challenges (moles) interrelate and interact. What can you solve that may provide insight or impact other challenges? It won’t stop the game but it may reduce the number of moles you have to whack. It’s hard for me to remember to stop fighting when surrounded by problems and obstacles.  The fact is, those darn moles multiply and playing the whack one-at-a-time game, leads to endless effort. Endless effort leads to fatigue and pretty soon the moles win.

So the next time you find yourself embroiled in Office Whack-A-Mole, stop, step back and ask the right question. It might be the magic blow.

Leaders in the Mist – Unsung Heroes – Building Collaboration

on May 15th, 2013 in Project Management, | 1 comment

How often have you heard that the team has to collaborate to find a solution? The team has to reach consensus to make a decision. What usually happens? The strong, dominant members of the team, sometimes those with power, drive the rest of the team members to agree and happily call it collaboration.  What if the players on the team are from competitive groups? What if team members were “voluntold” to participate on a team to do work that they:

  • don’t believe in
  • have no interest in or
  • want to see fail

If a team member comes to the game with one of those mindsets, collaboration becomes more than problematic, it can be not only impossible, the result could be worse than no collaboration at all.

However, hard it is, the fact is, collaboration is the key to successful projects. No one succeeds alone and the process of multiple minds working together to find creative solutions is critical. As leaders in the mist, it’s up to us to help facilitate and build what I call a collaborative structure; where collaboration is the way to get work done. In the book, Radical Collaboration, James Tamm and Ronald Luyet describe five essential skills for collaboration. I’ll paraphrase them here:

  1. Collaborative Intention – Maintaining an authentic, nondefensive presence – with a commitment to mutual success
  2. Truthfulness – Commit to telling and listening to the truth
  3. Self-accountability – Take responsibiloity for the choices made either through action or failing to act.
  4. Self awareness and awareness of others – Commit to understanding one’s own and others’ concerns, intentions and motivations
  5. Problem solving and negotiation – Commit to cooperation and avoid competitiveness.

Great ideas aren’t they? Pretty obvious as well. But how do you help others on the team to practice these skills? You won’t be able to say in  a meeting, “Hey, I don’t think you’re practicing a collaborative intention!” and expect the person to say, “Hey, you’re right! Thanks for telling me.”

The answer lies in becoming the change you would like to see. (Thanks, Gandhi!)

  1. Collaborative Intention: Demonstrate collaborative intention by releasing your ideas. Never defend an idea – be willing to change it. Here’s a technique that I  call, “Change Accommodation,” and  have used very effectively. You present an idea or approach. Someone says, “That won’t work.” Your natural reaction is to defend the idea, explain why it will work and why it is the right idea right now. Resist the urge. Try this: “How can I change this to make it work for you?” One of two things will happen. You’ll get some input that will make the idea more powerful and you’ve modeled your collaborative intention. The second thing that may happen is your team mate will not be able to offer something and you’ve still modeled your collaborative intention. It does something else as well. It changes the interchange from competitive to collaborative with a single question and takes the pressure off you and puts it on the person requiring the change.
  2. Truthfulness: It’s not a simple blurting out of what you believe to be true. It is the calm, articulation of your position. It is indeed a double-edged sword. You must be willing to listen to what others believe to be the truth – using Change Accommodation will temper how you feel. Allow yourself to be changed.
  3. Self-accountability – always be prepared to apologize. Perceived mistakes are the same as those you recognize. Perception is reality – if someone perceives an error, even if you disagree, apologize and ask again what you can do to make it right.
  4. Self-awareness and awareness of others: This is about discovery. If feelings or concerns are not addressed, your team mate will use the entire meeting to try to resolve these feelings. S/he may not even be aware that they are doing it. Take the time to ask, to be aware of body language and facial expressions. Understand that collaboration is not our natural behavior and be the person to facilitate it.
  5. Problem Solving and Negotiation: Always be part of the solution and never part of the problem. It’s a natural result of Change Accommodation. When you always ask how you can change to make an idea, a concept, a method to make it work, you are defaulting to problem solving. Negotiation is about the inclusion of all of the approaches and again is the natural result of Change Accommodation.

The result is excellence and excellence, my friends, equals collaboration.

Leaders in the Mist − Influence

on Apr 15th, 2013 in Collaboration, Project Management, | 1 comment

Make no mistake about it − project managers, business analysts are leaders. Sometimes without authority, sometimes without titles, but leaders nonetheless; leaders who impact key  decisions, strategic direction and success. What is leadership without authority? The answer is “influence.” Influence can often be more powerful than institutional  authority. Authority means nothing if the person who has it is unable to make a decision.

Influence is defined as “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior or opinions of others.” It doesn’t have to be related to title, income or authority. It’s not instant. It’s something that builds over time. It’s the perception that you are the go-to person for good advice, getting things done, support and finding answers.

Given that, how do you develop influence?  The first and most important thing to realize that you can’t influence people to do what you want them to − you can only influence them to do what they want to do. In fact, if you try to make someone to do what you want, the reaction is always resistance. The leverage is in understanding what it is that someone needs or wants and helping him or her pursue those objectives. The fact is, by pursuing your “what I want to do,” you’ll be ignoring someone else’s needs. Influence begins with trying to see the world from the other person’s perspective. Influence is not about pushing or pulling; it’s about understanding and empathy.

Building influence is understanding that there is more than one right answer. If you have to prove that you’re right, you will influence no one. After listening to the other person’s point-of-view, if you follow up with an attempt to demonstrate how right you are, in spite of what another believes, you’ve just undermined all the good work you have done by listening.  In order to build influence, you must be willing to surrender position. We are conditioned to believe that if one person is right, the other is wrong. If one person wins, the other loses. Influence is about creating a collaborative relationship, where someone will trust you with his or her perspective and know that you will provide support and counsel.

Building influence is your willingness to allow someone else to have the “great” idea. Actively pursue the ideas of others. Recognize that the people around you are sources of great expertise, intelligence and creativity. Influence is about finding great ideas and bringing them to life.

Building influence is taking responsibility for your communication. Where is the leverage for change in a pass in a football game? You can work on the receivers, but if the pass is bad, it’ll still be missed. Communication is just like that pass. When your listener “just doesn’t get it,” it’s not about the listener, it’s about how you communicated your message. Influence is the result of great, clear communication.

When you have helped your customer to get where they need to go, helped a team be successful – the next time your customer needs to get somewhere or accomplish something, they will seek you out.

The result is excellence and excellence, my friends, equals influence.

 

 

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