I recently met with leaders of major global projects and want to share what I found. These are incredible individuals leading projects such as a new GPS system (with satellite launches and all), reduced water use for an entire country, a new type of military aircraft and the Panama Canal. We may not lead projects of this size. But these are golden lessons for anything we do.
5. Be Flexible and Keep the End Goal In Sight. One of the people I met, a government official, negotiated a significant and tough contract for new airplanes. Three years later the airplane manufacturer needed to renegotiate the contract. The government official could’ve stuck to the original contract and penalized the company. But what would that solve? The government official knew that everyone wanted the new airplanes and recognized the company’s difficulties. The government official, the same person who negotiated the original strong contract, went back and negotiated a new contract. Both the government and the company were happy. Plus, they had the foundation for a great long-term government and industry partnership. Incidentally, the government official continued to receive promotions because he was able to bend, when necessary, to make sure the end goal was achieved.
4. People are More Important than Numbers. Sure, numbers are important, but people deliver project results. We can use performance indicators to tell us what is objectively going on with parts of the projects we can measure. But projects succeed or fail based on things we can’t measure, like how people on our teams feel. A manager on the redevelopment of a major airport said “Project management is 20% method and 80% people.” Another leader, on an aerospace project, actually takes the pulse of the project team on a weekly basis. It gives him a sense of how things are really going on the project. This more emotional and subjective measure is a great indicator of problems, before they appear in objective performance indicators. People generally know when things aren’t going right. We need to take the time to listen.
3. Avoid the Dark Side. I met the person in charge of redevelopment of part of the Panama Canal. He said it is important to stick to the best practices we know and not be swayed to take shortcuts just because of pressure from stakeholders. He said we should trust the things we’ve been taught. In his own words “Some stakeholders draw you to dark side. Be a good Jedi. Stay with best practices”
2. Let Experts Solve Technical Problems. Some of us get into leadership positions because we have a history of delivering god solutions. We’ve been good engineers, purchasers, finance people. You name it. But once we become leaders, we have to let that go. Let the experts solve problems. We can’t be in the weeds on every project or new technology. Our job is to create the right conditions for people to successfully solve problems. Stakeholders and upper management recognize people who lead effective teams. Problem solving can get us to a leadership position. Leading effective teams take us even further.
1. Be Comfortable in Your Own Skin. This one comes from a Princess. The real-life princess of the Netherlands. She leads a dazzling array of major projects, impacting and inspiring an untold number of lives. She reminded me that leadership takes reflection and willingness to think differently. We see things more accurately and more openly when we are comfortable with who we are. As a result, we make better decisions and lead more effectively. So take the time to reflect on yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. Your team, your organization and everyone important in your life, will thank you.
by Mark Phillips. Originally published on Pulse. Used with permission.