In my last post, I talked about what I learned about attitudes to project management from my father. I want to summarise those lessons under three headings:
- A generous way
- A harmonious way
- A careful way
This blog is about the first of them, and what my father’s generosity of spirit can teach us as project managers.
Being obliging and helping out when others need help is the ground zero of generosity. I do not see that as becoming a doormat to everyone’s needs and desires, but as a recognition that to help others is to enhance your own life. Some would see this as a cynical application of a reciprocation economy in which “I scratch your back” anticipates that you will scratch mine. Some would see this as an idealistic “pay it forward” philosophy:
According to Wikipedia, the term “pay it forward” was popularized, in Robert A. Heinlein’s book, “Between Planets”:
The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. “But eat first — a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer.”
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, “Uh, thanks! That’s awfully kind of you. I’ll pay it back, first chance.”
“Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it.”
I think the evidence is that, not only has the pay it forward movement had considerable success, but that it helps you create change in the world around you.
Supportive and Trusting
This may sound a bit like motherhood and apple pie, but how many of us are truly supportive of the people we work with and share our lives with, without being critical of them. As a project manager, we have to allocate work packages and team roles to get the job done, and how you manage your relationships with the people who work for you will massively affect their performance.
One boss of mine took me to task over my decision to “allow” a team member to go home at 5pm, our notional end time, despite working on a high pressure project, against tight deadlines. Yet he and I had signed off a work plan for his work stream that showed him delivering his products in deadline, without staying late. I thought it a fair deal that, while he was delivering to schedule, he should go home on time to be with his young family, regardless of custom and practice at our firm to stay to 6pm, 7pm or later.
Develop People’s Skills
Perhaps the greatest gift my parents gave me was one hundred percent support of learning. When we invest our time in supporting other people’s learning and skills, we grow the team’s capability and its commitment to us and the project. It is an “investment” and as project manager, you must put something in, but I firmly believe that a balanced portfolio of investments in people will create impressive returns.
Celebrate Others’ Successes
It takes a real generosity of spirit to truly celebrate your success over my own, but in a project environment, it is a critical motivating strategy to ensure that individuals’ successes are acknowledged and celebrated. This gives them the confidence to strive harder and create more success: a true virtuous cycle!
Doing the right things is more important than doing things right. It is the choices we make that determine our success – or not – as a project manager. Which project to work on; and which to decline? What to do when we encounter problems, and how to handle tough personal conflicts. Ultimately it is all about knowing that our decisions, while not easy, and maybe not even correct, were ones we would defend and never regret.
The firm I used to work for had a number of tobacco companies as clients and I was offered the opportunity to lead an important and innovative project with one of them. I have never regretted for one minute that I said no, before even thinking about the potential consequences for my career. Thanks to the integrity of my boss at the time, I don’t believe my choice had any consequences, because he accepted my reasons. But if it had had an effect, then I’d have had no regrets.
The “so what?”
A generosity of spirit is a huge asset to a project manager. It won’t just make you popular (and may not even do that), but it will ensure that the people around you respect your decisions and feel able to rely upon your support when things go badly, as well as when they go well.