Tips for Project Leaders

There is a wealth of great concepts and tools that project and change leaders can apply to your professional or personal practice.  Here are seven of them from one of my ‘Thoughtscape’ newsletter tip-sheets.

1. Get people to Honour Commitments

We all have a conscience: let’s call it Jiminy Cricket.  One of the biggest problems leaders have, at all levels, is people letting you down by not delivering on their commitments.  So let’s see how the Jiminy Cricket effect can help you.

It is Jiminy Cricket that nags us when we know we need to do something to honour a promise or commitment that we made.  So to boost the Jiminy Cricket effect, when you secure a commitment, you must ensure Jiminy is awake.  Do this by asking for the commitment directly, and doing so in a more formal setting.

2. Maintain Motivation with Milestones

Project managers think of milestones as a valuable planning and monitoring tool.  Project leaders use them also as a powerful tool to motivate too. Impending milestones give a great sense of urgency and pressure.  Missed milestones – if you are unfortunate – create an opportunity to rally to the new deadline, and milestones met offer the chance to recognise and celebrate achievement. People feel more motivated when they have a sense that they are making progress.

More milestones = more motivation

3. Communicate Setbacks Effectively

Setbacks are a part of life, and a challenge for leaders.  It is is easy to lead when everything goes well, so we measure leaders by how they handle adversity.  The first skill to learn is how to communicate the setback.

In communicating, honesty is not the best policy…

… it is the only policy.

So start by setting out clearly and objectively, how things are.  Then paint a picture of how you believe things can be.  The challenge is to bridge the gap, so lay out how you plan to do this.  Then call people to action with a clear next step, and close by making the link between their actions and the  enticing future ahead.

4. Get Comfortable with Resistance

Mike’s first rule of change:

“Resistance is inevitable”

So why is it that so many leaders fear resistance and look upon it as destructive?  In truth, it is simply a part of the process – and understanding it will make it easier and more comfortable to deal with.

My “Onion Model” sets out six levels of resistance: you can read more about how I created it on my main blog and, of course, it is summarised in Brilliant Project Leader. It is fully described in my little book, The Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

5. Understand Patterns of Conflict

Conflict and psychological game-playing are a constant part of our lives and a wise leader needs to be able to be able to analyse the patterns and break the cycle.

Brilliant Project Leader and The Handling Resistance Pocketbook cover this in some detail and discusses one of my favourite tools for analysing unhelpful interactions between people: “the Drama Triangle“.

Use the Drama Triangle to recognise three roles that habitually recur in conflict and manipulation situations: “the persecutor“, who feels good by making you feel bad; “the victim“, who feels good by loading the responsibility for their troubles on you; and “the rescuer“, who feels good by offering you  way out of your discomfort.

6. Teams Need a Name

Part of giving a team a sense of identity is giving it a name.  A well-chosen name can confer purpose, identity, mystery, style, and clarity. Examples of good and bad choices (you decide which) come from the team names chosen by candidates in the UK and US series of The Apprentice.  You can see the list here, and try to guess which were used in the US and which in the UK… and which were chosen by men and which by women.  I think some will surprise you.

7. When things go Wrong:
. . . SCOPE the Problem 

Knee-jerk reactions are rarely resourceful. But you don’t have time for unfocused thinking.  So use the SCOPE process to handle a tricky situation:

  • Stop: Take a deep breath and a mental pause.  Maybe stop for longer if you need to.
  • Clarify: What do you really know about the situation?  What do you need to know? Gather data.
  • Options: More options = more choice = more control.  But having generated options, assess them and make a decision.
  • Proceed: With a decision made; proceed with determination and vigour.  Commit as though no alternative exists.
  • Evaluate: Continually evaluate progress – if you aren’t getting the results you need, then Stop, Clarify and look at new Options.

If you enjoyed this, why not subscribe to my ‘Thoughtscape’ newsletter.

Brilliant Project Leader

What the best project leaders know, do and say to get results, every time.

Brilliant Project Leader by Mike Clayton

Brilliant Project Leader
Order here

“This has the ability to greatly enhance your effectiveness and capability.  It is a must read for all current or aspiring project leaders.”
Charles Vivian
Head of Programme and Project Leadership
North Highland, UK


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