Posted by: projectsinpractice | March 31, 2012

Reflections from a Time Machine

Teresa here. Imagine yourself in a time machine and travel back to a time and place when someone did or said something that influenced you in a positive way. Who was it? What did they do? How did you feel about it?

Teresa as kidI was challenged to do this as a participant at a recent workshop. Without too much thought or effort, I found that my time machine had transported me to fifth grade at Georgia Brown Elementary, standing before my teacher, Mrs. Gustafson. She was returning a graded homework assignment — a short story. “When you go to college,” she said, “you might want to study journalism.”

Yep, it’s Mrs. Gustafson, I thought, as I sat in my imagined time machine. She put a big, impossible idea in my head that grew fast and large like a grove of bamboo. That idea put me on a particular path.

Then another image appeared. Now I was in my twenties and working at National Semiconductor. It was my first professional job. I was talking with my boss, Kevin. “You should write about this project for this trade journal,” he said.

“But I’m not ready to write for a magazine,” I replied. The uncommon thrill I felt was a mix of pride that he thought I could do this, and dread that I might actually have to try.

“Yes, you are. Do it.”

Over the following weeks, Kevin kept after me to write the article. I finally did. It was too long and sounded too academic. But I worked it, shaped it, made something out of it. Kevin offered some light editing, and then I sent it in. It was accepted, and soon afterwards, actually published!

Out of the time machine and back in real life, I reflected on Mrs. Gustafson and Kevin. They both saw something in me that I didn’t see myself. And they pushed me to push myself; to test the boundaries of my potential. They didn’t allow the limitations of my insecurities, my environment, or my inexperience become excuses for not driving forward.

This made me reflect on my leadership style. I like to think of myself as fair, communicative, nurturing, positive. My standards of quality are high, but as a result, unfortunately, I can also be strident and inflexible.

Remembering the far-reachingly positive effects that Mrs. Gustafson and Kevin have had in my life, I would hope that I can really see potential in my team members, understanding that everyone has individual gifts and unique approaches to work. I hope I can push team members when they need to be pushed, and believe in them when they need some faith.

Rocket LaunchIt’s important to find that balance between pushing just enough, but not too hard. Anyone who’s worked with kids, especially teenagers, knows this all too well. Don’t push enough, and nothing happens. Push too hard, and you get pushed back in the form of resentment and rebellion.

There’s also the matter of confidence in our team members’ capabilities. We need to articulate our high expectations to them, and then let them know that we believe that they can achieve. We can then step back and give them the space they need to learn, to reach, to grow.

In my case, I’m making a greater commitment to sharing duties of increasing complexity with my team members. This involves documenting standards and taking the time to train and coach, but I realize this is an important investment in human resources. Not only is this developing the people I work with, but this will eventually free me up to challenge myself in other areas. So the sharing, as often is the case, ends up not about giving, but about receiving — by my helping to develop others, I’m really developing myself.

Think about those in your own life who have positively influenced you. How did this person make you feel about yourself? What was the result? In turn, have you had the opportunity to give someone else the gift of your confidence in them and their potential?

The thing is, you might never know. Mrs. Gustafson’s comment to me might have been an offhand remark that she never thought twice about. But her single sentence placed me solidly on a trajectory that I value to this day.

Whether you actually hold a leadership title — project manager, supervisor, coach, mentor — or whether you are “simply” respected as a person of knowledge and insight, you have more influence than you’ll ever know.

Read more in “Transforming People into a Team,” Chapter 16 in Your Project Management Coach.

Talk back: Is there a teacher, a boss, a project manager, or someone else who had a positive effect on your life? What did they do? What was the result? How did it make you feel? Is there something they did that has affected how you lead others?



  1. […] here: I’m going to follow Teresa’s lead and talk about leadership. Her post brought back memories of past experiences with leadership, mine and that of others. It also made me […]

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