Posted by: projectsinpractice | April 6, 2012

Learning Lessons on Leadership

Bonnie 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 reflect on whether I’ve learned anything over the years.

My first memory: I was a bad employee. I wasn’t a bad employee because I did bad work. On the contrary, I did great work and customers loved me. But I always had problems with the management in the companies I worked for. I was told I had a bad attitude — and I did. (Since I’m a terrible follower, I had better learn to be a good leader.) Then, I read Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and realized the source of my “problems.” Most (not all) of the managers and executives I knew didn’t think win-win. They focused on making sales and making money, not on making sure customers got what they needed. Covey talked about treating employees the way you wanted them to treat customers. I didn’t see that happening either.

That long story shortened, I have had my own business since 1997. When I quit, a good friend said “Well, now, your boss is an *$$hole, but at least you know what to do about it.” He was right. But I digress.

I used a quote on leadership from Dwight Eisenhower in my book, Successful Project Management:

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.

How do you get people to do something you want because they want to? My two cents, give them something to believe in. A mission, if you will.

Not long before I quit to start my company, I was promoted to manage a customer support group. Making the company a success wasn’t exactly something I could believe in. But making our customers successful so they would remain our customers was. So, without really thinking about it, I worked on  a win-win with customers and my team to deliver a win for the company.

I fought for training and raises for my people. My previously demoralized team became re-energized and customer support improved. As it turns out, the training also helped the members of my team keep their jobs or find new ones. And the raises set them up to obtain higher salaries at their new jobs. The company didn’t survive, but I don’t think I could have done anything to turn that around. I have led other teams with good results. Having something to believe in still seems to work.

Now let’s jump ahead to my writing career. It is a success, but my leadership style hasn’t been. Like Teresa, my standards are very high. My clients love my work. But I have taken to warning potential co-workers about my great expectations. Hmm, Teresa’s comment about pushing too hard really hit home. And it reminded me of another great Eisenhower quote:

Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.

I still have something to believe in: providing engaging, clear guidance and instruction to my readers. So why have I failed to lead people who work with me on writing projects? My first thought was deadlines. Books, articles, and other writing projects are rife with tough deadlines. But all projects have deadlines. They didn’t bring out the worst in me at other times. With my writing, I willingly flog myself to meet deadlines because I was the one who accepted them. (See what my friend meant about my boss being an *$$hole?) I would turn to other people for help only when I had deadlines I couldn’t possibly achieve by myself –when I was stressed, when I was at my least nurturing. It wasn’t pretty.

I ‘m starting a new phase in my writing and project management career. I’m going to need help to get everything done. So this soul-searching on leadership couldn’t come at a better time. I’m trying to not only learn from my mistakes, but grow from them.

I haven’t changed my high expectations. But instead of beating people over the head with them, I’m setting those expectations as a goal. I let people know that this goal may take time and practice to achieve.  I’m using projects with less challenging deadlines as a training ground. That way, I have the time to train, guide, coach, and support to my teammates, just as the end result is a book or course that provides training, guidance, coaching, and support to my readers.

So, have I learned? I’ll ask my teammates after we finish the next few writing projects.

Read more about working with a team in Your Project Management Coach, Chapter 16, “Transforming People into a Team.” In Successful Project Management, Chapter 10 is “Managing a Team.”

Talk back: What leadership activities have had the greatest impact on your teams? Do you lead better in some situations that others? What can you do to improve your leadership skills?

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