The Paradoxes of Project Leadership

By Bob McGannon

The way to success as a leader is to be perceived as consistent and supportive. Sometimes the way to achieve that perception is to be constantly caring, occasionally inconsistent and selectively supportive.

The opening paragraph seems paradoxical, doesn’t it? How can one be perceived as consistent, while being inconsistent? Even more far fetched, how can one be perceived as supportive, without being supportive? Before you abandon these thoughts as being absurd, consider this; aren’t we as humans often paradoxical? Anyone who has raised a child understands that at times the best way to be supportive is to say “no”.

Elevating your consciousness about the contradictions that people bring to you, and being flexible in handling situations at work will genuinely improve your perception as a leader. Here are a few points to consider:

The Best Way to be Nice is Not to be Nice

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” or “That is not a nice thing to say” have echoed through the ears of every child that wasn’t raised as Tarzan was, by a family of chimps. Although serving its limited purpose at the time, that approach to relationships and the workplace isn’t very productive. Yet many people hold on to the adage, and the behavior it inspired. We all need people who will politely and discreetly tell us that part of the salad you had for lunch is hanging off one of our front teeth, or that the fastener that holds the upper part of our pants together is undone! Those that avoid sharing this info with us for the sake of being nice aren’t being supportive.

More significantly, however, are the people who see you doing something that they don’t agree with, or don’t feel it is in your overall best interest, that decline to discuss it with you. As a friend, relative, co-worker or manager you have a different perspective as to who people are and how they react to things. In addition, you can bring a different set of experiences and lessons learned.

Can you think of an instance where you did not follow your gut instincts, only to make a mistake and to later hear from a colleague or a project team member that they thought you were doing the wrong thing, but thought they would be considered “meddling” if they discussed it with you?

Consistently Stick to Your Values – and be Totally Flexible

The people you lead need to understand what you stand for; they need to understand your values. (This comes after YOU have consciously decided what your values are!) Any decision you make or position you take needs to be consistent with your values if you are to be happy, be it at work or with your family and friends.

People who consistently have the respect of their family and their co-workers share the characteristic of being solidly consistent in presenting and sticking to their values. At the same time they appreciate, support and encourage others to have their own set of values. In support of those values, they encourage the development of approaches and habits in the workplace that support those values.

Successful leaders share the characteristic of having very standard and repeatable approaches to managing their projects. They do learn and change, but they do so in a controlled and purposeful fashion.

By the same token, individuals with this conviction also understand that others don’t have to share their particular habits in order to be successful. Their focus is on the RESULT, rather than the process. They can inspire others to develop their project management skills by giving guidance and coaching, in an effort to make them successful. Thus, the person handles the paradox of having a distinct and rigid set of expectations for the result (which is communicated to others around him/her), but flexibility as to how those expectations are met.

“Playing” at Work – and Encouraging Your Project Teams To Do So, is Serious Business

If you were like most kids, you had “energy to burn.” Our parents spent a considerable amount of time getting us to calm down – that is, be more quiet and reserved. I am not questioning the intent of those who raised us, but it does set examples for us to overcome. Keeping us quiet and calm ultimately suppressed what we viewed at the time as “play”. Combined with the edicts and examples that were passed to us, “work hard” and “become financially independent”, we have had very particular thought patterns impressed upon each of us. For many people, work and play have greatly different meaning. Play is associated with leisure time, and is usually considered frivolous or a way to escape and treat ourselves. Work, in contrast, is viewed as “toil”. We are taught that it is something that takes great effort, and consumes part of us. Have you ever sat back and reflected as to why work is that way? Also, why does “work” have to be the antonym for “play”?

What elements of the things we find playful could we incorporate into our project environments? Are you purposefully assigning your project team members to things they find enriching? Are you even aware of the things your team members find enriching? Are you taking responsibilities for tasks in your projects that YOU find enriching and stimulating? Fully capitalizing on the skills and desires of your team, as well as your own fulfillment will go a long way to increasing morale and productivity on your project teams. Take a survey of your team members, and seek to give them tasks to perform that they find enriching – and don’t forget yourself in the process. “Play” is very productive – the more you can sprinkle items that feel like play into the workplace, the more productive you and your project team will become.

Be the Best Leader You Can Be – Be Childlike

I am choosing my words carefully here; notice I did not say “childish”! Children have the world figured out, because they have not been burdened with something that plagues most adults – they rarely take themselves seriously! If something is fun, they try it. If they like it, they continue to try it, and expand their experiences. They ask questions. (The average child asks 60 probing questions a day, whereas the average adult asks only 6!) If they are curious about something, they investigate it, they try it out.

Long ago I lost track of the number of adults I know that have passed up trying something new or something they thought would be a growth experience because of a fear of the unknown or fear of getting embarrassed. These are classic instances of inhibitions (acquired as adults) preventing us from living and expanding our business experience and capabilities. True leaders are the first to embrace change, and try new things. Nobody was ever applauded for their uncanny ability to maintain the “status quo”. Take a childlike approach to project leadership; try new things, be in wonder of the technology you use or employ, and question what you do in a playful way. You will surprise yourself with the capabilities you will gain, and the improved perception you will enjoy.

Bob McGannon is a Founder and Principal of MINDAVATION, a motivational speaking, team building and project management training company. MINDAVATION can be reached via the web at WWW.MINDAVATION.COM or by calling 877-544-MIND.


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