The Soul of a Project #17: Stand Your Ground (Part II)

by Gary Monti on May 29, 2012

Being a manager, especially a project manager, can be very challenging. Staying on task and keeping the employees and team members connected as a cohesive group can pull you in many directions at once. Last week we looked at change management and what it takes to “stand your ground” from the employee’s perspective. What about from the manager’s perspective? Let’s take a look at what one might see when consulting in such situations:

  • Initially there is the belief that the consulting firm will get the team’s to stay on task and GET SOMETHING DONE!
  • As work progresses managers see the team is “getting the message” and understanding more of the business side of the situation.
  • The vocabulary introduced regarding change-, process-, and project management helps bridge the gap between managers and team members. An easing of tensions occurs.
  • After a while, though, impatience can set in because, after all, the goal of the change is to get more work done and there is all this talk, talk, talk going on. (At this point a subtle reminder that this mess took years to develop and won’t unwind overnight helps keep the client on track as to the true cost of change.)

As with employees, this is where confronting managers is critical. They need to be pushed on an uncomfortable truth – when they look at the employees they are looking at an active mirror, which reflects the quality of their leadership and management style.

So what does “stand your ground” mean as a manager? THIS is a very tough question to answer.  It comprises several elements:

  • Vulnerability
  • Determination
  • Openness
  • Discretion
  • Humility
  • Standing up for the team
  • Discipline

Vulnerability. The first element is a willingness to be vulnerable on a routine basis. Let me explain. When a team member makes a mistake and catches it this entire process may occur in isolation. The subject matter expert (SME) can be sitting at their desk and the entire process might take place in total silence. For the manager the situation can be quite different. A directive is given which is erroneous.

The entire team, if not the organization and customer, get to see the mistake and the manager may face a credibility issue right along with the technical aspects of the mistake.

Determination. This trait goes hand-in-hand with being vulnerable. Nietzsche’s famous quotation, “That which does not destroy me makes me stronger,” applies.

Openness. Teams work best when there are no surprises. When they are trusted with project information it not only shows respect it challenges them to take on their responsibility directly and work as a team member.

Discretion. This looks to fly in the face of the previous character trait, openness. I must admit the boundary between the two can shift on an almost daily basis. Deciding what to say or not say can be quite challenging. Typically, this is a non-issue. Team members can read body language, sniff the wind, compare notes, and deduce a range of options as to what is going on. Leave them to their own devices. Simply say what you feel is appropriate for the project.

Humility. When it comes to standing one’s ground this is the most challenging for a manager. The Roman philosopher, Epictetus, wrote in the 50 A.D., “The challenge with being adult is having more responsibility than authority to execute.” This is where knowing what you can and can’t do comes into play. Referring back to the employee’s position in the previous blog, you, as a manager, may have to stand your ground with your boss.

There needs to be a willingness to push through the unfairness of life.

Being humble also means staying away from aggression, i.e., avoid abusing the power of the position. It may feel nice to have someone have a report on your desk at 8 AM, Monday morning, but think about the impact on morale and what you are saying about yourself before taking that action.

Standing Up for the Team. In terms of building morale and taking a leadership position this is a critical trait. Combined with vulnerability and determination, taking a bullet…errr…standing up for the team means having the courage to stand up for the appropriate principles in a given situation. Times like this are where the issue of whether or not you have gainful employment may flash before your mind’s eye. This isn’t about false bravado or wanting to be seen as a hero. It is simply about standing up for what is right in a given situation.

The best work is done in climates where everyone is grounded in their appropriate principle set and “standing up for the team” (from CEO to the newest SME) is encouraged. It shows everyone you are top-drawer material. It attracts excellence like flowers attract bees.

Discipline. Discipline is the linchpin. There is a spiritual toughness required that isn’t tough. That sounds oxymoronic but it isn’t. It goes back to:

If everything were okay I’d see _______________ .”

Step back, get a cup of coffee, be quiet, do what ever it takes to find that spot where you can finish that sentence for every component of the project. Do the variance analysis between what you would see if everything were okay and what actually is. Promote work that closes the gap. Be fearless (as in “without fear”) about it.

In closing there are two concluding statements:

  1. Notice how much longer this blog is than the previous one addressing employees standing their ground. That is why there should be more zeroes in your paycheck. It is very demanding being a leader/manager, and;
  2. The very same sentence, If everything were okay I’d see _______________ ,” applies to both team members and the manager. When everyone on the team comes together to get to a communal answer to this sentence that is when the team has nailed it! As a manager you can take a quite pride in facilitating “stand your ground” for the benefit of the client, organization, the team, and yourself.

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