The Soul of a Project #19: Faith in a Vacuum

by Gary Monti on June 26, 2012

“If I only knew it would work!” How often do you say that? After all, a great deal of stress would be relieved if you could say for sure the plan would be successful. Unfortunately, you can’t. That is why your leadership position has vulnerability associated with it. It can be crazy making. At the same time commitments are being made everything that could happen, both right and wrong, is swimming in your head. To make matters worse, there can be the sense of isolation where “project manager” is a politically correct way of saying “official scapegoat.”

What to do? The answer is straightforward, stay with the belief everything is simple once you find the right vantage point. Sounds nice but how can you avoid having it be another pious platitude that sounds Pollyannaish?

The answer lies in remembering the same vacuum that promotes a sense of isolation is also a place where you can get power.

What the heck does that mean? What throws a project off balance is greed, fear, or indifference. For example, the boss that wants unlimited overtime is showing greed. The employee who is concerned they will be ground into dust with the overtime can become afraid. The constant deprioritizing of a project shows indifference. In those situations a vacuum is present, a vacuum that lacks a connected set of principles. The project and maybe the organization fragment. People start spinning aimlessly.

What you can do is be the one person who works the principles that apply believing the most that can be accomplished will occur by sticking to those principles. You become a dampening agent, a shock absorber who helps the situation settle down and become productive. People are attracted to those who help heal such situation.

Notice I said, “the most that can be accomplished.” This means as you progress in practicing what you believe you will attract stakeholders. The question is at that point, “How much power do these stakeholders have?” That power base sets the limits of what can be accomplished.

The attraction of others is cemented in showing empathy. See if you can find something specific with which you can work with each stakeholder. For example, with the boss insisting on excessive overtime talk about the possibility of a major catastrophe occurring and she’ll look bad. For the employee who is afraid ask them to stick with laying out their work and realistically state what they can accomplish in the time available. For the manager who de-prioritizes the project state what they won’t get by failing to staff/fund the project.

To the extent you can get realistic stakeholders and team members on board the odds of success go up.

While we think of success in terms of achieving project goals it can also include the cancellation of the project. The fact it doesn’t align with corporate goals or distracts resources from more critical activities can come to the surface and a healthy decision can be made. This can be a difficult decision especially if people are highly invested in the project.

Remember, you may feel isolated but being empathetic and sticking to what works brings about the connections needed.

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