You give the deadline for a major project, but as the day approaches, nothing is ready. You ask for departmental reports to be completed and no one responds. You leave the office for a meeting, leaving explicit instructions behind, but return to find none of them have been implemented. Why? And how do you resolve the situation?
Leadership is one of the steepest learning curves for any Project Manager, whether an amateur, growing, or well experienced. The quality of your leadership will determine whether your team and project milestones are achieved, or, like cancer, slowly breeds resentment, inefficiency, operational cracks, and a dysfunctional team. Whether you realise it or not, other people take their cue from you: the openness, atmosphere, trust and inspiration that others experience stems from you. That is the essence and onus of leadership. It is important that you reconfigure your behaviour and communicate the actions and principles necessary for a successful – and compliant – working environment.
Reason #1 – Lack of Vision
A project is like a ship: if you, as the captain at the helm, don’t know where the project is going, nor can anyone else. And if others don’t know the destination, they may be reluctant to exert themselves over work that seems endless and pointless. Lack of vision is often the biggest reason teammates are ineffective and noncompliant.
- Understand the Vision – Whether you personally wrote your project’s performance specification or not, you first have to grasp it; reflect, or discuss with the product owner or client if necessary, to understand the intricacies of the vision, and its realisation. What problem specifically are you solving? What is your ultimate aim for the project? What must be done now? What will follow? How will you know when the next stage has begun? Learn to be specific in your planning and target setting, and make sure you have a clear picture of the near and distant future.
- Help Your Team Catch the Project Vision – This requires more than simply including it in their induction pack, telling them at monthly staff meetings, or even posting a print-out in a public space. A visible, written version of the vision is critical, but the even more important point is that your team learn to see it for themselves. After all, it’s called a vision for a reason. Talk to them about the change you’re all working towards, how they will know you’re achieving it, how their role is helping it to happen, and why it is important that it occurs. Your project vision is a match to ignite passion in your teammates, and get them to fall in behind you as you marshal your resources and efforts.
- Engage Personal With Corporate Vision – In getting teammates to catch the vision, you should help them discover their own source of inspiration, by entwining the project vision with their personal dreams and vision. For example, If writing is their passion, remind them of the many opportunities they have to develop that ability in your Research department. Or, if they want to change social policy, campaign for a cause they believe in, or become a news correspondent, show them that your software team can teach them the skills and offer them the networking opportunities they need. Also be aware that Teammates who see their job as a channel for developing their long term goals and talents are the most engaged, and willing to get the job done.
Reason #2 – Lack of Trust
When you believe someone is using you, what do you do? You naturally withdraw. But when you engage in a mutually beneficial relationship you are more invested. In the same way, if your team don’t feel like you are honest, loyal, dependable, or that you have their best interests at heart, they won’t invest one jot more time or effort than they are contractually obliged to.
For example, if you ask them for the details of that major executive in their phonebook and they stall, it could be because they don’t think you’ll treat their acquaintance well. Why do some projects report teammates working overtime, and using personal social media accounts to promote the activities of their project, whilst yours have blocked you on Facebook and are one foot out the door at 4:59pm? Perhaps they don’t think their extra effort will be rewarded, or even acknowledged. In other words, they don’t trust your conduct or character as a leader – maybe even as an organisation.
The amount of trust between you and your teammates has a direct impact on the amount of effort, sacrifice and support they’re willing to give. You can improve the trust level in your workplace by demonstrating:
- Integrity – When you make promises, keep them! Whether to your subordinates, colleagues, customers, associates, boss (if you have any), or anyone else who your teammates see you interact with. Also, ensure that everyone knows the convictions or code of ethics by which your organisation operates, hold yourself accountable to them, and take swift action to stop any activity which goes against them.
- Love – Let your team know that they are important and valuable to you; not just in terms of the professional fulfilment of their role, but as individuals. Demonstrate that you believe in their ability, that they help to define the project, that their personality adds something special to the team and work environment, and that you want to see them happy, prosperous, fulfilled, and growing in every area of their life. You can show this through words, notes, cards and conversation; by organising parties to celebrate their joining the projector special occasions in their life; by setting up structures or programmes to advance their learning; by giving them special treats every now and then; or simply by taking a few moments to enquire about their loved ones and their personal interests. When people feel like they’re part of a team or family, they’re more invested in its success.
- Loyalty – Be respectful and responsible about the information that others share with you, and don’t use information against them. For example, if they confide in you concerning a personal problem, don’t repeat what you’ve been told (unless their ability to work or welfare will be affected – and even then, handle the matter delicately and follow the appropriate HR procedures). Loyalty also means that you should not to say anything about someone in their absence that you wouldn’t say in their presence. Evaluating teammates may require you to discuss certain things in confidence, but even then, your manner of talking about people should be respectful and not unduly harsh.
- Patience – colleagues should be able to make mistakes around you and to ask for help without you losing your temper or speaking to them in a condescending manner. If your teammates think that you’re impossible to please, that they’ll be summarily demoted if there’s an error, or that you will blame them if something goes wrong, often then they won’t even try; they will balk in the face of the work you give them.
Reason #3 – Lack of Respect
True respect cannot be bought or demanded, and it does not come by virtue of your position. Yes, teammates may acquiesce to you and address you formally because you approve their pay check and have the authority to get them fire them, but if they don’t acknowledge your right to lead them they will cut corners, shirk responsibilities and influence others against you when you’re not looking. However, if you take the time to manifest strong character, especially by developing integrity, love and humility, you’ll have begun to gain others’ respect. In your growth, the focus shouldn’t be on winning the respect of others, but rather becoming a person and a leader worthy of respect – because respect is a response to specific qualities. These include:
- Wisdom – Take time to plan carefully, to think strategically, anticipate changes, and innovate using past experience and knowledge of your industry. Learn about execution as well as strategizing. Don’t just do what you feel like, and don’t repeat old models or methods if they’ve been proven not to work. If you give instructions or lay out plans and your teammates don’t work to the best of their ability, it may be because they don’t believe your plans will work. Results are compelling; continue to be diligent and to focus on where you are going, and as you or your team produce results and experience promotion and success, others will acknowledge that there is something particular about you that they should notice of.
- Humility – A boss who takes all the credit for the success of the team is not a leader; a leader encourages, shares the glory and promotes others. As Nelson Mandela once said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” Don’t insist on your position, and don’t demand respect or compliance. Endeavour to serve, not to be served: focus on teaching and inspiring; focus on providing good opportunities, steady salaries, direction, support and encouragement. Humility is a powerful quality that many bosses today sadly lack. But if you develop it, you will inspire a high regard in others that moves them to act on your every instruction.
- Responsibility – As Mandela said, times of trouble are when real leaders emerge; it is when problems loom, panic rises and morale falters that a leader will reveal him or herself, by staying cool, considering things carefully, and acting quickly and decisively; able to accept the mistakes of yesterday and admit to them, and then plot a brighter future. A Manager or Director who blames others for substandard results does not inspire respect because they are not the embodiment of strength, maturity and humility; if you are prone to responding in such a way, it is because you allow your pride to get in the way of making clear assessments, and you hold onto to the mirage of your perfection. But just as there are no bad students, only bad teachers, so your teammates are not to blame when plans don’t work. When things go wrong you must accept within yourself that you could have done something different (even if just your communication, the clarity of your instruction, or helping them to catch the vision more). If you will strive to discover what you could’ve done differently, correct it, and inspire others not to give up in the face of challenges, then others will look to you as a source of strength, and no matter how hard things get, they will stick by you.
- Firmness – a Manager who frequently allows rules, guidelines, deadlines and ethics to be broken will find respect hard to come by, because others will doubt when you are serious in your instructions. Leadership is not a popularity contest, it is service: creating and upholding boundaries of acceptable behaviour is a kindness to your team, because it gives them a productive, positive working environment. As a business leader of some sort, you may have realised by now how lateness can affect productivity and focus, especially if team members have to wait for one individual; how aggressive or distracting behaviour can make others uncomfortable; and how a disregard for deadlines means that certain people’s time may be encroached upon, making their work harder, and soiling your company’s reputation. When you ensure that guidelines are made clear, and you establish sanctions or consequences for their violation, you allow everyone the opportunity to thrive.
Reason #4 – Lack of Confidence
Often, self-doubt is the biggest hindrance to a person’s progress and achievement. Perhaps you recruited a passionate interviewee, who assured you they had the experience, capacity and determination to fill a certain role – but once you gave them the title, the contract, and put a phone (or tool, or pencil) in their hand, they froze. Why? It could be that despite all their big talk at the selection stage, they are really not so sure of their ability. Sometimes, people just need a little time to warm up to new roles, teams or projects, which is a natural process that a welcoming atmosphere can handle. Also, ideally, you will have employed people who are self-motivated and come with their own inspiration (remember corporate vs. personal vision?), because such people will naturally work harder and be bold to push themselves. If you haven’t employed such people you will have more work to do. Furthermore, real confidence comes from having a sense of identity, value and purpose, which you can’t give anyone. But as their leader you can help. In order to support and improve the confidence of your teammates:
- Emphasise Their Professional Importance – Probably the quickest way to stir up confidence in your teammates is to reiterate why their team and each of their individual roles are important. Show how they make the larger corporate aims possible, and that everyone else relies on their contribution. When people feel important they usually perform better.
- Delegate and Empower – Delegation is the practice of passing down or sharing responsibilities and tasks, in order to increase efficiency, productivity and teambuilding. As a business leader, you will probably know it by now, and depending on the size and workload of your organisation, it may be your most critical faculty. Delegation is powerful because when you share your own responsibilities with junior teammates, you communicate that you believe in their ability to complete the task, that you have faith in their character, that you want to see them learn, and that you value their unique input. Delegation communicates trust, appreciation, interest, and raises the profile of the one to whom you delegate amongst their peers, as it signals their value to the team or organisation. In so doing, you can dramatically increase the commitment and confidence of your team.
- Praise and Encourage – Whatever contribution your teammates make to the organisation or department should be acknowledged – and don’t forget to thank your teammates on a regular basis. This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) interfere with your daily schedule, but it’s a worthy investment to make every now and them. Yes, you may be paying them to be there, and yes, they asked for that positon when they applied to work with you – but even diligent teammates need to feel like they are making a difference, otherwise they will eventually burn out. Some people are very open and direct about the kind of recognition they want; they may consistently ask you to come and look at what they’ve done, or celebrate an achievement vocally and tell others. On the other hand, you may have quieter, more reserved teammates, who keep their heads down and almost work anonymously. But whether your team is full of outgoing, shy, needy or independent people, everyone thrives on praise. Be generous with praise, be patient if it isn’t something you’re used to doing, and don’t overlook anyone.
Reason #5 – Lack of a Good Example
Above all, leadership is about setting an example: people will learn more from how you act and react, than your instructions. Remember, when you attempt to lead others, others will watch you before they follow you. Or, as the adage says, actions speak louder than words. Ensure that you are demonstrating the kind of behaviour you wish to see. This means more than developing good character, as described above. Your aim is not just to win their trust or respect, but to give them a model which they can witness and emulate.
- Submit to Your Boss – If you are not the CEO, but a departmental head, mid-level Manager, or one of numerous Executives, Directors, or board members, then you will have both subordinates and senior colleagues. If when you are given instructions or correction you respond with aggression and defiance, grumbling to your juniors about your seniors, then when you try and give the same to your teammates, they will copy your behaviour. Establish and uphold the correct order in your team and show others through your manner that there are benefits to respecting hierarchy.
- Be Diligent – A boss or leader who hands out long lists of tasks and doesn’t work hard on their own is a hypocrite, and is unlikely to inspire productivity in others. Your tasks may be numerically fewer than your teammates, as higher level tasks often take more time, planning and precision. Nonetheless, if you do your very best to produce excellence and to be effective at what you do, it sets the standard demonstrates how others should act.
Ultimately, an employer-employee relationship is a two-way street, and nothing can force anyone to change or to be compliant. But as much as leadership is challenging and packed with responsibility, it also comes with the potential to help others become their best selves. Teammates may come to you with no vision, but if you work them, you can help them discover their personal vision and catch your corporate or departmental one. They may not be trusting, but if you demonstrate trustworthy behaviour on a consistent basis, they will allow you to direct them. They may arrive with no or little concept of respect or humility, but if you demonstrate that the best thing for them is to listen to you, they will. If you remind them of how special they are, and who they have the potential to be, they will be drawn to your image of them, and work with you to fulfil it. And if you provide a good example that is effective and successful, they will emulate you. Leadership is not just an idea, it is a principle, and so if you understand its important components and ally them, you will see a transformation in yourself, your organisation and your teammates.