Posts Tagged 'leadership'

Adding Thought Diversity to Your Project Teams

 “The future of workplace diversity is here, and it’s not what you think. In fact, it’s how you think.” — Alison Griswold

In Griswold’s article, “Why ‘Thought Diversity’ is the Future of the Workplace”, she looks at the idea that diverse thinking methods are the next trend in workplace diversity. What a great focus for today’s project managers and hiring managers as they build their teams and organizations.

Seems to me like the demographic trends in today’s workplace are not the “barn burners” that they used to be. The combination of HR training programs and the existing acceptance and tolerance of diversity found in our younger staffers allows many organizations to thrive on diversity.

That makes these organizations and their project teams ready for Griswold’s thought diversity. “By mixing up the types of thinkers in the workplace, … companies can stimulate creativity, spur insight, and increase efficiency.” Perhaps it is time to vary the types of thinkers we have in our organizations and on our project teams.

Just think of the possibilities of building a team containing thinkers of many different types.  I would like to have analytical thinkers, problem solvers, creative thinkers, detailed planners, and spontaneity seekers all on the same team and see how things go.  Sure seems like varying the types of thinking in an organization or on your project teams will encourage everyone be more innovative and think “out of the box.”


Susan Weese

Reference:  Griswold, Alison. (2013). Why ‘Thought Diversity’ is the Future of the Workplace. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from

Lessons in Leadership from Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos

After the Denver Broncos Super Bowl loss earlier this year, it took me a while to realize that there were some positive lessons to be learned from watching my favorite team lose at the very end of the season.  My husband and I are serious Broncos fans, which means we always watch the whole game from start to finish, win or lose. In this particular game, the team and its quarterback provided a number of lessons on leadership and some things I think will work very well on my projects and with my teams.

Here is my list of leadership lessons learned from the Broncos loss in this year’s Superbowl and Peyton Manning’s behavior, both on and off the field that day.

Lesson 1: Never stop trying.  As the Broncos got further and further behind, the team continued to play their game.  After watching the Broncos play all season, it was painful to watch their offense be ineffective against the Seahawks.  However, the team stayed on the field and in the game right up to the bitter end.  Seems like a good approach to getting your projects completed, too.  Never retreat and never surrender.

Lesson 2: Be gracious, even in defeat. After the game, one of the first things Peyton Manning did was to walk over to Richard Sherman of the Seahawks and ask if he was okay after injuring his ankle and leaving the game.  After a game in which Sherman led the Seattle defense at smothering Manning and the Broncos offense, Manning still sought out Sherman after the game to ask Sherman about his ankle injury. I agree with Sherman about this: “To show that kind of concern for an opponent shows a lot of humility and class.”

Lesson 3: Don’t play the blame game. People are more important than their mistakes.  I will never forget Manny Ramirez, Denver’s center, hiking the ball over Peyton Manning’s head in the Broncos first offensive play of the game. After the safety, cameras showed Manning and Ramirez on the sideline briefly talking. My guess is the conversation was about not doing something like that again.  Sounds like a good example of how to handle issues and problems on your project team – discuss the issue or problem with no finger-pointing or raised voices.

Lesson 4: Mind your manners. I found it funny how the only team captain among the eight to shake the hands of honorary captains Joe Namath and Phil Simms after the coin toss was Peyton Manning. His mother must approve, I know my mother called me and mentioned this very thing after watching the game.  Good manners are never a bad thing, in football or when working on your projects.

Lesson 5: Get over it and move on. Peyton Manning stopped to sign T-shirts and autographs on his way out of MetLife Stadium Sunday night after the loss to Seattle.  Enough said.

I am looking forward to the next football season and hoping to see the Broncos in the Superbowl once again! Stay tuned…

Susan Weese

What are the Three Kinds of Focus Every Project Leader Needs?

According to Daniel Goleman’s new book FOCUS: The Hidden Driver of Excellence,

1) An inner focus for self-awareness and self-management;

Many consider flow to be an ideal state. That’s when your concentration is utterly absorbed – and you’re most likely being challenged. You’re better able to tune out your mental chatter because you’re fully engrossed in a task. That can feel great since you’re not only being productive, but you’re also not distracted by negative self-talk or ruminations.

The opposite is when we are facing a challenging situation or a fearful experience. An “emotional hijacking” renders us unable to function appropriately. We can overreact or underreact, demonstrating nonassertive behavior. Here is a way to remember fear:

FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real

  • Imagining the worst that could possibly happen
  • Create mental stories not based on fact
  • Limiting our ability to think rationally
  • Scaring ourselves into inaction

We need to become more aware and begin to anticipate those circumstances in which emotional reactions are just that – reactions. Understanding our emotional and mental habits and setting an intention to recognize them will help us respond appropriately to the real not imagined circumstances we are facing.

2) A focus on others for empathy, clear communication and interpersonal effectiveness;

Goleman tells this story. Think of two people who work in your organization: one a level or two below you, and the other a level above. Now imagine getting an email from each of them. Ask yourself how long it would take you to answer those emails.

Chances are the one from above you respond to right away. And the one from below you are likely to answer when you can get around to it.

That difference in response times has been used to map the hierarchy in an organization. And it reflects a more general principle: we pay more attention to those who hold more power than we do – and notice less those who hold less power.

Here is what Ruth Malloy, global managing director of the Hay Group Leadership and Talent practice, has to say about the positive behaviors of a boss (project leader) that make us stay at our jobs.

Best Boss (Project Leader)

  • Takes an active interest in me, listens to my perspectives and concerns
  • Is self-aware; open to feedback, has a sense of humor about himself – comes across as genuine
  • Inspires me around the goals of our organization; lays out a vision that I find consequential and energizing.
  • Provides feedback and support in a way that is encouraging and helpful; empowers me
  • Has a positive outlook, even tempered – even under stress

3) and a systems focus.

“Systems blindness is the main thing we struggle within our work,” says John Sterman, who holds the Jay W. Forrester chair at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

One of the worst results of system blindness occurs when project leaders implement a strategy to solve a problem — but ignore the pertinent system dynamics.

“It’s insidious,” says Sterman. “You get short-term relief, and then the problem comes back, often worse than before.”

The problem gets compounded by what’s called the “illusion of explanatory depth” where we feel confidence in our understanding of a complex system, but in reality have just superficial knowledge.

After some practice, you can improve the three kinds of focus every project leader needs.

James L. Haner

Using PRINCE2 to Achieve High-Performing Project Teams

How do experienced project managers create and nurture a high performing project team?  In my experience, a high performing project team has a mutual purpose that binds them together and ratchets their performance to an exceptional level that is more than the sum of its parts? In their book, The Wisdom of Teams, Katzenbach and Smith list five qualities of high-performing teams that make those teams different from an “ordinary” team. Those qualities include:

  • Deeper sense of purpose
  • Ambitious performance goals
  • Better work approaches
  • Mutual and individual accountability
  • Complementary skill sets and interchangeable skills

Many of the fundamental aspects of a PRINCE2* project can contribute to a high-performing project team. Of particular interest to me is the Organization theme, where clear roles and responsibilities on the project are defined, agreed-upon and used on a daily basis. These roles and responsibilities encompass all areas of the project – business, users and suppliers. They also define each level of the project as far as who directs, who manages and who performs the actual specialist or technical project work. PRINCE2, with it’s strategies and other management products, provides an excellent framework for making decisions and resolving project-specific conflicts.

Another thing I have experienced with my high-performing project teams is the extraordinary level of trust between the team members. The team members are able to align their personal interests and expertise and focus them on achieving a successful project outcome. In the case of a high-performing project team, the sum that defines the team and its efforts is definitely greater than just adding up all of the people on the team.

Team members on high-performing teams are not afraid to communicate with one another.   The PRINCE2 Communication Management Plan defines the more formal communication mechanisms for the project.  The team itself can take communication to the next level between team members, particularly in a work environment with a high level of trust.

Many times, I have found that my role as the project manager on a performing team is to get external obstacles out of the team’s path and let them get their work completed without my involvement. On the one hand, my performing teams have made me feel a little bit “left out”. On the other hand, why complain about such a wonderful and often unexpected level of team performance?  High-performing teams are what make being a project manager such a great experience.  Using PRINCE2 and it’s thorough approach to managing your projects and your project teams is certainly a step in the right direction.

Learning Tree offers a range of PRINCE2 certification courses in the UK for those who are interested. PRINCE2®: Achieving Practitioner Certification is also available in the US and in Canada.

Susan Weese

*PRINCE2® is a registered trade mark of the Cabinet Office.

Reference: Katzenbach, J.R., & Smith, D.K. (1994). The Wisdom of Teams. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Project-Managing Your Writing

Wouldn’t you like to write better contract proposals, business plans, executive summaries, recommendation reports and internal business communications, such as e-mail?

The element of persuasion is what sets business writing apart from other forms of writing. Professional business writing convinces your audience to do what you want, even though there may be initial resistance.

You need to project-manage your writing by breaking it into tasks (WBS), scheduling them (Gantt Chart), and identifying any resources you need (RAM).

A four-step technique is:

  1. Identify the objective
  • What exactly are you being asked to write about?
  • What do you need your readers to do when they have read your text?
  1. Analyze your audience
  • Who are your readers?
  • What do they need to know?
  1. Research
  • What sources will you use for your research?
  • Do you need help from a Subject-Matter Expert (SME)?
  1. Draft, edit, and revise
  • Improve the quality of your writing

When Stephen King finishes a book he puts it away for 2 months and then looks to cut 15% before his editor even sees it.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon suggest the POWER process for project-managing your writing.


  • Plan
  • Identify objective
  • Analyze audience

Organize information

  • Perform research
  • Generate topics
  • Reduce topics
  • Structure topics


  • Prototype document
  • Test prototype
  • Draft document


  • Review
  • Proofread
  • Mark up pages


  • Implement changes

Editing and Rewriting are iterative and interactive steps of the POWER process. Using the POWER process helps you avoid last-minute crises and meet due dates with ease.

Crow and Parkin-Dillon recommend these approximate times for a writing project:

  • Prewrite and Organize—40 percent

—   Plan

—   Identify scope and  objectives

—   Identify audience and scenarios

—   Research

—   Generate topics

  • Write—30 percent
  • Edit and Rewrite—30 percent

—   Review and edit

–    Proofread

—   Revise

—   Publish

Keep Prewriting, Writing, and Rewriting Separate

You need to plan, draft, and rewrite your document. Don’t rewrite as you write. You’ll drive yourself crazy and probably never finish.

Many people think revision means they somehow failed. Nothing has ever been written that wouldn’t have been improved by taking the opportunity to revise it.

Professional writers know the real work is done in the rewriting, not in the writing.

Persuasive writing is about assessing your customers’ needs and responding directly to those needs. Audience analysis, brainstorming, outlining, establishing credibility, stating credentials, avoiding logical fallacies and appealing to intelligence are persuasive writing tools and techniques you can use to be successful.

For more on how to project-manage your writing, have a look at Learning Tree, Intl. Course #219: Business and Report Writing Introduction.

James L. Haner

The Project Manager’s “No Swerve Zone”

Projects can have a lot of moving parts and a lot of people making decisions that impact those moving parts.  People come with their own set of parts, including their personalities, their productivity and their ability to work well with others in a team environment. Some of these complications are just the way things are, but not all of them.  Seems like there are areas where we can try to simplify our projects and avoid being like those drivers who create a lot of noise when they swerve into another lane while making a simple left turn

Watching this driving style got me thinking about the projects I am working on and the people who are members of the project team. Perhaps this need to over-complicate things extends into the project and people realm at work has the same source as people who turn by using your “right of way” lane when the turn lane doesn’t seem big enough.  Why is it that a simple turn becomes so difficult to accomplish in a simple way?  Why is it that a simple project task becomes so difficult to complete on time and within its scope? Why do some people just make things more complicated than they need to be?

Some people come with the built-in ability to take the shortest, most efficient path to their goals.  Other people seem to complicate things for themselves and for others on their way to the same finish line.  I read an interesting article about how effective leaders can keep things simple.  Authored by Elizabeth Cipolla, the article “Don’t Overcomplicate Your Leadership” points out three simple ways for project leaders to stay focused and follow the simple path.

1. Just act. When people make a mistake, discuss what happened and find a solution with the individual or with the team. Then you can move on and get the real work done for your project.

2. Shut up.  Listen to your team and to your people. Sometimes their ideas about what we are doing and how we are doing it are the right way (and the simplest way) to get ‘er done on our projects.

3. React to fact. Watch the emotion and react to the facts and the logic of the situation versus the emotions that can get in the way of effective decision-making and problem-solving on our projects.

My car driving experiences lately have been entertaining to say the least.  I have watched other drivers take simple turns to the left or the right and make them into overly complicated efforts. This is especially true when they swerve out of their turn lane into my lane and force me to swerve my own vehicle in order not to have a collision. What’s up with these folks?  I think they need to “react to fact” and stay in their own turn lane for everyone’s sake and safety!

Happy simplification and welcome to the project’s “no swerve” zone!

Susan Weese

Reference:  Cipolla, Elizabeth, “Don’t Overcomplicate Your Leadership”, The Post Journal, 22 September 2013,  retrieved from

Five Short-Term Coping Mechanisms for Project Management Pressure and Stress

Every successful project leader faces pressure and stress when attempting to deliver projects on target, on time and on budget.

Use these five specific strategies to help yourself deal with pressure and stress in the short term.

1.       Be your own supporter: Be a friend to yourself rather than beat yourself up!

YOU have to be on YOUR own side to be a successful project leader. No one knows YOU better than YOU know YOU. Accept YOUR strengths, limitations, and project challenges.

2.       Acknowledge your concerns by writing them down: Consider using a personal journal. Develop an action plan to reduce the problem. Make a list of all the good things you have.

You may not know what is causing your stress, exactly how your body responds to stress, or how you cope with stress. To find out, suggests you use a journal to keep track of each time you feel stressed.

Write down:

  • What may have triggered the stress. Guess if you aren’t sure.
  • How you felt and behaved in response to the stressful situation (symptoms of stress).
  • What, if anything, you did to cope with the stressful situation.

Look over your notes to learn how often you are feeling stressed and how you are coping. Ask yourself which ways of coping with stress work best and which don’t work or have other effects you do not like.

The more notes you take, the more you can learn about your stress patterns. Keeping the journal for 1 to 2 weeks is best, although taking notes for even 1 or 2 days can be helpful.

3.       Release your emotions: Disperse aggression that can result in stress. Counter anxiety with laughter.

  • Music. Write a song about what is bothering you. Music has the power to move you deeply and has the power to heal.
  • Confide in someone. If you feel you can’t talk to the people in your “Friends & Family,” look somewhere else. Be honest with yourself.
  • Talk to pets or nature. If you’re uncomfortable talking to people, try an animal or nature.

 4.       Distract yourself: Occupy yourself with useful activity. Focus on a time past your current problems.

Here are some suggested thoughts and involvements to consider from Stress Management for Dummies:

  • Recall something in your life you’re grateful for
  • Remember something good that happened to you
  • Think of something you’re looking forward to
  • Go to the gym
  • Read a book, newspaper, or magazine
  • Watch some television
  • Go to a movie
  • Talk to a friend
  • Work or play on your computer
  • Play a sport
  • Immerse yourself in some project or hobby
  • Listen to some favorite music
  • Work in the garden

5.       Set aside ‘worry time’: Cut down on worry by limiting the time you give to it. Challenge your worries – what good are they doing?

When people with adjustment disorders, burnout or severe work problems used techniques to confine their worrying a single, scheduled 30- minute period each day, they were better able to cope with their problems, a new study by researchers in the Netherlands finds.

The study made use of a technique, called “stimulus control,” that researchers have studied for almost 30 years. By compartmentalizing worry — setting aside a specific half-hour period each day to think about worries and consider solutions, and also deliberately avoiding thinking about those issues the rest of the day — people can ultimately help reduce those worries, research has shown.

“When we’re engaged in worry, it doesn’t really help us for someone to tell us to stop worrying,” said Tom Borkovec, a professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State University. “If you tell someone to postpone it for a while, we are able to actually do that.”

The new study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.


It’s important that you build self-awareness of how to respond to pressure and stressors in your life. Giving your best performance in all areas of your life is what being an excellent project leader is about.

To help you cope with pressure and stress, please take 10 – 15 minutes to reflect on and respond to the following questions:

  • What are the current stressors in your life?
  • What other stressors might you have to face in the near future?
  • What are the current stressors that affect you personally on your project?
  • What impact does workplace stress have on your working environment and your personal life?
  • How well do you deal with pressure?

For more on how to handle pressure and reduce your stress, have a look at Learning Tree, Intl. Course #297:  Personal Skills for Professional Excellence.

James L. Haner

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