I'm recording this episode on the road this week, delivering a keynote on leadership at a Project Management Institute Professional Development Day. Since I have leadership on the brain today, let me ask you: Think of one of the best leaders you've ever had the privilege of working with.... What was it about that person that made them such an effective leader?
Though the details of your answer could be different from what others might say, chances are we would all agree that the best leader that came to mind for us shared one thing in common: credibility.
Credibility is fundamental to being a leader, and in this cast I'm excited to share the first of two episodes from a conversation with Jim Kouzes. Jim, along with his co-author Barry Posner, are some of the foremost researchers and voices on leadership, including works such as their best-selling book The Leadership Challenge.
Don't miss the next cast where Jim and I talk about what to do when you're given an assignment that's over your head. How does that impact credibility? And what about when you have to execute against a decision you don't agree with? Does that mean your credibility is on the line? Jim shares his expert coaching with those questions and more so don't miss it!
(NOTE: This Premium Episode is being included in our free podcast stream this week. It gives you a sense of the extra coaching that is available each episode for our premium subscribers. Learn more about becoming a Premium Subscriber at http://bit.ly/PremiumSubscribe).
There are many things I love about hosting this podcast. One of them is the opportunity to interact with the experts we interview. You probably notice that I normally include some behind the scenes cuts at the end of interviews to try and give a sense of who these people are. Most are very gracious. There's something about Michael Roberto that truly stands out though. He has great energy, a quick wit, and is everything I would have wanted in a college business professor.
In this premium episode I want to highlight some points from the interview with Michael to help you put the learning into action.
First, filtering isn't bad, right? We need it for efficiency. People say we need to over-communicate but, to an extreme, that can be a bad idea! If you listened to my interview with Cathy Davidson or read her book Now You See It, it's clear that we are wired up to put our attention on that which requires it. We would literally go nuts if we tried to take it all in. So filtering of information can be the equivalent of a corporate attention window: what is it that is most important. Let's focus on that.
So let me ask you: how do you filter for efficiency? What do you do to make sure the most important information gets to you? From a learning perspective, I focus on a relatively small number of blogs and podcasts. I find those give me regular doses of learning without trying to read everything or attend every learning opportunity. For example, I get great value out of HBR's blog. I use CIO Magazine's “What Are You Reading” section as a starting place for new and interesting books and authors to consider as guests. I use a number of Google's filtering capabilities to give me just the news I'm most interested in. I try to surround myself with diversely interesting people who help keep me informed of their viewpoint. If you are feeling overwhelmed, you might want to think about your filtering systems today.
But secondly, of course, filtering isn't always done for efficiency. And it isn't always done intentionally or for our good. As Michael says, we might by our actions and words unwittingly put pressure on those on our teams to conform to our way of thinking. We have to be careful for how we advocate for certain decisions or positions because our advocacy could cause some who know better to keep their mouths shut--to not speak up because they'll think you are not open to a contrary point of view. A key characteristic of your team must be that every member knows that if they have information or insights that can help you, they can bring it to you without fear of rejection or judgment. That doesn't mean that you will always agree with them or follow their advice. I read a case study from Michael years ago that, in effect, said that people can usually put up with decisions that you make as long as they had a fair say in the process. As long as they're heard, they can better accept what you decide. But if you explicitly or subtly make it clear that you're not open to their point of view, not to mention even giving them the opportunity, you risk making a poorly informed decision that can often surface compliance at best instead of commitment from your teams. Be careful how you may be pressuring people to conform.
Third, make sure you're aware of the power and dangers of advocacy. This filter says that the information is presented in such a way as to advocate for a certain position. Information that might not reinforce the position is held back. Whether from politicians, your senior management, advertisers, a supplier, or someone on your team, keep your eyes wide open for not just what is presented but also for what is not being presented. I've learned to deal with this by asking questions, digging into the data that is presented, and watching for influence techniques such social proof. It's not that I don't trust people when they're making a pitch. But whether it's a resume, a request for something to buy, or an argument for why we should take action, there's almost always some advocacy going on. Make sure you look for dissenting or alternative points of view.
Fourth, remember that sometimes it's the other person advocating. Other times it's you and me only taking in the data we want. Confirmation bias is an easy trap to fall into. Make sure to not fall in love with an approach or decision because it is ours. Cathy Davidson's collaboration by difference is her solution to this, which basically recommends we surround ourselves with diverse points of view that are intentionally looking at different aspects of what's going on. Confirmation bias can be deadly to decision-making. Beware.
Fifth, and to many of the previous points, remember Michael's suggestion about getting out to the periphery. One way to help know what's important is to get out of your office and spend time with customers, or people in remote offices, or with stakeholders. I interviewed Todd Williams earlier this summer about rescuing problem projects. You may recall his advice that, with troubled projects, your team knows the answers. They know how to help you but you need to spend time with them. Extended time. Michael Roberto is obviously a big Churchill fan and his story about Churchill going out and spending time with the frontlines provided helpful insight that had less filtering through the ranks. Of course you have to be careful to not undermine your direct reports or senior management, but getting to the edges or periphery, spending time with those who don't normally have a voice, such as the younger people as Michael talked about. In my interview with Dev Patniak regarding his book Wired to Care, he basically said we don't have to be innovative if we have an intense understanding of our customers--what he refers to as empathy. Stop trying to live off your own wisdom and insights. Get to the edges and you'll get fresh insights.
Finally, remember Michael's suggestion about talking to the Non's. That means spending some time with people who aren't currently using the services or your team or company but potentially could. Or maybe they're not fans of you or your team or your project. Why is that? Don't write them off. Insights from the Non's could just help you turn them.
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Have you ever heard this quote?"There's an inverse relationship between your level in a company and your ability to see reality." We joke about that at times when it seems like the people above us are out of touch.
But why is it more difficult to see reality, the higher you get in an organization? Sometimes it's just because the people higher up are focusing on longer term issues. By virtue of their scope of responsibility, they're not in the day-to-day. But that's not always it. I was facilitating a project management workshop at a company a couple years ago discussing this very topic. A participant said it this way: "Around here, it's crap down at our level but it's fertilizer up there! It's not a problem, it's an opportunity!"
Information gets filtered as it travels up and down and around an organization. What gets through and why can make all the difference between making good, informed decisions or barreling over a cliff with what we thought was an accurate map.
Those of us who have the privilege of leading people and delivering projects need to understand filtering and my favorite expert for how this works is Dr. Michael Roberto. Michael's book Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen continues to be one of my highly recommended books for project managers and leaders. In this episode I talk with Michael about Chapter 2 of his book: Circumvent the Gatekeepers.
By the way, don't miss the free Premium Episode that I'm including with this feed. Normally these extra episodes are only available for Premium Subscribers but I wanted to give you a flavor for the additional coaching you can receive with each episode when you become a Premium Subscriber. Visit http://bit.ly/PremiumSubscribe to learn more about premium subscriptions.
Thank you for joining me for this episode of The People and Projects Podcast! Have a great week!