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Managing People and Expectations

Clearly, managing people is the single most challenging part of managing projects, if not managing life in general. This article delves into how to do it well.

I once decided not to manage anyone anymore. Super intelligent and capable people were irrational and acted like babies or teenagers. Some people were nice, but not as competent as I wanted them to be. Others were very competent but had no people skills or were lazy. Few could handle criticism.

My favorites were the highly competent, easy to work with, self-aware and self-managing ones. Give them a direction or goal and they just get it done, while keeping everyone informed and using best practices. No drama. Adaptability. Flexibility. Motivated by quality and service. People oriented. Emotionally intelligent.

Related Article: Managing A Virtual Project Team

What I learned in the years since then is that:

  • You can’t really get away from having to manage unless you go and live in a cave and meditate all the time.
  • We are all on a continuum regarding intelligence, motivation, skill, relationships, emotional maturity, and self-awareness.
  • The effective manager works across the spectrum, adapting to the needs of each person, accepting imperfection while promoting optimal performance, and recognizing when individual weaknesses or misdirection warrant intervention and dismissal.
  • Managing is a wonderful opportunity to practice being mindfully aware, patience and selfless service.

There is a blending of analytical objectivity, like Vulcan side of Mr.Spock, and a heartfelt understanding of other people and their nature, wants and needs.


Let’s define terms. What do we mean by managing? To manage, according to a few dictionaries, is to: 

  • control dominate, influence, handle, govern, be in charge
  • succeed in the face of challenges
  • take charge or care for and make decisions for
  • direct a professional career.

Everyone manages something. Individuals manage themselves while project managers manage projects and CEO s manage organizations.

On the surface management is pretty clear – take charge and get it done. However, in practice, issues arise around how much control, domination, caretaking and decision-making one should do and how best to do it. Egos are involved. The complexities and uncertainties that come with relationships with other people require artful management.

Managing Well

Managing adds value, though, remember, it is not direct performance. Direct performance is what results in useful outcomes. Managing is an enabler that improves direct performance and the probability of success.

For example, a manager will create an environment in which performers have all they need to do a great job and are minimally weighted down with administrative and management chores.

The effective manager tries to put himself out of a job by setting up a process by which a person, team or organization can manage itself. The process promotes the definition of clear, rational expectations – product and performance objectives and clear roles and responsibilities. The process ensures that acceptance criteria are known and accepted. Status reporting is regular and accurate, reflecting current effort against a plan. Issues, risks, and their resolution are tracked. Transparency is valued.

The process identifies the flaws. No one has to point fingers; the facts say it all. Task X is late and over budget, it has been in that state for weeks and keeps getting delayed. The responsible party, seeing his own performance reflected in the numbers, can raise the red flag himself and ask for help. The manager the issue is addressed.

Accountability and Criticism

Accountability is a key factor. Management process makes sure that individuals are accountable for their work and behavior. Most people don’t mind that when their work and behavior are positive or when referring to someone else.

Unfortunately, accepting criticism with the deep understanding that it is through criticism that one can improve is not as prevalent as it could be. Many people are defensive, fearful of being disciplined, and as unskilled at giving as taking negative criticism. People are often afraid to speak up.

The effective manager makes it clear to the people who report to him/her that they are all peers with different roles to play. He promotes critical feedback and expects it to be offered constructively. He expects people to request help when they need it and to speak their mind.

The effective manager also accepts that while all these best practices are great, they are not always perfectly executed. Imperfection is a fact of life. As managers, we must be ready to adjust mindfully to any condition, any set of relationships.

Expectations, Kindness, and Clarity

With accountability comes the challenge of handling people who do not meet expectations. The following questions are meant as a starting point for ensuring that you are mindful while managing your team and yourself.

In teams, whether you are a manager or not, you have expectations regarding another person’s performance, personality, appearance, relationship and communication skills. What are your expectations based on? Is it wishful thinking, perfectionism or a professional standard?

Does the other person know what your expectations are? Are they reasonable and likely to be met.? What will you do if they are not met? Does the other person know that? How will his knowing it effect his performance?

Do you play favorites? What happens when someone you like is having a hard time getting his work done? What happens when you don’t like someone who is having a hard time? How do you differentiate between a novice and a senior worker who lack skill and need support?

Are you happy to help? How does it feel when you have to fix up someone else’s work, without taking credit for it?

The degree that you can support people you don’t like is a measure of your maturity.

Does the desire to get ahead by showing others up drive behavior and the ability to help others perform? Do you get some pleasure out of pointing out faults? Do you acknowledge the positive?

Do you believe that everyone should be perfect or as at least as good as you are or were when playing his role? How does that drive your attitude about your own work and the work of others?

Management Action

A healthy team adjusts to support members’ weaknesses.

However, there is a point at which a weak performer must be removed from the team. Kindness and acceptance lock horns with practicality driven by analytical clarity. It costs the team too much, and it is promoting acceptance of mediocrity rather than optimal performance. The better performers are grumbling, maybe thinking “why should I work so hard when so-and-so is not pulling his weight?”

At this point, you as a manager must act to show the team that you recognize the situation and are doing something to address it. You might have to eliminate the individual or shift roles and responsibilities. The performer may respond badly, or not. Either way, the effective manager will handle it, with an attitude of kindness and compassion. You will minimize any embarrassment.

Manage Well


  • Involves questioning your beliefs and attitudes, recognizing how they affect your performance.
  • Is founded on the recognition that you are there to serve the performers so they can do their jobs with minimal interference and maximum effectiveness.
  • Works best when you rely on process rather than your personal charm and authority.

George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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