Author: Dr. Surya M Ganduri

Exploring the Void – Where Projects Fail

surya Jan28
Projects don’t fail because teams lack the skill or the will to succeed. They fail because they fall into the Void – the space where the org chart fails to establish clear owners and aligned incentives. In the Void, things slip through the cracks, conflicts don’t get resolved and progress screeches to a halt.

In small companies, the Void is tiny because teams are small and org charts are flexible. Everyone stays connected on everything and pitches in to pick up the slack where necessary. But as businesses grow, employee mentality often shifts from “I am involved in everything” to “I am only involved in things I am explicitly responsible for.” Fear of being reprimanded for stepping on colleagues’ toes can make people afraid of doing more than is explicitly asked.

The Void is further amplified at large corporations where projects get divided across multiple people, thus making employees responsible for completing individual ‘tasks,’ not delivering ‘results.’ As a consequence, employees focus on the quality of their contribution, not the impact of their work. Plus, large companies have big, cross-functional and global teams with complex workflows. Knowing who is responsible for what is no small task which makes it even more challenging to spot The Void, let alone understand how to fill it.

That’s why the Void is your BIGGEST OPPORTUNITY! Some people run away from situations that are unclear and lacking direction. Others run toward the challenge and create clarity and accountability. That’s where I often find future leaders emerging. One of the clearest signs of future potential is someone who can crush their own objectives, while also scanning the horizon for things that might fall through the cracks across their extended team. You often don’t even know what part of the puzzle is theirs versus someone else’s because they act like it’s all theirs to manage.

Great leaders thrive in The Void. They don’t worry about their job description. It doesn’t matter what they are ‘supposed’ to do. If there is slack, they pick it up and do whatever needs to be done to make their team successful.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss further on what makes these Project Managers great leaders and what sets them apart from the rest of the leaders. Here are Napoleon Hill’s list of the 11 attributes that he believed most contributed to the success or failure of a leader, gleaned during his 20 years of interviewing the most successful men and women in America for his book “Think and Grow Rich”.

These attributes are:

  1. Self confidence, be knowledgeable about your work
  2. Self control, remain calm under pressure
  3. Sense of justice, fairness & respect for others
  4. Decisive and stand by decisions
  5. Organization & planning skills
  6. Strong work ethic
  7. Neatness & hygiene
  8. Empathy
  9. Mastery of details
  10. True accountability in deed as well as word
  11. The ability to achieve through others

In this book, Hill also discusses the 10 major causes of failure in leadership. These are:

  1. Inability to Organize Details. According to Hill “efficient” leadership calls for (the) ability to organize and to master details. No genuine leader is ever too busy to do anything which may be required of him in his capacity as leader. When a man, whether he is a leader or follower, admits that he is too busy to change his plans, or to give attention to any emergency, he admits his inefficiency. The successful leader must be the master of all details connected with his position. That means, of course, that he must acquire the habit of relegating details to capable “lieutenants”. This failure relates to two key skills required by the successful leader or Project Manager – good organization skills, and the ability to delegate effectively. Too many managers create a project plan at the start of the project, and then do no more than tick it off, as if the project plan can manage the project. A good leader or Project Manager is across the details of the plan, and manages it effectively.

    Even more disheartening is the manager who abdicates responsibility rather than delegating responsibility. What’s the difference you might ask? When a task is delegated to someone, consideration is given to the person’s skills and ability to do the task, the amount of supervision required, and their capacity to do the task. The manager keeps track of the task, and assists where necessary. When a task is abdicated, it is farmed off to the nearest person without regards to their capacity, skills and knowledge (and therefore ability to do the job) and with no follow up, save for blaming the poor soul when the task invariably fails, as it must.

  2. “Unwillingness” to Render Humble Service. Truly great leaders are willing, when occasion demands, to perform any sort of labor which they would ask another to perform. This is the corollary of success attribute number 6 – strong work ethic. No manager can be truly successful if they ask more of others than they are willing to do themselves, or if they consistently delegate the most odious tasks to more junior staff.

  3. An “Expectation” of Pay for What they Know instead of What they Do With that Which they Know. The world does not pay men for that which they know. It pays them for what they do, or induce others to do. This one brought a smile to my face, for I have met many managers and so-called leaders who expect remuneration and respect because they have been in a job for so many years, or they have an MBA or they know influential people. It’s not what you know or who you know – it’s what you actually do that counts!

  4. “Fear of Competition from Followers”. Hill goes on to state that “the leader who fears that one of his followers may take his position is practically sure to realize that fear sooner or later”. No leader can lead who is continually looking back over his or her shoulder to see who is gaining on them. Great leaders and managers encourage and nurture good people and enjoy working with them.

    Someone once told me that you should never be indispensable – as a manager you should always make sure that one of your direct reports is capable and able of taking over from you at a moment’s notice. This means that you need to nurture them, train and mentor them, and trust them. This benefits not only them, but you, should a better opportunity open up.

  5. Lack of Imagination. According to Hill “without imagination, the leader is incapable of meeting emergencies, and of creating plans by which to guide his followers efficiently”. Sadly to say, many Project Managers today seem to think that Project Management is a paint by numbers job – build a project plan and then everything will run along tickety-boo. It doesn’t, and it doesn’t help if the Project Manager cannot keep their head in a crisis, modify project plans, risks and issues on the fly, and quickly ascertain viable alternatives when the project is in crisis.

  6. Selfishness. Hill goes on to say “the leader who claims all the honor for the work of his followers is sure to be met by resentment”. The really great leader claims none of the honors. He is contented to see the honors, when there are any, go to his followers, because he knows that most men will work harder for commendation and recognition than they will for money alone. And funny how those managers who do “steal all the glory” are also the same ones who never accept responsibility or take the blame, even for the most minor of problems.

  7. Intemperance. By intemperance, Hill refers to over indulgence in any pleasures, be they food, drink, drugs, gambling or sex. Hill believed that “followers do not respect an intemperate leader. Moreover, intemperance, in any of its various forms, destroys the endurance and the vitality of all who indulge in it”. While this may seem somewhat quaint today, I think the point he was trying to make is that a great leader does not have time to over indulge in anything (the key being over indulge). A truly great leader always has his or her eyes on the prize!

  8. Disloyalty. According to Hill, “the leader who is not loyal to his trust, and to his associates, those above him, and those below him, cannot long maintain his leadership”. A manager who does not trust and respect their team will find the going very tough if they need to call for extra effort from the team.

  9. An Emphasis on the “Authority” of Leadership. Here, Hill is referring to those leaders and managers who manage through fear and intimidation, rather than respect. Those “I am the boss and you’ll do what I say” types (and yes, they still exist). Hill goes on to say “the efficient leader leads by encouraging, and not by trying to instill fear in the hearts of his followers”. If a leader is a real leader, he will have no need to advertise that fact except by his conduct – his sympathy, understanding, fairness, and a demonstration that he knows his job.

  10. An Emphasis on Title. This touches on the subject of positional versus personal authority. A great leader or Project Manager has personal authority – if they were to be demoted to the lowest rank, they would still have the respect of their peers (and superiors) due to their personal authority. However, many managers rely on positional authority – such as a grand title (Executive Vice President or Corporate Change Manager) or the fact that they report directly to the Board of Directors. Remove them from that role and they are nothing! According to Hill “the competent leader requires no ‘title’ to give him the respect of his followers. The man who makes too much over his title generally has little else to emphasize”.

As with the attributes of a successful leader, I don’t necessarily agree with all of Hill’s choices, but again – it is a very good list. You could do worse than to memorize these. In summary, then, the major causes of failure in leadership are:

Inability to organize details
Unwillingness to do that which you ask of others
Expectation of pay for what you know rather than what you do
Fear of competition
Lack of imagination
Selfishness
Intemperance, over indulgence
Disloyalty
Emphasis on the “authority” of leadership
Emphasis on title

The point I was trying to make is that a Project Manager can become a great leader or remain just a manager depending on which developmental path they take. I’d love to hear your perspective on the role of Leadership in the failure of projects. Namaste!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.

Elements of Effective Teams

“Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.”
Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

surya dec10Teams have the potential of exponentially empowering an organization as every member completes the other and in turn creates synergy. Creating and managing effective teams is a challenge worth taking on as the benefits of synergy are a great reward.

This article offers some thoughts on transforming and managing effective teams in the workplace.

Remarkable Team-mates

Forget good to great. Here’s what makes a great team member remarkable.

Great colleagues are dependable, diligent, proactive, reliable, great leaders and great followers… they possess a wide range of easily-defined—but hard to find—qualities.

A few team players hit the next level. Some members are remarkable, possessing qualities that may not appear on performance appraisals but nonetheless make a major impact on performance.

Here are some qualities of remarkable team-mates:

  1. They Ignore Job Descriptions. The smaller the company, the more important it is that employees can think on their feet, adapt quickly to shifting priorities, and do whatever it takes, regardless of role or position, to get things done.

    When a key customer’s project is in jeopardy, remarkable employees know without being told there’s a problem and jump in without being asked—even if it’s not their job.

  2. They are Eccentric… The best employees are often a little different: quirky, sometimes irreverent, even delighted to be unusual. They seem slightly odd, but in a really good way. Unusual personalities shake things up, make work more fun, and transform a plain-vanilla group into a team with flair and flavor.

    People who are not afraid to be different naturally stretch boundaries and challenge the status quo, and they often come up with the best ideas.

  3. But they Know when to Dial it Back. An unusual personality is a lot of fun… until it isn’t. When a major challenge pops up or a situation gets stressful, the best employees stop expressing their individuality and fit seamlessly into the team.

    Remarkable employees know when to play and when to be serious; when to be irreverent and when to conform; and when to challenge and when to back off. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a rare few can walk that fine line with ease.

  4. They Publicly Praise… Praise from a boss feels good. Praise from a peer feels awesome, especially when you look up to that person.

    Remarkable employees recognize the contributions of others, especially in group settings where the impact of their words is even greater.

  5. And They Privately Complain. We all want employees to bring issues forward, but some problems are better handled in private. Great employees often get more latitude to bring up controversial subjects in a group setting because their performance allows greater freedom.

    Remarkable employees come to you before or after a meeting to discuss a sensitive issue, knowing that bringing it up in a group setting could set off a firestorm.

  6. They Speak When Others Won’t. Some employees are hesitant to speak up in meetings. Some are even hesitant to speak up privately.

    A team leader once asked me a question in a meeting about potential layoffs. After the meeting I said to him, “Why did you ask about that? You already know what’s going on.” He said, “I do, but a lot of other people don’t, and they are afraid to ask. I thought it would help if they heard the answer from you.”

    Remarkable employees have an innate feel for the issues and concerns of those around them, and step up to ask questions or raise important issues when others hesitate.

  7. They Like to Prove Others Wrong. Self-motivation often springs from a desire to show that doubters are wrong. The kid without a college degree or the woman who was told she didn’t have leadership potential often possess a burning desire to prove other people wrong.

    Education, intelligence, talent, and skill are important, but drive is critical. Remarkable employees are driven by something deeper and more personal than just the desire to do a good job.

  8. They are Always Fiddling. Some people are rarely satisfied (I mean that in a good way) and are constantly tinkering with something: Reworking a timeline, adjusting a process, tweaking a workflow.

    Great team members follow processes. Remarkable team-mates find ways to make those processes even better, not only because they are expected to… but because they just can’t help it.

Next, let us look at the Team Leaders and Managers.

Poor Habits of Highly Ineffective Managers

Being the boss is hard work, but it’s even harder if you are stumbling over your own mistakes. Here are some common management behaviors that make you seem weak and clueless, along with descriptions of what top leaders do differently.

  1. Being a Know-It-All. Weak bosses quash discussions that might reveal their ignorance, belittle the true expertise in the group, and then (often without being aware of it) recruit and retain second-rate “stupider than Moe” employees.

    Strong bosses surround themselves with the smartest and most talented people they can hire. Rather competing to see who’s a bigger brainier, they draw on the expertise of the entire group in order to make better-informed decisions.

  2. Managing Numbers, Not People.  Weak bosses spend more time with their spreadsheets than with their employees. While they give lip service to employee morale, they are all about the bottom line—even if it means making everybody miserable.

    Strong bosses see the numbers not as a reason for managing employees but as a measure of how well those employees are managed. These bosses consider coaching to be top priority and trust that investing in people will cause the numbers to improve.

  3. Embracing the Status Quo.  Weak bosses feel the need to control employee behavior. They consequently monitor web traffic, social networking, emails and messages, all the while expecting to discover disloyal behavior. Some even use GPS to track employee movements.

    Strong bosses realize that corporate snooping is pointless (because any half-wit can avoid it) that creates an atmosphere of paranoia which drives employees to become even more secretive.

  4. Spying on Employees.  Weak bosses secretly believe that “the only people who like change are wet babies.” Since the status quo put them in power, the status quo (by definition) must be the best of all possible worlds. After all, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    Strong bosses don’t value change for its own sake, but they do recognize that both teams and individuals must swiftly adapt when the situation changes. While this might sometimes put the boss’s power base at risk, it’s a risk that they are willing to take.

  5. Believing the Technology Myth.  Weak bosses swallow the malarkey (endlessly promoted in high-tech ads) that computer technology automatically makes employees more productive. They are thus ready to shell out big bucks … even when the last three IT projects died on the vine.

    Strong bosses are well aware that new technology can eat up resources without providing much benefit. They are skeptical about which technologies to embrace, and they encourage their employees to be selective when deciding what to use.

  6. Divide and Conquer’  Weak bosses pit individuals and teams against one another, hoping that competition will spur everyone on. These internal conflicts tend to create work environments that are seething swamps of resentment and pique.

    Strong bosses discourage internal competition in favor of external competition. They encourage employees to see rival firms, not the guys down the hall, as the ones that deserve a good drubbing.

  7. Refusing to Delegate.  Weak bosses believe that delegating makes them less important. They therefore cling to their authority, relinquish it with great reluctance, and then micromanage the results, hoping (secretly) that the employees will conclude that the boss is essential.

    Strong bosses know that delegating makes them more important. They realize that there is a limited amount of time in each day and every hour spent doing something an employee could do is just an hour wasted.

  8. Expecting Employees to Read Your Mind.  Weak bosses believe employees will stay on their toes if they never know exactly what the boss is thinking. When such bosses provide feedback, it’s something like: “Nope, that’s not it!” or “Back to the drawing board!”

    Strong bosses are explicit and specific about what they want and what needs to happen. They explain exactly how every project will be measured, and intervene only when those measurements show the project is going awry.

  9. Refusing to Commit.  Weak bosses are afraid to take a stand. If asked for an opinion, they’ll say: “That depends.” If asked for a decision, they’ll say “I have it under consideration” or (if they are feeling frisky) “I have it under active consideration.”

    Strong bosses realize that delaying a decision is, in itself, a decision—and usually it’s the decision to fail. They therefore make decisions quickly, without expecting or requiring exhaustive analysis and debate.

  10. Ignoring Non-Performers.  Weak bosses hope against hope that an employee who can’t do the job will somehow manage to soldier through. Meanwhile, as everyone else on the team has to pull a little harder to drag the deadweight along, resentment builds and morale suffers.

    Strong bosses understand that when a job isn’t right for a particular individual, and it’s clear that further training or coaching won’t change things, it’s better to cut that employee loose, so that he or she can find a better match.

  11. Stealing Credit.  Weak bosses find a parade and get out in front of it. They jump in at the end of a project, add a little bit of “management input,” and then stick their name at the top of the victory presentation. If the project fails, though, the team “acted without my knowledge.”

    Strong bosses give their employees the credit for doing the actual work, secure in the knowledge that bosses contribute in subtle but essential ways: resolving conflicts, coaching individuals, and providing perspective. And they take the heat when things go wrong.

Don’t forget to leave your comments below.