Everywhere we go we are bombarded with messages and someone vying for our attention. Every advertisement, politician, family member, or friend, has a message and something to say to us and many ways in which to say it; email, text message, Facebook posts, tweets, magazine articles, on and on. Our world is cluttered with words. So, how do you as a leader or more importantly your team choose, which to tune in and which to tune out?
As a project manager, you’re constantly tasked with getting your own important messages across to the various stakeholders, team members, vendor partners and others each and everyday. So, the question is – While everyone is talking, how do you really make your words count and heard? How can you really communicate your message to others?
According to Harvard Business Review, “ The number one criteria for advancement and promotion for professionals is an ability to communicate effectively.” This means connecting with people. If you can learn to connect better, it will change your life and the success of your projects! But, let’s be clear. There is a very big difference between communicating and connecting! While everyone communicates, few leaders are gifted at genuinely connecting, which transpires into true and lasting influence. The ability to identify with people and relate to them in a way that builds trust and credibility is hard work and requires a lot of energy and effort – An effort that will pay huge dividends in the long-term.
Throughout a project lifecycle there are many ups and downs, things that go as planned and things that come out of left field. There are times when you need to lean on your team more then others. When you connect with others, you position yourself to make the most of your skills and talents, and of those around you. People are a lot more willing to step up to make a difference, or work longer hours for someone they have bought into, vs. just another manager stating the clear memo of “because the boss said so”.
The ability to connect comes from getting to know and understanding the value of people. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, observes, “Those who build great companies understand that the ultimate throttle on growth for any great company is not markets, or technology, or competition, or products. It is the one thing above all others – the ability to get and keep enough of the right people.” You do that by connecting.
It is a lifelong skill that can always be improved, but you can start by checking yourself and account for how you’re doing in the following areas:
- Focusing on others and finding common ground through listening
- Spending energy during your day at connecting and improving at it
- Making your communication simple
- Capturing people’s interest, inspiring them, showing appreciation, and
- Being authentic.
These are things that any leader can learn to do.Learning how to connect in one-on-one situations, in group-settings, and with an audience will result in an increase of positive interaction with others and leave you feeling like you had left your meeting, actually being heard and that the team is on point with mutual concern.This has been evident in heavy IT related projects that I have observed where, quite often project managers can feel like the IT crew is speaking in another language when going through the Specs, PCR’s, UAT’s, and other scheduled release items. It’s easy to feel like they are looking to do things at their own speed, in their own way, and do not understand the big picture. Are they really failing to see the importance of your schedule and completing on time? Or have you failed to connect? If you cannot connect with them and help them understand how important they are to you and to the success of the project – you’re in trouble! The time and energy invested at the beginning of the project to break through and overcome things such as language barriers will always be worth it during times of crisis or when the going gets tough.
When you see project leaders let go in the middle of a large-scale project, it’s usually done for one reason; the leader has lost buy-in of the group. No longer is anyone on the team willing to stand up for them, continue to work extra hours for them, or come to their defense and endorse that they are still indeed the right person for the job. A recent example of this happened in Toronto this year. The Organizing Committee for the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games dismissed CEO, Ian troop for what they cited, “Leadership Issues”. This means one thing. He lost buy-in. He could no longer communicate and drive the committee and team forward to complete the plan. He failed to connect and it cost him his job and the program an additional $534,800 in severance to let him go.
Don’t wait until it’s too late, start practicing your connecting skills today, and begin to build those trustworthy relationships that will produce successful team – delivered projects on time, on budget, and with enthusiasm from the bottom up. Every piece of the puzzle is just as important as another and needed in order to complete it – so treat people with upmost respect and it will come back to you and serve as the energy to fuel your project success.
“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do the things they never thought they could.” – Steve Jobs
Contributing Editor: Greg Ryder (Project Manager, Telecommunications) Toronto, ON