What is your management technique? Are you a “spare the rod and spoil the child” type of project manager, or do you have other disciplinary methods you utilize to keep your team in line and meet project time frames?
In your role, could you use a gentler and more supportive hand when governing your project team and become a more positive leader? There has been research into the value of positive (as opposed to negative) reinforcement, but when applied to project management tasks, we are also looking to how these principles can be utilized when we oversee team members, negotiate resources, get into frank discussions with stakeholders and plod along to accomplish project goals.
The benefit of positive leadership in project management is that it helps build strong connections between managers and their teams, thereby improving member performance, spurring creative and inventive solutions, and ultimately leading to greater project success.
When confronted with the amount of daily energy required to plan, coordinate, schedule and incorporate the many aspects of a project, a PM’s job is quite challenging—never mind the constant onslaught of emails and text messages, conflicts with deliverables (and the personnel behind them), benchmarks and deadlines (and their associated intricacies), stakeholder and managerial negotiation and disagreement, and crunch-time modifications when resources are low and impact is poorly defined.
To be fair, there are also moments where there is cause for celebration, perhaps even an acknowledgement for a job well done. Those moments, however, seem to fade away when we begin the process and procedures of getting ready for the coming day.
Getting to Positive
Despite the demands of our own projects, we still need to find the mental clarity and calm to find direction and define goals with energy and purpose. These components help us get on the path to positive leadership.
Planned and unplanned things happen. Tests, trials, delays and obstacles are a natural part of the process—but how you approach them is not. A portion of positive leadership is determining that you will find solutions and create a sense of optimism in your team. Connecting with them and inspiring their confidence by showing your confidence in them is one factor; another factor is recognizing their respective skills, talents and knowledge—and that they are valued as contributors.
When put in place by a project manager, these basic elements help create a working environment where there is inspiration to do more—both as individual team members and as a project team overall.
Dealing with Negative
As a manager (project and otherwise), there are many times when you run into situations that create a negative environment. In general, the closer one gets to the top, the more one gets exposed to tougher issues and decisions. Working within the management groups, all sorts of difficulties with things like morale, discipline, grievances and performance problems may arise as part of the daily norm, creating more of a pessimistic atmosphere in which to conduct business.
Dealing with this negativity then becomes an added responsibility of the project manager—both in not letting that negativity affect them (and wearing its burden on their sleeve), and by not sharing or transferring it to the project team and other associates. While it may be easier to go down that gloomy road, a true leader does not take that direction. Instead, they take steps toward a more fulfilling and positive path.
Making Positive Happen
Here are a few aspects of leadership you can use to inspire others and foster a positive project management experience:
- Appreciation: Maybe your day didn’t have any moments where anyone thanked you or showed gratitude for your efforts, but you needn’t let that guide how you treat others. Thanking others for their work—especially hard work—helps them realize that you acknowledge what they do and the effectiveness of what they accomplish. Sustaining and maintaining that effort is important to building a climate that may travel throughout your organization and influence positive management elsewhere.
- Lemonade: The expression “when you get lemons, make lemonade” may seem trite, but there are many ways to look at that old chestnut and gain wisdom from it. Sure, there are some circumstances that make the squeezing of lemons a painful and bitter process. However, it is your goal as a project manager to take that tart drink and make it sweeter. Things rarely go perfectly in a project—if they did, we would no doubt still find flaws. Project managers are constantly faced with problems; but instead of staying focused on those problems, a positive approach would be to turn them into a positive learning opportunity.
- Excuses: When things don’t go as planned, a leader needs to address that fact and take responsibility. It certainly isn’t a problem to take credit for project deliverables when all goes well; the other side of it though is that a manager shouldn’t find reasons to weasel out of work (saying that something is too demanding, that superiors won’t like it or that the customer will be threatened by the modification). If a decision or plan went awry, don’t waste energy on a defensive position. Instead, accept what has happened. However, if something goes wrong and it was still the right decision, then you need to let the negativity roll off your shoulders and push positivity back onto your team. Do not let those kinds of hard decisions get in your way in the future.
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