Living the Dream

I have a bunch of friends who founded a consulting company called Junction Solutions about 6 years ago.  They worked hard and the company has grown exponentially.  As a result, they are all very successful and likely quite wealthy.

One of the founders is named Jeff.  I talked with Jeff several times about the possibility of joining the company (a decision I sometimes question) and I’ll never forget his signature line – “I’m living the dream”.  These guys were all working like crazy and sacrificing a lot to make their company successful but they viewed it as fun and as living out their dream.

I get a little jealous when I hear that they are living the dream.  As I think about my own life and career, more often than not I look like I am in the battle for my life.  I usually look more like I am struggling and fighting for survival than looking like I am thriving and at ease.

This is a lot like my running.  When I run I am generally pushing myself, tired, out of breath, and looking like I need a long nap.  Take a look at this picture below taken moments after finishing the Las Vegas Marathon in December of 2006.  Do I look to you like I am living the dream?


In short, no.  I look spent, completely used up, and nearly dead.  Which is exactly how I felt that day in that moment.  I was trying to get a 3:30 marathon time to qualify for the Boston Marathon and on this day, I came up short.  I was utterly exhausted and dehydrated as well.  I had my wife Norma, my brother Scott, and my friend Tim all there to support me and I felt like I let them down because I did not do what I came there to do.  I went all out and I did not achieve my goal.

The thing is, I often work like this as well.  I go all out and wind up looking like I am spent, used up, and just hanging on by a thread.  I don’t imagine it is attractive to others and I don’t believe it conveys an image of success.  It does not look like I am living the dream.

Or does it?  Is it possible to be spending yourself entirely, to be going all out, to go after your goals with abandon AND to be living the dream at the same time?  Is it possible that this look of exhaustion is also a look of living the dream?

What would living the dream look like for you?  Would it be a smile of contentment as you sit back and relax in a lawn chair sipping a cold drink

Use a Game to Motivate

Last year I wrote the short blurb below in my monthly newsletter. It is about using games to motivate ourselves or our teams.

One trick we can use to get us fired up about our goals is to make a game of them. Even better is to find competitors who will spur us on. Most of us like to compete though many of us are undercover about our competitiveness. Competition can help us to quickly ramp up our game! Find someone who is doing something similar and make it your goal to beat them. Or, create a friendly wager that will spur you both on.

Tshirt qualifier v1 copy

One little-known secret behind my success in qualifying for the 2007 Boston Marathon was that my wife Norma qualified in October 2006. I felt like she was walking around the house, gloating, with a t-shirt on that said she qualified! It really got to me when she began making travel arrangements to go to Boston for the race without me. The thought of her going to Boston without me spurred me on. I was sad and angry and I didn’t want to get left behind and that was the push I needed to qualify. I ran in Las Vegas in December of 2006 and missed my qualifying time by 12 minutes. I was ready to give up when I thought about her and that shirt. I signed up for the New Orleans Marathon and ran that at the end of February 2007, and made my time with only 90 seconds to spare!


I took my own advice recently when I found myself stuck and I was reminded how powerful this concept is, at least for me. I had committed to running the 2009 Chicago Marathon to raise money for charity. The running part was hard – I had an 18-week training plan that built from 15 miles to 40 miles in a week!


As hard as that sounds, I found that the other part of the commitment was even harder – asking people to contribute money to the cause. Now my particular cause was an easy one to get behind. I am raising money for RISE International to build a primary school in rural Angola Africa where none exists today. However, I still found myself very stuck or scared to reach out to people and ask for help. With less than 6 weeks to go before the race, I had only raised $250 and that was from my own brother.


So I made a game out of it. I challenged a good friend and fellow runner Tim to a fundraising competition.   For the last 6 weeks leading up to the race, we would track the donations each of us received. Each week, the person who raised the least would contribute $20 to the campaign of the other. We also set up an overall competition where the person who raised the least overall would take the other and his wife out to dinner.


Did it motivate me? You’d better believe it. The idea of competing with someone got me moving and willing to push through my fear. The contest was on my mind and I began to think creatively about who to contact for help and what to say. I found myself checking where I was versus my competitor multiple times throughout the day.

RISE Leader Board

The results have been great. Over the last 4 weeks, I went from raising $250 to raising over $6,600.  My friend and competitor Tim raised $8,600.  Together, we raised over $15,000 and I know that is more than either of us expected at the start.  Though it now seems likely I will have to concede the overall contest, I put up a good fight and won two of the weekly competitions.


I challenge you to give it some thought as to how to use competition to motivate yourself or others.  When people are stuck or scared, how can you make it a game?  Where would a friendly competition bring out the best in you?




Forrester Research Puts Emotional Intelligence At Top Of List of PM Capabilities

A recent article in CIO magazine emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence to IT project managers.  The article refers to a recent report from Forrester Analyst Mary Gerush titled, “Define, Hire and Develop Your Next Generation Project Managers“.  As a result of her research, Analyst Gerush published a list of the top 10 Capabilities of Next Generation Project Managers.

I am not sure exactly what Ms. Gerush meant by “Next Generation Project Managers” or how helpful I find that distinction.  In my experience, these key capabilities apply to all project managers, current and Next Generation.

Strikingly, emotional intelligence dominates the list of 10 capabilities needed by these Next Generation Project Managers.  Not only was Emotional Intelligence listed as the #1 capability, the next three were all part of the Framework for Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.  For more background on emotional intelligence for project managers, read this previous post.

#1 – Emotional Intelligence: The ability to pick up on events and interactions (both verbal and non-verbal) and to process those inputs in the context of the project plan.  (Note:  These are addressed in the framework in the domains of Self-awareness and Social Awareness.)

#2 – Adaptive Communication: The ability to articulate one’s ideas–whether orally or in writing–to a range of individuals, groups, and cultures using the most effective communication techniques for each group. (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Team Leadership.)

#3 – People Skills: The ability to quickly build and maintain positive relationships with team members and stakeholders. (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Relationship Management.)

#4 – Management Skills: The ability to serve, motivate and focus a team and to foster collaboration among team members.  (Note:  This is addressed in the framework under the domain of Team Leadership.)

If you want to immediately make an impact on your own capabilities in these 4 areas, you can read through the previous posts on this site and boost your understanding of emotional intelligence and how to apply it to project management.

Here are the rest of the 10 capabilities of Next Generation Project Managers as defined in the article at CIO Magazine:

#5 – Flexibility: The willingness and ability to change one’s approach to project management and/or course of action in response to business needs.

#6 – Business Savvy: Knowledge of the organization’s business, strategy and industry. Ability to understand a strategy and align tactical work around that strategy.

#7 – Analytical Skills: The ability to think through problems and decisions.

#8 – Customer Focus: The ability to understand the end-user or end customer’s needs and the drive to ensure that projects meet those needs.

#9 – Results-Orientation: The ability to get things done efficiently and effectively.

#10 – Character: The project manager should have an appealing personality and a strong moral and ethical character.

You can order a copy of the report from Forrester here:  Define, Hire and Develop Your Next Generation Project Managers.  Just be prepared to shell out $499.  As an alternative, you could buy my book (Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers) at for $16.04 and save yourself $485.  That seems pretty intelligent to me.  But then again, I think I might be a Last Generation Project Manager.



What is the Worst that Could Happen?

This is a post about the importance of optimism. I recently came to appreciate the role that optimism, or lack of it, plays in my life.

My outlook on life is largely shaped by the last few things that have happened to me.  I tend to take my most recent experience, and extrapolate a continuation of that into the future.  If a couple of good things have happened to me in that last day or two, I tend to think that trend will continue and I am very positive about the future. And that is great because when I feel positive and optimistic, I also tend to be more confident, I assert myself more clearly, and I take more risks.  These traits help me to perform better at work and at home.


The opposite of this also occurs.  When I have a couple of negative things happen in a row, I tend to extrapolate that and feel very negative and pessimistic about the future.  I find that I am in a ‘bad mood’ and I tend to do things which are unproductive.  I take fewer risks, I act more cautiously, and I tend to try to be more politically correct.  I also project negative feelings and intent on others and I isolate from them.


Most of the things that influence my mood are external to me, and that is a problem.  For example, I have noticed lately how much the ups and downs of the US stock market affect my mood and outlook.  The market has wild swings of 3-4 % in a day and +/- 10% in a week.  When the market goes up, I feel positive about the future.  When it goes down, I feel pessimistic about the future.  The irony is that while the change in the stock market may affect my meager retirement savings, it has absolutely no impact on my life today.  Right now, it makes no difference if it goes up or down.

The real challenge for me is that I tend to put more emphasis on the negative than the positive.  This is especially acute when there are a couple of negative events in combination.  For example, consider the hat trick when the stock market goes down, I get into an argument with someone, and I learn that my job may be at risk.  This is when I cannot see anything but negativity far into the future.  I see myself as isolated, out of work, unable to meet my financial commitments, and ultimately going bankrupt.  And though the consequences are improbable and far into the future, I feel them today in the here and now.


The irony is, my feelings of pessimism in the here and now cause me to act in ways that are not only counter-productive, they also have the potential to be self-fulfilling prophecies. That is, my negative thought patterns cause me to behave in ways that ensure the negative things that I fear actually happen in the future.  If I think negative, I make negative things happen.


By the way, there is actually a name for this behavior and it is called catastrophizing.  Catastrophizing a form of cognitive disorder, also called stinking thinking, defined in Wikipedia as:

Catastrophizing – Inability to foresee anything other than the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or experiencing a situation as unbearable or impossible when it is just uncomfortable.


So what do I need to do to overcome catastrophizing?  Here are some of the things that I need to do that you might also find helpful.


  1. Get in touch.  One of the most important emotional intelligence skills is to be aware of our feelings.  This catastrophizing behavior is one way for me to dodge my feelings.  Some feelings are painful and on some subconscious level, I want to protect myself from feeling them.  By focusing on the stock market or other external events, I can avoid feeling scared or hurt or angry right now.
  2. Recognize what I get out of the behavior.  By focusing on external events and potential negative events in the future, I get to avoid feeling my feelings in the here and now.  On some level, I am also lowering my expectations.  When I think that failure is imminent, I give myself permission to stop trying.  I give up on my goals and on myself.
  3. Cut it out!  My mentor will often say to me, “stop indulging yourself”.  He’s right – sometimes I need to just recognize what I am doing and stop it right then and there.  I need to give myself a shake and get over it.
  4. Laugh at myself.  I find that laughter tends to help me feel better pretty much any time.  It is especially helpful when I can look at myself and see how ridiculous I am.
  5. Orient to the truth of my life and feel grateful.  For me, this is about reminding myself of the successes I have had over the years and feeling grateful for them.  Some people use a gratitude list for this.  I have never experienced any of the various negative or catastrophic events that I fear up to this point.  In fact, I have actually had many successes and positive experiences.  When I stop and focus on the positive things that I am grateful for, it is easy to ignore or push the negative events out of my mind.
  6. Learn from everything.  One of the great lessons for me from the Mindset book by Carol Dweck is that we can continually learn and grow, even from negative events in our lives.  When I see life as an extended learning process, I let go of success and failure and tend to be more grounded in the here and now.

As always, I am interested in your reactions and comments.  If you are interested in learning more about stinking thinking, I’ve written about the following cognitive disorders in my book:

  • All or nothing thinking
  • Always and Never
  • Being Negative
  • Filling in the Blanks
  • Should Statements
  • Personalization and Blame



Tips for Leading Agile Teams with Emotional Intelligence

As I noted in my last post, I am working on the second edition of Emotional Intelligence for Project Managers.  Thankfully, I was able to send the manuscript on time today, so that is no longer hanging over my head!

The second edition includes a new chapter on Success with Agile Teams.  Anyone who has used Agile methods though will attest to the fact that leading Agile teams is not the same as leading traditional teams.  Agile teams are expected to be self-organizing. This doesn’t mean there are no leaders,
but it requires a style of leadership that is less prescriptive and more supportive.  It is often called Servant Leadership, and it requires a lot of emotional intelligence.

I ended the new chapter in the book with the following 9 tips for leading Agile Teams with Emotional Intelligence.  I’d love to hear your feedback on these.

  1. Evaluate your level of Command and Controlism.  Take a step back and really evaluate the ways you use command and control.  Are you holding back the teams you lead by trying to control them?  If you are having trouble seeing it in yourself, note whether you see it in others.  Or, ask those you trust to provide you with accurate feedback on your behavior.
  2. Proactively step back and let others step up.  Try stepping back and letting others decide what to do.  Spend less time trying to force your will on others, or to manipulate them to do what you think they should do.  Trust that whatever they do, they will learn from their behavior.
  3. Say less; a lot less.  Rather than always being the first to speak up, trying shutting up and listening more.  Really tune in to what others say, rather than your own internal chatter, or simply waiting for your chance to speak.  See where the leadership comes from when you don’t hog all the airtime.  Try the empathetic listening techniques we’ve discussed in the blog and in Chapter 5 of the book.
  4. Practice some form of daily mindfulness.  This is important for all PMs, but it is especially important for leaders of Agile Teams.  Whether you use meditation, prayer, journaling, or some other technique, establish this as a daily practice that you do to be clear with yourself before you engage with the team.  Put to use some of those Self-Awareness techniques discussed in this blog.
  5. Get underneath your fear.  Most of us who feel the need to control do so out of fear and many of our fears are irrational or unwarranted.  Look below the surface to see if you can determine what you are afraid of.  I know for me this is usually a fear of failure.  I am afraid that the team will fail and that it will reflect poorly on me.  Some of us also fear a loss of relevance.  After all, if the team can do great work or come up with great ideas without me, what value do I have?  Dig deep into what your underlying fears are so that you can understand how those are affecting your behaviors within the team.
  6. Use Jedi Mind Tricks – When it comes to decisions, put the decision back on the team rather than jumping in and making the decisions for them.  Try holding back on your own opinion even when asked.  Take time to pause and to ask the team, “What do you think we should do?”.  You might be surprised at what they say.  Or you might say, “Is anyone else feeling the pressure to decide right now besides me?”
  7. That’s a Great Idea! – Some of us are so hungry to be affirmed, that we often find it hard to accept new ideas or perspectives from others.  We’re used to saying things like, “that is a good idea BUT it won’t work because of… “.  To overcome this type of behavior, practice saying “That’s a great idea!”, and then look for every opportunity to say it. It may not come easy.
  8. Use Positive Regard with Everyone – See the team at its very best, not necessarily in their worst moment.  Know that the team will rise to the occasion when they need to; that they will learn from their experience, and that they will get better over time.  Hold each member of the team, and the team as a whole, with high positive regard.
  9. Be a Servant Leader – Agile team leaders, Program Managers, and Functional Managers all need to support the agile team.  They frequently need to serve as a buffer between the Agile team and the rest of the organization.  Tune in to the organizational norms that run counter to Agile and run interference for the team.  Help streamline mandatory documentation or other PMO requirements do that the Agile Team can be empowered and self-organizing.

I’ve mentioned this before, but a great resource for Agile project managers, coaches, program managers, and functional managers is Lyssa Adkins 2010 book, Coaching Agile Teams; A Companion for ScrumMasters, Agile Coaches, and Project Managers in Transition. Lyssa provides many ideas for supporting Agile teams, overcoming command and controlism, and leading ourselves.

I’d love to hear your comments, whether you are an agile project manager or one who is using more traditional methods.