[Apple – (Steve Jobs) = Dell]

I don’t normally follow the market too closely but recently noticed that the value of my Apple stock was declining faster than the overall market.  Analysts have speculated that concerns over Steve Job’s health and lack of viable successor have caused the decline.  The thinking goes like this: with Jobs, Apple is able to produce hot-selling products, such as the MacBook, that sell for 2X what competitors like Dell are able to charge.  Without Jobs, Apple’s products (and stock value) are on par with Dell’s.

If the analysts are correct about the reasons for the drop in stock value, the market has placed the cost of the lack of viable succession plan for Steve Job’s in the range of $5B to $8B.  Forks, that is a lot of iPhones and iPods.

The articles I read reminded me of the value of succession planning for project managers and other leaders.  Do you have a viable succession plan?  Do you recognize the cost to you and your team if you don’t?  If you are the one indispensable part of your team, then you limit the team’s ability to take on new challenges.  You have also limited your ability to take on new challenges.

For those of you who do not have a succession plan, my guess is that you are scared.  I know for me, I like to be perceived as the guy who gets it done.  My dark secret is that I fantasize about being so important and valuable to the team that they cannot live without me.  I want nothing more than to hear, “we couldn’t do it without you Anthony”, or, “you are the key to our success”.  This line of thinking believes that if someone else could step into my shoes, then I must not be very valuable.

Of course, that is really just my ego talking and that would be a very foolhardy approach.  I probably acted that way when I was in the early part of my career, but now I know better.  I don’t want to be the critical linchpin of the team.  What I want is to create the most effective team possible and turn them loose to achieve the goals of my customers.  In the process, I want them to grow in their abilities and I want to continue to grow as a project manager and leader.

I think I am doing a pretty good job of succession planning.  For example, I have been leading a large IT program since June of this year.  Two weeks ago, I offered to take on a leadership role for two troubled projects and I transitioned the IT program to my deputy.  We made the transition in a week with very little formal communication.

I think the reason for the smooth transition was that we had prepared for this.  I had delegated a large share of the project management and leadership responsibilities to him.  I let him lead; rather, I expected him to lead and supported him to step up to leadership in various areas.  He ran the daily standup calls.  He ran the overall program schedule.  And he was my backup when I was not in the office.  Even though he was my subordinate, he was able to quickly step up to overall leadership for the program because we had shared the leadership and program management roles.

I challenge you to pause and to evaluate your own succession planning.  Are you grooming the team under you so that one or more of them can take over for you?  Are you delegating work, giving them assignments, and assessing their strengths and weaknesses on a regular basis?

If you are not, evaluate what it is that you fear.  Do you fear being replaceable or being replaced?  Do you fear not being perceived as valuable?  The cost to you and your team may not be in the billions of dollars, but I guarantee you that it is pretty high.



Build Effective Relationships…with Everyone

This post is part of my series called “Soft Skills for Hard Times; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess”.  My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from within and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.

In the movie the Godfather II, Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, says that his father taught him to “keep his friends close and his enemies closer”.


I think the point he was trying to make is that we need to build effective relationships with others.  In particular, we need to be attentive to building relationships with those we don’t consider our friends, who don’t like us or we don’t like, those who are different from us, or those who intimidate us.

Think about the spectrum of people that you interact with on a regular basis.  At the highest level, you have the ones that you like and the ones you don’t like.  Of that second group, you have people that you don’t know very well, people that you are sure don’t like you, people that are too busy too spend time with you, people that are self-focused and disinterested in you and your success, and the people who for any reason seem to send out a signal that says “please go away and stay away”.  (BTW, I used to send those signals myself.)

It is natural for us to spend the majority of our time with people we DO LIKE and that LIKE US and to avoid or spend no time with people that we DON’T LIKE or DON’T LIKE US.  While it might be natural, this may be the exact opposite of how we should approach relationships.

In the past year, I worked for 3 different companies and led 2 different projects and 3 programs.  With the exception of two people, every resource on those 5 teams was a brand new relationship for me.  I am probably unique in terms of project managers.  But I think I know something about building stakeholder relationships and doing it quickly and effectively.  I make relationship-building a priority because it is critical to my success.

I still struggle though when it comes to building relationships with certain people.  I put them last on my list when returning calls. I dread my next interaction with them.  I grind my teeth when they speak up at meetings.  My stomach turns when I see their caller id on my phone.

The Godfather knew what he was talking about when he said to ‘keep your enemies closer’.  I admit that I struggle with this but I do know the way out – we need to invest in those relationships that are difficult.  This means to invest in getting to know the people that are tough instead of avoiding them.

There are a couple of tools that I use to help with this – a strengths and weakness assessment and a stakeholder matrix.  I will talk about strengths and weaknesses in an upcoming post.  Read on for more information about using a stakeholder matrix.

The stakeholder matrix is a helpful way to collect and organize information about our team, sponsor, key contributors and any other stakeholders involved in our projects and programs.  Some of the key pieces of information I recommend collecting includes:

  • Stakeholder Priority
  • Position toward you (positive, neutral, negative)
  • Role on the Project
  • Stakeholder Objectives
  • Facts, Passion, and Areas of Interest
  • Communications Style

The key benefit that I see in the use of the matrix is to keep us honest.  By putting it together in one place, we can get a clear view of the state of our relationships.  When we begin to look across our projects and programs and compare our relationships, we can see the patterns where we have inconsistencies in relationships.  Sometimes we think we do a good job with all our relationships, however, without some sort of tracking mechanism, we don’t really know.

I often have workshop participants complete the stakeholder matrix as an exercise.  Inevitably, they are surprised at how little they know about specific team members or other stakeholders.

Stakeholder Management Tool Completed v2

Get in touch with me if you would like a blank stakeholder analysis template through my website here.  Use it to catalog your current relationships and identify those that are in the most trouble or are the most challenging to build.  Then, one relationship at a time, take steps to address those relationships that are hardest for you or in the worst shape.

Action Steps:

  1. Download the stakeholder analysis tool and complete it for your current project or team.
  2. Identify those relationships that are difficult for you and what it is that makes them difficult.  It is because people don’t like you, they avoid you, you are intimidated, or they are too busy?  Try to be as specific as possible.  Rank order the relationships from best to worst.
  3. Pick just one of those relationships to start with and make an investment.  There are plenty of posts on relationship building here on this blog to give you ideas.  But the simplest way to build the relationship is to spend some time with the other person.
  4. Treat your relationship building efforts as a game.  Give yourself points every day when you do well and deduct points when you don’t.  Have fun with it.

Please stop back and post a comment about your relationship building struggles and successes.





When in Doubt, be Nice!

Last week, a good friend and mentor of mine overheard a conversation I was having with one of the team leads on my program.  I was not satisfied with the leader’s performance and I was not nice in my remarks about what I expected.  My friend observed the exchange between me and the team lead and she spoke up and said: “When in doubt, be nice”.

Her comment stung.  I pride myself on my political correctness and being nice to others.  Being called out for not being nice hurt.  And she was right.

Spinner2 The truth is that I have a hard time balancing being kind and getting the results that I want.  I am not suggesting that these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive, but I think that I have placed a higher premium on one than on the other.  I choose to be nice rather than to be satisfied, and this is a real problem for me.

I was recently in a weekend workshop on growing as a leader.  While the workshop helped me to spot several strengths of mine, it also revealed to me a couple of key weaknesses:

  1. I don’t go for my own personal satisfaction; I am OK with coming up short.
  2. I am not honest with myself about my lack of satisfaction.  I am ok with feeling like a victim, rather than getting what I really want.  I don’t tell the truth about what I really feel or mean.  (For more about telling the truth, see my previous post Tell the Truth).

Going for Your Own Personal Satisfaction

Let’s start with the idea of going for your own personal satisfaction.  The principle of responsibility says that I am responsible for my actions and my outcomes.  If I don’t get the results that I want, or if I am not satisfied, that is my responsibility and mine alone. That is all great but the problem for me is this – I am OK with being dissatisfied as it gives me something to complain about, a reason to blame someone else, a way to be a victim, or just a general ‘out’ about not giving it my all.

The better approach is to go for 100% satisfaction of what I want.  This requires being clear about what it is that I want and working with others to make sure it happens.  No excuses, no complaints, and no blaming others.  Just going for what I want and not being satisfied with less.

I like what I wrote about personal satisfaction in this post from January 2009:

“Instead of seeking comfort, we should seek our own satisfaction.  In every situation, we should be monitoring our own level of satisfaction and using that as an internal gauge for whether we are doing the right thing.  My mentor Rich Blue calls this going for our 100% satisfaction.  If you seek to get 100% satisfaction out of every meeting, presentation, project assignment, and workshop, you won’t have to worry about feeling comfortable.  Being satisfied is a higher value than being comfortable.”

Let me give you a real-life example.  If you are at a restaurant and you order a salad with the dressing on the side, what are the odds that the waiter will remember and bring your salad with the dressing on the side?  I do this often and I think the odds are about 90% – that is, the waiter will correctly put the dressing on the side about 9 out of 10 times.  What happens when they don’t, and they bring the salad with the dressing already on it?  What do you do when that happens?

I know what I do – I eat the salad.  I will sometimes mutter under my breath, or make idle threats about reducing the tip, but I rarely draw attention to the fact that I did not get what I ordered and I am not 100% satisfied.  You see, I have been conditioned from an early age to be OK with that, to even expect that I will be disappointed and to minimize the importance of it.  This is not a healthy response for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it builds resentment that can surface later in undesired ways.

I don’t tell the Truth about my Satisfaction

The second big idea here is that I don’t tell the truth about my level of satisfaction. Just like with the salad, I suck it up.  Quietly.  I tell myself it is not really important, or not worth fighting about.

I am increasingly aware that I do better or worse with certain people or in certain situations.  With some people and in some situations, I have this large blindspot that I have come to think of as a form of ‘corporate denial’.  It is as though with certain people or situations, I completely toss out my expectations the idea that I could be personally satisfied.  I am unable – no, unwilling – to clearly see the truth in what is happening and orient to my own satisfaction.  A good example of this is with authority figures.

I am learning that this corporate denial has become so ingrained in me that I think of it as normal.  It is like the water in the fish tank that the fish cannot see or appreciate.

Being Nice

How does all this relate to being nice?  Well, generally I am very nice.  I am often ‘nice’ at the expense of being effective, as I can be in the restaurant example.  The problem is that while I may be nice on the surface, underneath the surface I am hurt and angry.

Let’s be clear though – being hurt and angry is what I have co-created.  It is also what I expect to happen.  The shift that I need to make is to be crystal clear about what I want and determined to have things the way that I want them.  I need to go for 100% satisfaction for myself.  This needs to be a top priority.

Spinner4 Initially, my need to go for 100% satisfaction may come at the expense of being nice.  Because I have been off balance for so long, the pendulum needs to swing the other way.  I need to have an extreme focus on my 100% satisfaction.

So for me to speak up that day and in an unkind way to challenge my team lead to do their job better, was actually a grow for me and a step in the right direction.  It wasn’t pretty, and I know that I can improve on that.  But I need to continue to get in there and be willing to be messy but insist that things be done the way that I want them done.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts and reactions, in particular, if you pride yourself on being a nice guy ora nice girl.






How Happiness affects High Performing Teams

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune discussed the topic of happiness.  Based on research by Jack Bauer, associate professor at the University of Dayton, the article provided some interesting tips for those interested in happiness.  In this post, we look at those tips for pursuing happiness and we apply those to leading high-performing teams.

Happiness is an elusive emotion. How do we go about being happy?  Is that a choice, that is, can we simply choose to be happy instead of feeling sad or angry?  If so, the question for many of us is this “why can’t we just be happy?”.

Which is a great question.  Why can’t we just be happy?  The research by Jack Bauer and others indicates that happiness is not something that we seek directly, but that we achieve indirectly through other things.  Here are some of the key findings from the research:

  • Happiness flows from engaging in activities in which we are totally immersed; when we lose ourselves.
  • Happiness is rising to a challenge that we have the capacity to meet.  When we tackle something difficult and our skills are up to the challenge, happiness tends to flow.  It is when we are working toward personal mastery, rather than performance.
  • Happiness is more likely to to be experienced in community with others, rather then when we are alone and isolated.  This was an overarching theme of the research.
  • Happiness was more likely when people were doing things that were personally meaningful or for the greater human good, rather than for our own personal goals or for material goods.
  • The research also showed something that many have heard before, having more money doesn’t necessarily increase happiness.  Interestingly enough, the opposite is generally true.  Happy people tend to make more money for a variety of reasons including because of others like them and their work, they are more creative and optimistic. (There is actually a book that has been around for a while called, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow, which is based on this premise.)

I looked at these lessons from a personal perspective at first, then began to think through the lens of a project manager or leader.  What can we apply from this research to help our teams perform at the highest possible level?  Here are my conclusions:

#1 Know the strengths and weaknesses of your individual team members and align them with it.

If we want to align people with the right work, we need to know them inside and out.  That will help us to get people into those positions where they are doing work they like and are good at and where they are stretching themselves to meet a challenge.  Likewise, we need to avoid placing people in roles where they feel overwhelmed or not up to the challenge.  We want to be pushing people to stretch themselves in roles where they feel challenged, but not necessarily overwhelmed.

This can be a bit tricky and may require taking some risks.  On a recent program, we put a junior PM into a role leading a large outsourcing effort.  She had little PM experience and no prior experience with outsourcing and she quickly began to feel like she was in over her head.  What she overlooked was that she was very familiar with the teams that were affected, and the tasks and specific products that were being outsourced.  It was because of her unique prior experience in these areas, and her good relationships with the impacted teams that made her capable of rising to the challenge.

#2 Challenge Team Members at their Growth Edge

When we know the strengths and weaknesses of our team members, we can also push them to perform at high levels.  We can challenge them in those areas where they are up to it but need to be supported to increase their performance.

This is something I have personally experienced and written about here and in my book.  I do some of my best work when I have a mentor or coach who is supporting me, challenging me, and yes sometimes pushing me beyond what I think I can do.  It has been one of the most important things that has fueled me, encouraged me, and has resulted in the most personal growth.  My mentor Rich will often say something like, “my vision for you Anthony is that you are…”.  He holds the bar high for me when I am not able to do it for myself.

#3 Prevent Individuals from working in Isolation. 

I recognize that it is a natural tendency for many people to want to isolate and work alone.  There is an attraction for many of us to think that if we were just left to work alone, we would be happy.  (Hey, that’s exactly why I became a writer!)  In fact, people are more happy and engaged when they are working as part of a team.  So while there is a tendency to isolate, and certainly there are some tasks that naturally need to be performed by a single person, we want to avoid this if possible.  We want people working together.  As leaders, we need to build a sense of community and help team members to stay connected to the greater team.

Building community can help with happiness and actually speed the progress toward the team’s goals.  I recently had a virtual team of developers working to create programs to convert material from one format to another.  This team had a consistent track record of missing every deadline and milestone. Working together with the leader of the team, we implemented twice weekly standup calls.  What we discovered during our standup calls was a little shocking – each developer was working in near perfect isolation; they didn’t talk to each other!  While there was some level of email between them, they were largely isolated in trying to solve the collective challenges.  Our standup calls quickly became their forum for communication and they started performing as a group and actually hit a few deadlines.

#4 Help people to connect their work to the goals of the larger organization or the company. 

This is something that is important but not done very often.  People don’t get inspired by working each week for a paycheck.  They might get inspired by being part of a team that is making an impact inside their organization or out.  It is important that team members understand the bigger picture of your team goals and how their task or activity contributes toward that.  When people see the connection, they see it as for the greater good and not something that they have to do for you.

Back in 2003, I was lucky enough to get involved with a large program that was implementing systems to support education reform in the country of Qatar.  It was fascinating to me how many people wanted to join the team to be part of that work.  We capitalized on it by providing lots of information about the country of Qatar, the state of education, and the people that would be impacted by the program.  People got it, and it helped to fuel their performance.  We had a very high-performing team because everyone understood, and bought into the larger goals of the organization. We worked some incredibly long hours and met some goals that at the time seemed unachievable.  We even adopted the team slogan ‘Inconceivable!’

I am sure there are other takeaways from a leadership perspective.  As always, I am interested in your thoughts.  Cheers!



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.