10 Emotional Intelligence Tips to Survive and Thrive This Month

In my December Monthly EQ Newsletter for Project Managers, I identified 10 tips for surviving the month and the holidays.  I’ve received so much feedback about these tips that I am going to share them with you as well.  If you would like to get the monthly newsletter, please sign up at the Project Advisors Group home page.

Christtmas_carol December can be a really tough emotional intelligence month.  It may be a happy time but it may also be a sad and lonely time due to some of the unique challenges this month brings:

  • Work – There may be major challenges to working during this month including blackout dates, weather and travel problems, and numerous people out of the office for vacations and illnesses.  For those of us trying to accomplish project work, December can be a trying month.
  • Holidays – The demands of the holidays include last minute gift buying, home decorating, attending events and parties, and hosting parties all of which can be extremely stressful.
  • Family – There’s nothing like family to bring out the best and worst in us.  Your relatives know your vulnerabilities and are adept at pushing your buttons.  And blended families have their added stresses during the holidays.

How can we take responsibility for our emotional well being during this challenging time?  I’ve written these ten tips and immediate action steps to help you take charge of your emotional well-being so that you not only survive but thrive during this month and the holiday season.

Ten Tips for Emotional Responsibility This Month

Tip #1 – Be emotionally aware. 

Strive to be as aware as possible of your feelings.  This may be obvious if we are exploding with anger or jumping with joy.  But we also need to pay attention to a dull ache in our stomach, a looming sense of dread, or a negative cloud around people or events.  Don’t ignore or numb out from your feelings.

Do Now:  Take action to protect yourself during this season.  A helpful reminder of common emotional hot buttons is the HALT acronym.  HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired.  When we are feeling any of those things, we are extremely vulnerable emotionally.  We can easily go off on someone or have an emotional breakdown.  Try to recognize when you are vulnerable and take steps to remedy the situation.

Tip #2 – Drink with care.

Alcohol can serve to numb or detach you from your emotions and hence is the reason many people use (and abuse) it.  Detaching from emotions is not a success strategy!  Better to use your awareness of emotions to figure out what they are trying to tell you.  And be especially careful about drinking at the company holiday party!  Don’t finish the year on a down note by overindulging with those you work with.

Tip #3 – Plan Ahead.

Make plans to do the things you want to do or get together with people you want.  Don’t wait for things to happen to you or react to the invitations of others, make plans to do the things that you find nurturing.

Do Now:  Get out the calendar now and block out the time for the activities and events that you want to do and that you find nourishing.  Be prepared to say no to invitations that don’t nourish you; you aren’t obligated to attend any events you don’t want to attend.

Tip #4 – Work Ahead.

There is often a lot to be done around the holidays.  We have to prepare for parties, buy gifts, run errands, and attend events.  If you tend to procrastinate, choose to do it differently this year.  Get in front of the curve with your gift buying.  Make a list of who you need to buy for and tackle it early on.  Shop online to make it even easier.  A closet full of wrapped and labeled gifts will leave you feeling more peaceful and happy and help you to give to others with a cheerful heart, instead of a resentful one.  It truly is better to give than receive especially when you are out in front of it.

Do Now:  Buy an extra gift or two and keep them aside in case there is someone you forgot.  (I recommend you make it something you will like in case you don’t have to give it away!).

Tip #5 – Prepare Yourself. 

It helps to prepare yourself for the likely emotional moments you may experience during the holidays.  For example, you may already have a pretty good idea if you are likely to bump into your ex-spouse, your lecherous Uncle Jim, or your arch-enemy.  I don’t suggest you put on a happy face or a mask when you see them, but prepare yourself mentally so you are not surprised or caught off guard.

Do Now:  If you anticipate conflict with a specific person, role play it ahead of time with your spouse or a friend.  Choose and practice an ideal or graceful response to that person well before you run into them.  By role-playing in advance, you’ll increase the likelihood of responding to that person in a way that will make you feel good.

Tip #6 – Be in Community. 

Make it a point to choose to be in community rather than be alone during this month.  Reach out, take a risk and invite others to be with you or invite yourself to join them.  Create the outcomes you want instead of being a victim to circumstances.

Do Now:  Take the time now to create a list of people that you want to connect with over the holidays and make plans or reach out to them now.

Tip #7 – Get Support. 

For some people, the holidays can be a lonely time.  This may be your first Christmas alone due to death, separation, or divorce.  Be prepared for loneliness.  Reach out for SUPPORT as you need it throughout the holidays.

Do Now:  Make a list of the people you will reach out to for support.  Call now and let them know that you might be calling them over the holidays.

Tip #8 – Nurture Yourself.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself and do the things that help you to stay balanced.  For some, taking care of yourself could be exercising, sleeping in, attending a play or going to the movies.

Do Now:  I encourage you to take some time off work for the holidays.  Though this may be a slow time or a time to get something done at work while others are away, this may not be as nurturing for you as staying home and enjoying time with friends and family.

Tip #9 – Exercise.

Exercising has benefits on many levels.  The endorphins that come from exercise stay with us throughout the day.  We have more energy and stamina when we exercise.  Exercising will also help you to feel less guilty if you overeat during the holidays.

Do Now:  If you have an exercise routine, stick with it during this busy season.  If you have stopped exercising, re-restart now instead of waiting until for January and an additional five or ten pounds.  If possible, exercise outdoors.  While December can be a cold winter month for many people, exercising outdoors during daylight hours will help you to fight depression.  Even a short walk with a friend will go a long way toward lifting your mood.  Dress for the weather (and in layers) so that you are comfortable as you walk.

Tip #10 – Reflect. 

The end of the year can be a great time to boost your spirits by reflecting on your successes for the year.  Make some notes on those things that you are most proud of.  Don’t indulge yourself in thinking about negative things that happened during the year.

Do Now:  Consider sending a handwritten note to those people who contributed to your success.

I encourage you to take action now on as many of these tips as possible to set yourself up for a great month.  By thinking ahead and working ahead, we can make this month the best in the year.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Anthony Mersino

A Bad Day at the Lake is Better Than a Good Day at Work

I was out running the other morning about 6:00am and I noticed some guys out fishing in the lagoons near my house.  Out of nowhere, I remembered a beer can huggie that I used to have about 20 years ago.  It said, “A bad day at the lake is better than a good day at work”.

Huggie 02 copy Wow, I guess you could say that things have changed for me in the last 20 years.  I used to believe in that approach.  Work was not necessarily fun or rewarding, it was something you did in order to be able to pay for the things that you really enjoyed.  In the early Eighties there was even a popular Loverboy song that captured the thinking, “Everybody is Working for the Weekend”.  What a waste of our valuable life energy.

My current philosophy is that work should be fun.  Your work should be something you are passionate about, something that brings you energy and aliveness.  I feel lucky in my role as a recovery project manager because it plays to my strengths and it great fun.  I am working with people I like and respect and the work is challenging yet very rewarding.  I am happy and excited to head into work each day.

If your work isn’t fun and energizing, then you probably aren’t enjoying it much.  And you probably are transmitting that message indirectly through your emotions and body language as well as directly through your comments.  You are certainly attracting other like-minded individuals and creating an image or brand for yourself which is very negative.

If your best days are somewhere other than work, I strongly recommend that you find new work.  Perhaps you need to be on the lake – as the captain or hired hand on a boat charter.  Perhaps you need to be teaching children or painting pictures or growing organic tomatoes.  Figure out what makes you alive, energized, and hopping out of bed in the morning and go do it with passion.



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 Amazon.com 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.



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.






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



Committing to a Year of Risk-Taking and Failure

I am committed to changing my relationship with failure.  Failure was something I was deathly afraid for most of my early life.  I think I was 30 years old before I took any serious risks at all and that included leaving a secure job at IBM, moving to Chicago, and getting divorced.  That year of risk-taking was one of the most important and formative years of my entire life.  But before we go further into failure and risk-taking, I have a small confession.

I think that I love Seth Godin.  Yes, it is true.  I don’t mean that I am in love with Seth Godin, just that I love what he writes and find myself inspired by it.  Every day I find myself excited to find something from his blog in my inbox.

Lately, I’ve been struck how often Seth writes about failing.  Maybe I even love him more when he talks about failing.  It may be that I have been thinking about failure more or that my mentor Rich Blue has been talking more about failure, and all of a sudden I am seeing it everywhere.  In any case, I noticed what seemed like a trend so I went back through Seth’s blog posts to see what he had actually written about failure.  Here is a somewhat random dozen of my favorites snippets from his blogs on failure:

1/17/2008: Is it worthy?
Our birthright is to fail and to fail often but to fail in search of something bigger than we can imagine. To do anything else is to waste it all.

1/18/2010: Unrealized projects
[writing about director Tim Burton] One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen…The other: fail. Fail often. Dream big and don’t make it. Not every time, anyway. 2/27/2010: Genius is misunderstood as a bolt of lightning
Genius is actually the eventual public recognition of dozens (or hundreds) of failed attempts at solving a problem. Sometimes we fail in public, often we fail in private, but people who are doing creative work are constantly failing.

7/16/2010: A hierarchy of failure worth following
Not all failures are the same. Here are five kinds, from frequency = good all the way to please-don’t!

FAIL OFTEN: Ideas that challenge the status quo. Proposals. Brainstorms. Concepts that open doors.
FAIL FREQUENTLY: Prototypes. Spreadsheets. Sample ads and copy.
FAIL OCCASIONALLY: Working mockups. Playtesting sessions. Board meetings.
FAIL RARELY: Interactions with small groups of actual users and customers.
FAIL NEVER: Keeping promises to your constituents.
1/17/2011: Cashing the check
The opportunity to step up and to fail (and then to fail again, and to fail again) and to continue failing until we succeed is greater now than it has ever been.

4/14/2011: How to fail
All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.

5/3/2011: Hard work vs. Long work
Hard work is frightening. We shy away from hard work because inherent in hard work is a risk. Hard work is hard because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up. You fail at hard work when you don’t make an emotional connection, or when you don’t solve the problem or when you hesitate.

10/5/2011: Failures and the dip
In the Dip, I’m arguing that big successes happen when people with good taste see the failures, evolve and keep pushing anyway. The good taste comes when you know the difference between failures that are better off forgotten and failures that are merely successes that haven’t grow up yet.

12/18/2011: The difference between a failure and a mistake
A failure is a project that doesn’t work, an initiative that teaches you something at the same time the outcome doesn’t move you directly closer to your goal. A mistake is either a failure repeated, doing something for the second time when you should have known better, or a misguided attempt (because of carelessness, selfishness or hubris) that hindsight reminds you is worth avoiding. We need a lot more failures, I think. Failures that don’t kill us make us bolder, and teach us one more way that won’t work, while opening the door to things that might. School confuses us, so do bosses and families. Go ahead, fail. Try to avoid mistakes, though.

1/9/2012: Out on a limb
That’s where artists do their work. Not in the safe places, but out there, in a place where they might fail, where it might end badly, where connections might be lost, sensibilities might be offended, jokes might not be gotten.

1/29/2012: Prepared to fail
“We’re hoping to succeed; we’re okay with failure. We just don’t want to land in between.”
–David Chang
He’s serious. Lots of people say this, but few are willing to put themselves at risk, which destroys the likelihood of success and dramatically increases the chance of in between.

Which brings me back to my mentor Rich Blue and his recent failure kick.  He keeps encouraging me to live a big life by saying, “if you aren’t failing then you are not taking enough risks”.  (I would also mention that I love Rich Blue but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me!)  It was Rich that introduced me to the Mindset book by Carol Dweck.

In this book, Dr. Dweck thoroughly explores our beliefs about our abilities, our growth, and about learning new things.   These beliefs form the ‘mindset’ that we carry about ourselves and others.  There is a fixed mindset that says that people are born with certain traits and abilities and that defines the full extent of their capabilities.  Then there is a growth mindset which believes that people will continue to grow and develop through their own efforts.

Individuals with a fixed mindset tend to avoid failure at all costs.  To fail means to define yourself as a failure.  So as you can imagine, taking risks or trying something new isn’t practiced by those with a fixed mindset.  I think this pretty well describes the first 30 years of my life.

Individuals with a growth mindset tend to value taking risks and being willing to fail.  They see failure as an opportunity to learn about what is not working or to adjust their approach.

The concept of failure is also pretty big in agile development, an area that I have been exploring a lot lately.  In fact, a key saying from agile is “fail fast”.  This is often used to justify pulling the plug on risky projects sooner rather than before a major investment has been sunk.  (Note:  I think we have to be cautious about this application because it could also lead to pulling the plug too early, or not fully throwing yourself into a project or initiative, just because it is risky.)  I think the description from James Shore in the Art of Agile Development is the one that I like the best:

Failing fast applies to all aspects of your work, to examples as small as buying a bag of a new type of coffee bean rather than a crate. It frees you from worrying excessively about whether a decision is good or bad. If you’re not sure, structure your work so that you expose errors as soon as they occur. If it fails, let it fail quickly, rather than lingering in limbo. Either way, invest only as much time and as many resources as you need to be sure of your results.

With these principles guiding your decisions, you’ll fear failure less. If failure doesn’t hurt, then it’s OK to fail. You’ll be free to experiment and take risks. Capitalize on this freedom: if you have an idea, don’t speculate about whether it’s a good idea—try it! Create an experiment that will fail fast, and see what happens.

I just spent the previous 3.5 years doing so-so consulting work for a great client. Unfortunately, I became quite complacent during this time and I took very few risks. I wrote less than previously, spoke less, and read less. I CREATED LESS!  I was not challenging myself, I was not taking risks, and I was not failing fast. When a colleague mentioned to me last year that he was reading one business book a week, I was incredulous. “It can’t be done,” I thought as I silently reflected on my own 1-book-every-2-months pace. (Since the beginning of this year, I have put myself to the task and found I could actually complete 2 or even 3 books in a week when I applied myself.)

I am committed to changing my relationship with failure.  2012 is going to be a year of ramping up the risks and the failure rate.  I am going to live like it is 1993 again (sans the painful divorce!).  I am going to fail fast.  I started last month with a new certification and partnering with two different consulting firms.  I am reading, and writing.  (If you are an agile enthusiast, please note that I have launched a new website specifically about agile and program management at www.vitalitychicago.com. )

Stay tuned here for more.  And do please let me know what risks you are taking this year.  I hope they are big ones!


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.