Saturday, March 6, 2010

Nice Guys Directing Traffic Become Road Kill

From a professional blog co-authored by Judge Wyld.
A Judge Wyld post.

The ‘nice guys finish last’ is not an empty cliché. A nice person can be conflicted when trying to lead.

Situation: You are a ‘Nice Person’ who is a beginning Project Manager. You may be leading a multi-discipline team. Some of the experts whom you will rely on are very nice also. No problem.

Problem: One or two people on your team are running down the wrong road. So what is steering them there?

1. Their own perspectives and self-awareness.

Experienced people may stand firm on their professional or personal principles. They just can’t follow your approach to some aspect of the project.

2. Their ‘other bosses’ priorities.

Over committed people have no time to properly contribute to your project and the ‘other bosses’ really don’t want to share a prized expert. They miss information put out in meetings, they skip over your emails, their answering machine is a galactic black hole that you toss your voice into, and even face-to-face they can not commit to your project tasks and timelines.

3. Their spouse. (Or other strong personal life interest or influence.)

Obstacles may be declared such as the dreaded, “can’t finish THAT today; need to leave early to go get a hitch installed on the truck for my family’s two-week vacation starting tomorrow.”

Challenge: The Project Manager tries to find reliable ways to achieve project success. What challenges cause the ‘nice person’ to hesitate to firmly direct the wayward traffic?

A. No authority to fire or punish the wrong-way team member.

Rewarding does not apply if the other person is determined to not cooperate. Textbook answers say to get the Sponsor’s help.

B. Stigma of not being able to accomplish a project on your own.

Asking for help each time you have a personnel performance issue can give you a reputation for not being an effective leader. Textbook answers say to get the Sponsor’s help.

C. Self-image of being a nice person who thinks the best of team members and allows for different ‘workstyles.’

Assuming the best motives of the team member and rationalizing their lack of cooperation will make the situation worse. Nice people fail when they hope a persistent deficiency will be resolved in some low key way on its own without ever having bad feelings.

Unavoidable Truth: A nice person wants to get along and will give undue respect to others even when they are running down the wrong road. A nice person tends to run with them awhile to see if where they are going is good. But eventually, no matter how a project manager intends to cover their tracks, the project manager will be responsible for the extra cost, extended schedule, and lack of performance. There are no guaranteed answers. A PM must know upfront that having responsibility to rule the road with no authority or personal strength to direct the traffic, will lead to becoming ‘project manager road kill.’

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