In my previous post, Advice from the TOP 30 Influencers in Project Management, I defended my choice around self-awareness.
One of my friends emailed me about this post, and how she had observed that her husband constantly stresses the importance of stakeholder management. She wrote:
The Human Factor that is so often the key to success or failure and maybe even sabotage ( for the passive aggressive) in projects and organisations. I have seen academically brilliant people appointed into very senior positions and their own insecurities and lack of emotional intelligence have done untold damage to an organisation .
This prompted me to check this diagram:
Look at the description on the bottom line of this diagram, where a self-awareness impacts the behaviour of Leaning to People. Is it merely an increased ability to identify key relationships? No. I realise it is much more than that.
Quite by chance, I was reading Danny Silk’s brilliant Keep Your Love On yesterday morning. In it he writes:
When you don’t have either the courage or the ability to face the truth of what feel, think, and need, you end up communicating confusing and inaccurate information – sometimes even downright falsehoods.
- If you never really learn to value and understand what’s going on inside you, how can you value and understand what is going on with another person?
- If you don’t know yourself, how can you get to know another person – someone with a completely different experience and perspective – and value the truth of who they are?
page 82, Keep Your Love On: Connection, Communication & Boundaries, Danny Silk (2013, lovingonpurpose.com)
In recent years, I’ve majored on the critical nature of Stakeholder Engagement. In 2013 I wrote Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships. Project management has long marginalised the topic of “stakeholder management,” as they call it. (As if you can truly manage anyone other than yourself.) ‘Leaning to People’ is a central narrative in that book. I’m proud that this book was later adopted as the core reference for an international qualification in stakeholder engagement. I hope it is doing some good to the profession.
This last year I’ve turned to the other three behaviours that distinguish outstanding performance, in my latest book: Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. Outstanding performance all starts, though, with self-awareness.
So, I’m inclined to re-draw the diagram, now, in the light of my friend and Danny Silk’s observations to something like this:
Can you spot the crucial difference?[reminder]What are your thoughts on this?[/reminder]
This week I was sent a report containing Advice from the 30 TOP influencers in project management. If you are not involved in project management professionally, I can quite understand that this will not set your heart racing! However, it is interesting to see the patterns that emerge from these ‘TOP influencers.’
(Full disclosure: I was chosen as one of the 30. The authors asked me and the other 29 contributors to give our take on what was our top tip.)
Much of this so-called ‘top’ advice focuses on planning and re-planning. Important though planning is, it is nowhere near the top thing for me.
Many others get rather nearer the mark, in my opinion, and focus on stakeholder engagement and developing key relationships. See my own work on this.
However, I suggest – with apologies to JRR Tolkien – that there is one thing to rule them all:
developing your self-awareness.
Now, I recognise that to many people my choice might look pretty abstract and dull. Maybe even a little surprising. “Is that it??! Self-awareness. That feels very psychological and not very practical. What about the Time-Cost-Scope Triangle. What about the Critical Path?”
[shareable]Thinking about your thinking – self-awareness – is the key to driving all other habits that bring success.[/shareable]
Let me explain. The research I did a few years ago with my colleague John Edmonds revealed that self-awareness was key to high performance: high performing programme and project managers all exhibited a high degree of self-awareness, of mental clarity about their own thought processes. They all think about their thinking. Self-awareness drives all the other behaviours that give the high-performer real traction in the complex world of project management: behaviours like building and protecting personal margins, leaning to action, and leaning to people. See this diagram:
So how do we all develop self-awareness in our work? I show you how in my new book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. I have since come to believe that this kind of high-performance is not for the exalted few, any of us can develop the right habits to get exceptional results.
[reminder]How do you think about your thinking?[/reminder]
I’m very proud of my daughter, Sarah. She has made a name for herself in the very male-dominated world of historic building restoration and ornamental plastering. She uses all her skills as a sculptress and has developed a keen eye for the health of historic buildings. I was walking with her recently through the centre of Newbury, an old market town in Berkshire, UK, that boasts a fairly modern shopping centre. And she began to illustrate for me how ambiguity works in a VUCA world. (‘VUCA’ stands for an environment defined by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity.)
Ambiguity is all around us. The trouble is, by definition, we don't recognise it.
So when Sarah suddenly moaned at the sight of this wall (pictured above) it got my attention. What was wrong with it? To my untrained eye, someone had been responsible for preserving this fine building by re-pointing the wall. That was a good thing, right?
Well, no. Sarah pointed out that the traditional material to bind bricks was lime. Concrete, though less perishable, does not absorb water.
I still didn’t get it. Not absorbing water is a good thing, right?
Again I stood to be corrected. A building such as this, Sarah explained, is a living system. When it rains, where will the water go? It will seep into the most porous – and also the most precious – element of the structure, the timbers, stay there and eventually rot away the wood. In about ten years time, these ancient timbers will be rotting and need replacing. And they are irreplaceable.
This illustrated a couple of things for me about ambiguity:
Our worldview conditions how the world occurs to us.
In the world of leading change, we make assumptions about people and their behaviour. For example, someone reacts with surprising hostility towards the changes we are trying to make. We can make the assumption that they are a trouble-maker, they dislike us, or that they are just a stubborn reactionary.
We need to look closer. My experience draws me towards that person, towards that conflict; it triggers exploratory, compassionate questions. And my frame of reference is that very few people are sociopaths, so there is probably another reason why this person appears unreasonable.
I look deeper, and I find that this person is going through a domestic trauma and that the only stability in their life right now seems to be their workplace. And I'm about to take away that last refuge of stability.
Suddenly their reaction begins to make sense.Now I can view them very differently. I can begin to work positively with that person.
Ambiguity in this VUCA world is all around us. The problem is, by definition, we don't see it.
The more we grow in experience and what worldview we bring to our work, the more we challenge our own initial assumptions, the more we are likely to uncover and recognise important ambiguity.
As I was writing my last book Practical People Engagement, I came across Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human. I’m so glad I did. I find Daniel Pink is one of those communicators who does much of the heavy lifting for us across the social sciences, in particular in the fields of cognitive psychology. He communicates effortlessly whether speaking or writing.