Nuts and resilience in projects and beyond

– What are you having, Oxana? asked my colleague Daniel in a breakfast room in a hotel, on the first day of my mission to a new destination.

– Nuts. I have nuts in the morning, so that i do not go nuts during the day.

This post is not about food, in the nutritional sense. It is about the inner strength and the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. In the views of the majority of the supervisors and sponsors of project managers I talked to resilience is a top skill of a project manager. A project manager works in a triple pressure environment, determined by the projects ‘goddesses’ of budget, time and quality.  Difficulties always arise, no matter how experienced the project manager is or how well the project has been planned. Failures occur, temblors happen and all heads turn to the project manager. At that particular point, as a project manager you do have choices: bend, fall, withdraw, become overwhelmed, keep cool, explode, panick, take time off, continue with clenched teeth, rise above difficulties, leave or manifest any reaction.

Why is resilience a top quality of a project manager in the views of a sponsor? It gives them confidence that projects will be completed, as agreed. It’s their insurance of success.

Resilience has many definitions and you may formulate yours. The concept explained by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure” is the closest to my experience and perception (Harvard Business Review, 24 June 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure).

We do not expect our gadgets to work on an empty battery. Yet we (I for once) believe we can clench teeth and work with a sleep deprived mind and illnurtured body. Project management requires focus and mindfulness. These are the gifts those ‘goddesses’ expect on their altar.

A large body of research shows that resilient people are generally strong in three areas: challenge, control, and commitment. Project management is no exception. If you a curious, there are a number of tools to assess your resilience. I like the one by Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries (Harvard Business Review, 20 January 2015, https://hbr.org/2015/01/assessment-how-resilient-are-you).  It helps assess your strengths and weaknesses in these areas and provides feedback on ways to improve. I noticed a change from my current scores compared to the ones six months ago.  It made me think that it’s important to also measure it from time to time. To id as early as possible any signs of distress and act on them before they act on me.

It allowed me to move from the military clenched teeth resilience to an early and mindful self-management. Earlier one gets this understanding life, greater are the chances of becoming a strong and resilient adult. From time to time, when my kid faces a setback, I show her a tree: regardless of the season, the wind, rain, thunder and lightning or a swing attached to it, it keeps growing straight and tall.

I’ll go and plant that nut tree now. I’ll get back to creating and maintaining resilience  for better project delivery in a new post.

 

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