Month: October 2019

Books, external views and why they matter in projects

Last month I went to the presentation of the book entitled “Moldova at the crossroads between worlds“, written by the Honorary Senator, Honorary member of PACE, Josette Durrieu and Science Po Paris Professor, Researcher Associate HEC, Florent Permentier.

I will not go into the content of the book. That deserves a separate post. I have collected a number of take aways of a different nature valid for the project management practice:

1. It is always refreshing to look at things/places/processes you know (or you think you know) through external eyes. It is a good tip to remember when going trough projects’ assumptions. It is equally valuable valuable to peer review projects proposals, for an external view.

2. Bringing in testimonials of those who lived through the times described in the book enriches (would have, in this case) the discussion. It is what we call “inclusive stakeholders’ discussion” and respect for diversity in project management.

3. What is the motivation behind those external eyes is as important at the cover of the book/report. We know what they say about the cover of the book. Also, as Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize-winning psychologist, puts it “Motives are rarely straightforward”. In project’s design, assumptions about stakeholders’ motivation can make or break a project. Also, the legitimacy of sources of info is paramount.

4. The past is important. So, are lessons learned. Yet, these alone are not predictive of what the future holds in store. This is important to remember in development management in what we call “the era of disruption”.

This book presentation reminded me of the book I proudly contributed to in 2004 together with a group of co-national and international authors – “The EU and Moldova. On a fault-line of Europe” (London: Federal Trust for Education and Research, edited by Ann Lewis).

Words. Not just words

Over the years I noticed a number of phrases we say to each other within the team and the implications they had. It gets down to social awareness, an EQ skill. Sometimes the best of intentions can turn into unwanted results.

The choice of words is as important as the person we address. Subtle implications can make or break a relationship or the desire for future interaction, both in professional and personal set-ups.

Here are some of examples I collected over the years:

“You are too good for that job/position/team”. Instead of an implied criticism, offer support, with some enthusiasm. “Their loss” with the right tone of the voice can work better.

“You always…” or “You never …” said particularly during annual performance reviews. Instead of making people defensive and closed off to your message, simply point out the consequences of their action/lack of action on your time/worload, preferably, everytime it happens. “It seems like you do this often” or “You do this often enough for me to notice” is an opening to finding a solution.

“As I said before” or “As it should have been clear from my previous message/email”. It is clearly a question of how well you communicated initially/previously. So, rephrase, make it more interesting, catchy so that it stays with your receiver. The efficiency of the receiver depends on the efficiency of the source.

“You look tired” vs “Is everything okay?” Instead of assuming, try to ask.

“Good luck” (depending on the tone) carries a doubt in the persons ability. Cast your confidence instead: “You have what it takes” or “You’ll manage, as you’ve done on so many occasions”.

“It’s up to you” or “Whatever” or “Whatever you want” implies indifference and/or desire  to be serviable. Instead, offer a number of options: “I have no strong opinion either way, yet a couple of considerations to bring to the table are …”

“This is a miscommunication” assigns the blame and puts the interlocutor into the defensive mode. Instead say “From our previous communication, my understanding was that …”. It will open the door and help clarify the misunderstanding. Sometimes saying “I am sorry” makes you own your mistake and the respect of others by bringing the talk back into the calm waters.

“I challenge that” is a sure way to put a person into an open fight mode or into a defensive mood. Instead “I would like to bring to the table another perspective” takes the heat out and offers an inclusive and respectful way of dealing with an issue.

Once you become aware of the effects the words have, your communication and relationships will improve. And that is key in any project team.





“On Leadership. Practical Wisdom from the People Who Know” by Allan Leighton with Teena Lyons

Yet another of my favorite books I often pick up from the shelf. We all know how important is the leadership in project management. We all struggle from time to time with the “How to” become and remain a leader. This book is like a treasure chest. Every time you need a gem, you open a chapter:

Getting Started,

Coping with Success,

Dealing with Disaster,

The Art of Communication,

Getting the right team,

The Customer is King,

Talking to the Media,

Business vs Politics,

Looking to the Future.

As project managers we find ourselves dealing with many if not all of the above. Hence the value of the book for project managers.

The book is written with wit and wisdom. Each chapter feels like going into the offices of the best executives Leighton talked to for this book. Each was generous with insights and advice you would get from very few academic or professional training programmes. It is also highly entertaining and will glue you to learning with fun and motivation to become the best at what you do.

“The new leaders. Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results ” by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Anne McKee

“The glue that holds people together in a team, and that commits people to an organisation, is the emotions they feel” is one of my favourite quotes from this book.

I long believed that all that matters in business and work environments is getting things done. Business and project management literature supported the belief. Recent research on Emotional Intelligence begs to differ and for good reasons. Emotions and moods have real consequences for getting those same things done in any project. To paraphrase the authors of the book, the project manager’s ability to survive everyday surprises depends to a large extent on whether he/she has first the ability to manage his/her own emotions in the face of the change and thus lead the team through unchartered waters.

This book was like a mirror to me. It made me ask myself some important questions. It also helped in navigating better through the repertoire of leadership styles I see around me from visionary, coaching, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting to commanding and their impact on work climate.

The authors guide the ones who seek to change through the metamorphosis with practical tips and inspirational transformational real life stories, touching on self-management, team management as well as navigating the world of stakeholders we engage with for outcomes that matter most.