Marcus Aurelius quote "It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise, it cannot harm you - inside or out." Never let a good crisis go to waste: Part 2 - Who do you want to become? Crises as opportunities to (re)build our character.
It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you — inside or out. Marcus Aurelius
One of the most tangible aspects of a crisis like the one we are living is the material damage it causes: sickness, death, lost jobs, etc. There is, however, a less tangible but also very important dimension: the net balance a crisis has on our character as individuals, and the overall impact on society as a whole stemming from this.
Many phrases such as ‘adversity reveals character’, or variants of it, seem to indicate that a crisis will bring out who we truly are – and in many cases this won’t be a pretty sight. For example, in the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic we can find dozens of stories of people who are taking advantage of the situation for their own benefit.
The flip side to this is seeing others rise to the occasion. Every tragedy brings its host of heroes, even if most of them remain unknown. Think of the first responders during 9/11, firefighters and others helping people out of crumbled buildings during an earthquake, rescue personnel saving people during floods – or, right now, thousands of healthcare workers, law enforcement personnel, food supply chain workers and countless others who are risking their lives for others.

The opportunities

We see responses ranging from the vile to the heroic and everything in between. This, however, does not prove that the type of responses we see is an inevitable result of a crisis ‘revealing the true colors of individuals’. Even under the most dire of circumstances, we all still have a choice. In other words, critical situations highly correlate with individuals showing more of who they are, but it does not invariably cause it. This might seem like word play from someone with nothing better to do than playing semantics, yet the implications are deeply profound.
Circumstances do not force me into acting one way or another (for better or worse) – I still have a choice. And what I choose has an impact on my character, every single time. Given that crises confront us with an abnormally high number of choices to make every day, we are basically on an accelerated path to build or destroy our character – and we do not have the option of choosing not to be on this path. Either by action or inaction we are doing something to our character. We are much better off by becoming aware of this and improving our choices every day.
Let’s look at this at different levels to illustrate:

At a personal level

A crisis is a perfect (and unavoidable) daily practice of how we react in the face of stress. It is an emotional gym that gives us the opportunity to ‘put in our reps’ every day. Pandemic panic shopping is making it increasingly hard to find vital supplies? This is a text-book definition of a situation to be legitimately stressed about: it can kickstart a downward spiral of fear, horror, self-pity, anger.
It’s also an opportunity to practice how to refocus my mind on what I can control and operate in that space, as limited as it might be: first rep of the day. Kids running around the house with no school – while trying to take a conference call? Check, that is very stressing – how am I going to respond to this? Second rep of the day. Sales projections are down? Third rep of the day: practice how I will manage my stress. You get the picture.
The difference with a physical gym is that here we don’t have the alternative to skip it: we are in it, and we will be putting in our reps. They can be reps in which we practice how to get more stressed, angrier, fearful… or they can be reps in which we try to give the best response we humanly can to every prompt. Every choice we make to every one of these prompts, every one of our responses, is a character building block.

At a relationship and / or family level

The lockdown half of the world is currently experiencing has resulted, amongst other things, in an impact to our relationships and / or family life. Young couples who are now living together out of necessity. Families with several generations living under the same roof while weathering out the situation. Couples in the process of getting divorced having to share the same living space, as their separation proceedings slow down or are temporarily halted. Death of loved ones. Families losing the income of one or both parents. Kids homeschooling putting an additional strain on family dynamics. Many of these scenarios can be stressing, depressing, anxiety-inducing, or worse.
If your specific current set of circumstances has made your life more complicated, how are you responding to it? Note that the question is responding to it, not how did you respond to it? This means that you have responded to it, you are still doing it, and more likely you will keep on doing it for the days and weeks and maybe months ahead. Is there a way to respond to it better? Can you address the content of the challenge (tension, grief, whatever it might be) with a better grip on your emotional response? Can you recognize the emotion in the situation, acknowledge it, but not be controlled by it?
The harder our circumstances, the harder choosing to respond to them in a constructive way can be – yet, like most other things in life, practice helps. And every day we have the opportunity to practice a better response. That practice is a way to improve our character. We’re already at the gym: might as well put in the work to come out of this stronger.

Never let a good crisis go to waste

This brings us back to the beginning. Crises bring about painful, tangible consequences. Thousands of us will not survive this pandemic – yet most will. The tragedy and grief that we have and will have for those dying is here and will be here. Let us not add to this tragedy by also losing vast amounts of human quality with the survivors’ characters deterioritating. Instead, let’s honor the departed by becoming a better version of ourselves for now and the times to come. 

Person walking on a beach looking out to a calm sea
First, a bit of context… 12 years ago, we went through a global financial crisis. I remember how we discussed at Axialent the impact of the crisis in organizations, people’s emotions and their effectiveness to give their best at work. At the time, one of my most brilliant mentors, Axialent founder Fred Kofman, said something that stayed with me: People will suffer Survivor Syndrome. He then developed this idea into a short article, and I think now is the time to bring back the “Survival Syndrome” issue to raise our consciousness on what people might be going through these days. Not only might people have lost someone due to the virus, but there is also a feeling of loss whenever we need to let go of the past, of what we were used to. And also when our organization goes through restructuring and we have to let go of colleagues and friends who are part of our community or business family. I call this organizational trauma in times of crisis.
My business partner, Thierry de Beyssac, and I, invite you to read the following article to raise awareness and build effective actions to deal with people’s struggles now. Everyone wants to be at their best, but often unconscious emotional stress gets in the way. We want to help everyone understand some of the hidden and unspoken dynamics we might be facing today and what is it that you can do to dissolve this.
Fran Cherny
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The Survivor Syndrome (in times of coronavirus)

Many war veterans realize that their psychological scars are much deeper than any physical pains, and that these will take much longer to heal. The joy and relief of returning home is sooner or later impacted by the things they remember; things they saw, experienced, felt, or feared come home with them. Stories from this past might invade their nightmares for years—perhaps even the rest of their lives. Beyond the happiness of feeling free and back home, the horror and the loss stays.
Psychological studies have found one thing in common in all these great stories of liberations and family reunions: survivor syndrome. One of the biggest emotional weights that those who made it through alive must bear is the guilt of surviving. “Why me and not my friend?” “Why am I alive when so many of my loved ones didn’t make it?” “Do I have the right to live when so many more worthy than me are dead?” Depression and other mental illness, and a great number of suicides are an outcome of not finding a way to deal with these questions.
 

Organizational trauma in times of crisis

Although organizational circumstances are not comparable with any of these extreme life or death situations, at a subconscious level there are some things that our mind starts thinking in a very similar way. For one’s self‐image and ego, the loss of a job has a deep impact in our self-esteem and how we are perceived by others.
When downsizing, many companies invest in psychological and outplacement counseling for those who have been let go. This occurred after the 2008 financial crisis, and we now see this as a common practice in most large organizations. But what about the “survivors”? What about those who now have to carry more responsibilities in a “leaner and meaner” organization? Who helps these people cope with some of the guilt and stress of remaining when some of their colleagues and friends have gone? People are asking: Why did I “survive”?
 

Some real situations

It is easy to think that those who still have a job should feel reassured, consider themselves lucky, and be ready to give the best of themselves. This might be very true for some, but also a bit more complicated for many others. Not facing a possible organizational trauma could prove to be gross negligence for your business.
In the past several weeks we have seen many people in coaching sessions, leadership meetings and virtual training sessions trying to talk about this and finding it hard to find the right words. We have seen a case of a company who decided to cut 40% of their workforce as their industry has been deeply affected. We heard from some of the people still there, who are working double the hours, and still investing a lot of time in connecting with their colleagues who are gone now, checking on them. We know of one employee even offering to give up 50% of their salary so they can offer a 50% job to someone else, as a way to take care of a colleague they valued a lot, which is an amazing gesture of generosity, but that has much more implications when the company does not know how to respond to these initiatives. All this takes time, energy and emotional resilience, and people don’t know how to deal with this.
 

Paying attention to the hidden dynamics

In the midst of the current global crisis, we are seeing a deep impact not only at a health and an economic level, but also at a mental health level. With so many companies of all sizes impacted by the coronavirus confinement and restrictions, and with the high level of uncertainty of the future, it is important to also take these work‐force survivors into consideration and help them to be at their best. Yes, many people have lost their jobs and we should definitely connect with them and support them emotionally and financially. But let’s also be aware that many others have kept their jobs and in a different way, they are struggling to. Yes, people are being supported by their employers to deal with technology issues, how to effectively work from home and many other things that are definitely needed, but we are seeing very little attention being given to the emotional issue created by survivor syndrome.

 
Why do we need to also focus on this when we have so many others issues? Because these are the employees that will carry us through the crisis, and their needs must be met as they face difficult situations, many times expressing symptoms of guilt, stress and fear. And many worry they could be next as there’s no guarantee that layoffs will not continue.
Our invitation is to at least consider it, because this might be a hidden issue affecting your employees’ state of mind and their capacity to be at their best. It is always better to check, to connect with people’s real concerns and fears, than to pretend that nothing is there, creating an “undiscussable” (something we all know exists, but no one really talks about openly, which creates even more tension).
 

Leadership responses will make the difference

We are raising this because with the current context and level of challenge everyone is facing on all levels, we perceive a risk that many managers might use “passive aggressive” or “passive defensive” behaviors, based on how our primal brain works when we are stressed and in really challenging circumstances: the flight or fight response. This could be expressed in various ways, for example by saying “Come on, let’s focus on the future, let’s move on” when others are not ready, or by just not talking to and connecting with colleagues as a way to avoid “rocking the boat”, or by feeling the need to connect emotionally with our own vulnerability and fears.
If these dynamics are happening today, we believe things will get much more difficult soon when we face the expected next phase of “people and business rightsizing“ that many are already calling, maybe too quickly, the “new normal”.
 

Responding to the challenge in a constructive way

So how can we break this vicious circle? How can you help your employees get back to their best and grow the power of adaptability and resilience they, and your organization, need now more than ever?
Axialent has been working with organizational culture change, executive learning and team effectiveness for a long time now. During difficult times and crisis, people usually do not respond as they normally would. There is a layer of emotional challenges that blocks many people’s ability to face reality and to embrace new ways with agility and joy. And unless worked on, it is hard for many people to connect with the opportunity and explore how they can grow, bringing the best of themselves for them, their colleagues and even, for those who are not around in the team anymore.
As a way to start helping you, and leaders in your organization, support your employees to be at their best, we offer below some specific actions. These will help people move on, with resilience, integrating their feelings and refocusing on what they can do to make the situation better for everyone:
1. Put things “on the table”What remains “under the carpet” or hidden, exists anyway and becomes a source of tension that will add unconscious “weight in people shoulders”. It is critical to create a safe space where people can talk about their feelings, engage in a constructive dialogue and build a collective emotional intelligence.
2. Meet people where they areWith empathy, compassion and non‐judgement, let’s allow everyone to be where they are before we invite them to move on. Don’t ask them to follow and meet you where you are, but walk towards them and let them know you are in it together. Show people it’s ok to feel what they feel. And recognizing our own vulnerability first is a strength that will allow people to move on faster and from a good place.
3. Ask people what they need to be at their best, inviting them to be players and gain controlPeople are often trapped in their own victimhood and find it hard to connect with what is in their control to make things better. We can gently invite them to connect with that part of themselves. It is always impressive to see how improving self-confidence and self-esteem is one of the most powerful ways to gain the resilience you need to face any crisis.
4. Create a future togetherIn the current uncertain times, it is critical to create a vision for what we can create together, in a way that strengthens our capacity to adapt. Building scenarios together, and adjusting them based on new information, is an exercise that helps people share possibilities and start working based on them. This helps everyone feel that they are contributing to solving things in each of the three dimensions of sustainable success: business KPIs, the way we work together building trust, and how each of us feel as individuals are aligned to our core values.
5. Gather information about how all this evolves and then act fastThe number one need that both employees and managers have been expressing is to be actively listened to. In today’s world you can leverage technology to gather data (even every day) about what your employees think and feel, and what their general mood is (always using it in a responsible and open way with the people from whom you are collecting the data from). Don’t miss this opportunity to know how your people are doing, and design actions that can meet their emotional needs.
Only from a place of awareness, we can choose how to best respond to each situation. This is the time to help everyone be at their best and each of us can play a key role in making this happen.
 
First published by Thierry de Beyssac and Fran Cherny in LinkedIn

Viktor Frankl quote “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
A couple of years ago, I joined a team facilitating an executive development session at a US company. During that meeting, a defense contractor executive shared an anecdote of a big crisis they had faced, and he said “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. That phrase stuck with me and during the last week I’ve been thinking about the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus crisis. The crisis is here, government officials, scientists, healthcare workers and many others are actively working to slow it down. The rest of us have been impacted in more than one way. There is now no scenario in which what is happening is not a crisis. Hence I have been pondering, how do we prevent this crisis from going to waste? In other words, what can we do to at least get some form of benefit to go with the hardships that are here, and that will inevitably come in the upcoming weeks and months. The answers to such a question are wide ranging – from a macro level of learning how to better prepare for this type of events in the future, all the way down to a very intimate level, like how do we cope in these critical times. I hope that this article can spark actionable ideas of how to get something of value in the midst of the inevitable.
I would like to share something that is more philosophical in nature. For some this might mean it’s only theoretical (and thus with little to no value in real life), but in reality it’s the cornerstone, or least a foundational piece, to equip ourselves to respond to this crisis. Let me start with an anecdote.
When I was 17 years old I was going through a rough patch of my life. A teacher at the time recommended that I read Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning”. I found it very valuable at the time, yet I was (and still am) far from fully comprehending the depths of the lessons there. Fast forward to 2020 and we are in the middle of a global pandemic. As bad as things are as of April 1st, we are still in a moment in which we find people at very different places of understanding the situation. There’s a range that goes from completely ignoring the gravity of the situation (i.e. spring breakers in the US, or visitors enjoying the cherry trees blossom in Japan) to losing a loved one – and in some cases not even being able to give them a proper funeral, and everything in between. It does seem to me that as days progress more and more people are moving in this range towards the realization that we are in the midst of an unfolding catastrophe. As more and more cities enforce lockdowns to varying degrees (i.e. self-shelter or even curfews enforced by police or military personnel), we start seeing the control measures take their toll on society: work places closed, people losing jobs, kids home from school, overwhelmed healthcare workers risking their lives without enough supplies, you name it – and it is bad.
In the midst of this chaos, I have found it helpful to remember one of Viktor Frankl’s most famous quotes: “The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” This might be easy to dismiss if it was coming from a Psychiatrist sitting in a posh office somewhere, just coming up with a nice phrase. However, in case you are not familiar with his story, Frankl had this and many other insights as a result of his observations when interned in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. His accounts of the experiences in this space are harrowing to say the least – yet suffice it to say that they are of a much graver nature than what the vast majority of us are experiencing during this crisis. So, wherever we find ourselves in the stress-spectrum, whether it’s in one end of being oblivious to it (or being in denial), or in the end of downright grief as tragedy has already struck us, we all keep the last of our human freedoms – choosing our attitude in our given set of circumstances. Such a deceivingly simple phrase merits being looked at in more depth – much more than what I would dare to attempt to cover. However, there are a couple of ideas I would like to put forward to take one step ahead in looking at the choice we can make with this last of our human freedoms:
-This is an internal choice, in which we are choosing how we respond to our circumstances. It allows us to at least being able to choose that attitude when we are in a situation in which we can’t choose most (or any) of our circumstances – whether you are locked up working from home during the epidemic, feeling stressed, taking your last breaths on a respirator – or in a concentration camp in WWII.
-This choice has to be renewed, as Frankl says, every day, every hour. Talking with colleagues, friends and family something I consistently hear is “I can’t believe it’s been only x weeks, it feels like months”. The toll of going about every day with the hardships we are facing is not a minor thing. Thus, we have to renew our choice every day, every hour: what is my attitude in light of these circumstances going to be? And to emphasize the point, circumstances do matter, they have a tremendous impact in us, but they do not inevitably condemn us to being and feeling in a certain way. According to Frankl’s work, even in the concentration camps, in which everyone was equally subjected to some of the worst horrors we’ve seen in history, there were differences in the attitude choices that some made. As Frankl says,  “It is not freedom from conditions, but it is freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.” 
Paying attention to this last of our human freedoms might seem inconsequential when compared to the scale of questions leaders, scientists and many others are working on answering: can we find a cure? If so, can we do it before the scale of this pandemic increases? Before the economy collapses? For the rest of us, most of these decisions are out of our reach. Our questions might be how do I pay rent? How do I keep food on the table and a roof on our heads? How do I manage the stress of …? In either case, having the weight of the world on our shoulders, or the weight of our families, or just of our own emotions, let’s focus on what we can control, or at least get a grip on: our attitude is a great place to start. If we all take care of this, we will at least collectively be in a much better mental and emotional space to make better choices, execute them and live with the consequences to come for the weeks and months ahead.
 

 
 

In my previous article, I described how I understand disruption and the three main challenges I see organizations face when dealing with accelerated change. Regardless of the kind of industry, size of business or location, our experience shows us that disruption impacts individuals and organizations in the way you live, the way you engage with others, and the way you do business. Here I will outline the three antidotes to face disruption.
The three challenges, or “viruses” I spoke about were:
• Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond and the speed with which we act. We call this the “victim” mindset.
• Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the status quo. We call this the “knower” (or “fixed”) mindset.
• The dangers of multitasking and not valuing the power of focus on a single task at a time. We call this the “multitasker.”
 

The “antidotes” or mindsets to “fight” these “viruses”

The player mindset focuses on your capacity to respond when facing a challenging situation, your “response-ability” — the shift in focus from what is out of your control to what you can control. It is present and future focused, while “victims” are often stuck in the past and attached to “this is how we’ve always done it.” The intent is to solve the problem at hand with agility and speed instead of pondering the past and looking for blame, which is counterproductive.
The learner mindset is the capacity to acknowledge that what we see and interpret is hinged on what we are capable of seeing based on our own story, beliefs and how we make meaning of the world around us. There are many different perspectives and a wide range of opportunities that arise once we open up with a humble attitude that allows us to learn new things. That way we can detach from the stories we tell ourselves and don’t believe them as if they were the ultimate truth. When you stop trying to prove others wrong, opportunities will appear for you to find an effective solution. The aim is to find a solution for the organization to be as effective as possible, not trying to be right.
Focus and presence is the art of paying kind attention to what is really going on. Although many people seem to think that being able to do many things at the same time is a great gift, I dare challenge that idea. I believe that it is really hard to see what is going on and embrace what is really happening unless you are fully present. There is research that shows how multitasking effectiveness is a myth because you are doing a little bit for each of the things you are working on instead of doing a lot and being fully focused on one task at a time. You cannot react fast if you don’t see the opportunities around you. I have experienced multiple leaders ask me, “How the hell didn’t I see this coming?” But deep down they knew the issue was always there. When we lose focus, we miss what leaders are supposed to see, what others don’t. Practicing our capacity of staying in the present moment seems easy, but it is not simple. I would take the risk of saying that once you try it, you’ll realize how much richness and clarity it brings.

So how can you start applying and making this happen?

  • Speak in the first person, own your opinions and emotions (and reactions to ideas), and recognize that you are the one who owns what you think and feel.
  • Invite others to express what they think and feel, and find what is right in it. “Make people right before you make them wrong.”
  • Make sure that you put in leadership meeting agendas a section on “what we might be missing” and “what can go wrong.” Allow people to brainstorm about this and see what emerges.
  • If after reading this you still think multitasking is useful and it is better than focusing on a single situation at a time, I invite you to watch this two-minute video and check if this doesn’t happen to you. Unless you start thinking in this way, it would be hard to create any change.
  • You need to develop these skills, as we have often learned the opposite. Incorporate a “pause” from time to time throughout the day, especially before important meetings. Did you ever try the power of one-moment meditations? Try this and see how effective “the power of pause” could be.

As you can see, building a more agile, disruptive and innovative organization requires us to challenge our mindsets and practice new skills we might not have developed yet. But if you want to see the change happening, you would need to take the first step. Are you up for it?

Disruption here, disruption there, disruption everywhere… It’s a buzzword, but what does it really mean?
I define disruption as the speed in which change happens, the acceleration it takes, and how fast it impacts other parts of the system. “The butterfly effect at the speed of light” — it alters the way you live, the way you engage with others, and the way you do business.
Disruption can be a threat to your business if you are the “disrupted” (think about Uber toppling the taxi and transportation industry), or it can be an advantage if you are the “disruptor” (at least, for some time). There have been many articles written about disruption, but I have found very few that talk about how to respond to it (especially if others depend on you as a leader).
Let’s refer to the iceberg model from one of my previous articles 

We believe the key to be able to respond to disruption is to look at our consciousness at the “being” level — gaining awareness of how we respond, when we are triggered or reactive, and how to recover faster when we are being triggered; identifying the triggers and consciously choosing how we will respond when new situations emerge. We will be tempted to think we know the answer, but we might be facing a problem we had not encountered before.
We need to be resilient (defined as the ability to recover faster and faster) at the “being” level in order to face and respond to disruption, as our egos will be challenged and at risk. How can you build a culture of resilience in your organization where egos or attachment are not getting in the way? Prepare your leaders and employees to face any situation they might encounter.
We will discuss three different “viruses” we see in organizations that work against building this resilience and the ability to respond:

  • Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the status quo. We call this the “knower” or “fixed” mindset.
  • Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond and the speed with which we act. We call this the “victim” mindset.
  • The dangers of multitasking and not valuing the power of focus on a single task at a time. We call this the “multitasker.”

 

Lack of curiosity, openness and acceptance of the “status quo”

 
“I think there is a world market for about five computers.”
— Remark attributed to Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of the Board of International Business Machines (IBM), 1943
 
“We don’t like their sound. Group guitars are on their way out.”
— Decca Records on rejecting the Beatles
 
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
— Harry Warner, Warner Bros. 1927
 
What did you think when you read those statements? We can’t imagine our lives without computers. The Beatles became one of the biggest music success stories. And can you imagine movies without actors talking?
All of these examples disrupted their industries in a big way. Thankfully, there were others who believed in computers and The Beatles.
These statements all lack curiosity, which can be very dangerous. What if The Beatles had given up after speaking with Decca records?
Have you ever been in a meeting listening to the presenter and think to yourself “Wow, that will never work. What a stupid idea.”?
A good example of this is the Blockbuster story. Remember them? (Because many children today don’t!)  Netflix met with Blockbuster executives to propose a partnership, but Blockbuster laughed at the idea and didn’t agree. The rest is history.
Imagine how things would have been different if they had moved away from their “fixed” mindset and had been open to the partnership.
It is very easy to shut down others because we have a belief. That’s why the “knower” is a very dangerous mindset to be in. We believe our own opinion is the truth. We have been telling ourselves stories all our lives, but the danger comes when we start to believe our stories and are no longer open for other ideas to emerge.
 

Lack of responsibility or ownership to respond, and the speed with which we act

 
“Mommy, the toy broke.”
“The milk spilled.”
“He started it.”
 
For those who have children, you are probably very familiar with these statements or can think back to your own childhood. Now read the statements again. How do you think the toy broke? Who spilled the milk? Who started it? These are exactly the same as:
“The project got delayed.”
“The previous meeting ran late.”
“Accounting didn’t get me the report.”
 
On a bigger scale, this turns into a blame game, where the focus is on who created the problem. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a good example of the different parties not wanting to take responsibility for what happened. And that became a PR disaster.
Blaming external circumstances for something that occurred without you being part of it or having any ownership in it might be a good short-term strategy to keep your ego safe, but it will not help your business at all in the long term.
While you are all discussing whom to blame, someone is looking for the solution you need, and they will probably beat you to it.
This level of complacency can put your organization at a disadvantage.
 

The dangers of multitasking

In 2015 alone, 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
During daylight hours, approximately 660,000 drivers use their cellphone while driving
These numbers are very big and very concerning. We all know it, and yet we still do it. How can that be?
In organizations, multitasking has become the norm and is no longer an exception. It’s often even valued as an asset. Do you recall your last meeting? How many people were listening and at the same time looking at their phones? Have you dialed in for a conference call and at the same time responding to emails?
I am afraid I have to burst your bubble. Multitasking might be very good for some things, but you can’t apply it to everything. Effective multitasking is a myth and also very counterproductive.
Take driving for example. At any given time, we need to focus on the road ahead, look in the rearview or side mirrors, control our speed, apply the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal, and maybe even look at the GPS for direction. We may have mastered this art, but adding talking on the phone, texting or having an argument with another passenger in the car is where you push the limit and it becomes counterproductive.
When does your multitasking go too far?
 

But what next?

My invitation to you is to reflect on these three viruses:

  • Do you observe yourself displaying any of these behaviors? What about people around you?
  • Can you think of any situation in which displaying these behaviors impacted people negatively or hurt the business?

In my next article, we will unpack the antidotes to each of these viruses.

Change is easier when…we can see our knower mindset not knowing a thing.

Our knower mindset is an UNSOBER mindset. Our knower mindset undermines our intentions, our values and our walk…because it creates an illusion of sobriety and a toxic fabrication of the truth.

Our knower mindset is more UNSOBER than when the mind is under the influence of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, psychoactive drugs, psychedelic drugs and other mind-altering substances. At least with these known intoxicants, there is some acknowledgment of our UNSOBERNESS.

Our knower mindset disguises an overvaluation about knowing (especially in the face of VUCA) and preserves a fallacy about the value of knowing (e.g., knowing about our cognitive biases is not enough to overcome them. See The GI Joe Fallacy).

In successful corporations, we value knowledge, expertise, best practices, proficiency, hiring people with answers, etc., — “knowledge is power,” as they say. So are you saying that “knowing” is bad?

Of course not. We believe that knowledge is fundamental to business success. The knower mindset has nothing to do with knowledge. The knower mindset (and corresponding ‘know-it-all’ behavior) is detrimental to effectiveness and sustainable performance; but knowledge, expertise and knowing about the business is critical and fundamental in any endeavor. Our companies need executives, managers and employees who really know their stuff. And at the same time, not being able to admit that there is a provisional condition where you ‘don’t know’ or you don’t have the answer is also critical. ‘Not knowing’ is a precondition to learning; it is very difficult to learn if you cannot be in a place of ‘not knowing’ albeit temporary.
Richi Gil, Co-founder Axialent

The knower mindset is often more about saving face. We often source from the knower mindset when our identity/self-esteem becomes unconsciously attached to our status of knowing. That makes it extremely challenging to admit you don’t know something. This attachment to expertise + certainty invites biases or blind spots that make us less effective, depending on the situational context. The knower mindset breeds passive-defensive norms, aggressive-defensive patterns, internal silos, perfectionism, avoidance and unhealthy competition. It is unconscious and ineffective; it is unable to elevate thinking or engage the energy of others.

We fluctuate back and forth between knower mindset and learner mindset. What if, in addition to being very knowledgeable, we also could be exemplars of learning at the same time? What if we could facilitate a high-performance culture that embodies the learner mindset: expertise + curiosity? What if we celebrated new standards of humility or NOT KNOWING just as much as KNOWING? What if learning and curiosity were viewed as acts of conformity? Wouldn’t that help accelerate our teams’ readiness to adapt to change? Wouldn’t that increase effectiveness and business outcomes in the face of increased change?

How much do our organizations value KNOWING over not knowing?

Here is a snippet from Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey, gurus on adult development at Harvard, from one of their more recent book interviews:

“Let’s be blunt: In the ordinary organization, nearly everyone is doing a second job no one is paying them for — namely, hiding their weaknesses, looking good, covering their rear ends, managing other people’s favorable impression of them. This is the single biggest waste of a company’s resources. Now imagine working in a place that is sending the message, every day, ‘We hired you because we thought you were good, not because we thought you were perfect.’ We are all here to get better, and the only way we will get better is to make mistakes, reveal our limitations, and support each other to overcome them.”

“Do you worry more about how good you are or how fast you are learning?” asks Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, another company we studied.

But given the increasingly VUCA world of the 21st century (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous), we’ve come to believe that being a great place to work is not enough. Organizations need to operate as great places to grow. High levels of trust, camaraderie and pride are necessary but not sufficient.

Organizations need all of their people from the C-suite to the frontlines continuously developing and deploying higher levels of capability to match the rate of change going on around them. Changing your business model or value proposition, entering a new market, responding to a new competitor, developing a new product or service, restructuring your supply chain or service delivery process — these are all highly complex challenges.

Organizations face more of them now than ever before and at an ever-increasing pace. Meeting those challenges requires something more than smarter strategy; it requires smarter people — people who can overcome their blind spots, who are neither overly confident nor overly humble, who can stand on the field and get above it at the same time.

Peter Senge says that learning organizations are where:

  • People are continually learning to see more and expanding their capacity to create the results they truly desire.
  • New and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured.
  • Collective aspiration is set free.

Learning how to master our mindsets/biases more effectively is the No. 1 personal and business challenge from which all our other challenges are born. All of us in leadership (at home and at work) today are universally, somewhat “over our heads,” responding effectively to the rapid pace of change and need for constant adaptation. So in the face of new possibilities, we need to soberly shift into learner mode more often. Learning organizations, learning environments and learning individuals will quickly evolve into the most adaptive and anti-fragile communities of the future. Others will follow suit — or likely suffer unnecessarily.

How comfortable are you with your co-workers’ emotions? How comfortable are you with your own?
Emotions make us human. They have a strong impact on the success, collaboration and engagement of our teams. Research clearly shows that we are all critically affected by our emotions at the workplace. It also shows that the negative influence of frustration has a stronger effect on performance than the positive influence of optimism.
Emotions strongly influence decision-making, creativity and interpersonal relationships. And yet many leaders are uncomfortable with the topic of emotions or are unaware of its influence and impact on leadership, organizational culture and performance.
Conscious, courageous leaders are aware of the power that emotions hold. They harness it and make it work for them.
Let me be clear. Bringing emotions to your leadership is NOT the same as being emotional. Being “emotional” describes someone who is “sensitive” or reacts to circumstances in an intense way — when one takes things personal that are not personal. Being able to process emotions and using the powerful information they contain is a way to improve your capacity to look at the world, take action in it, and accomplish the results you are striving for. If you ignore your and other people’s emotions and the power they hold, then you set yourself up for unpleasant surprises.
The philosophy of Conscious Business regards emotional mastery as a meta mindset that underlies all other mindsets. Emotions deeply influence how we perceive the world and whether we are able, in a given moment, to choose responsibility over victimhood or curiosity over the need for certainty. The key is to consciously engage with emotions and leverage the power and energy they have. This means to engage with the power of all emotions — the so-called positive and negative ones — be it happiness, excitement, gratitude, pride, sadness, fear, anger or guilt.
Over 20 years ago, Daniel Goleman already declared emotional intelligence (EI) as a key competence of leaders:“After analyzing 181 competence models from 121 organizations, I found that 67 percent of key abilities were related to EI. Compared to IQ, EI mattered twice as much.”
Emotions arise from the stories we tell ourselves about what we observe and experience. These stories then consciously or unconsciously influence our actions. The more aware we become of our ability to influence our interpretation of a certain situation (i.e., the story we tell ourselves), the more we can direct our actions.
Have you noticed in emotionally charged situations that our good intentions often go out the window? We know how we would like to behave and show up, but we feel so triggered in the moment that we don’t care about reason or find we are not able to choose an empowering response. Instead, we react.
You can read hundreds of books or attend seminars, but emotional mastery is not about an intellectual understanding of how to lead or have difficult conversations. It is about being aware and equanimous in the moment and choosing a helpful response.
People work differently with emotions, and we recognize three different responses to emotions arising:explosion, repression or expansion of awareness, and management of the emotion. I am sure we all have experienced the harm it does when we or someone else “explodes” because of a strong, negative emotion. For the person showing the strong emotion, it may feel like a relief in the moment, but consequences for relationships and the outcomes they are trying to achieve are mostly negative. And after a short while, it doesn’t feel that good anymore either.
On the other hand, the more we try to suppress or control our emotions, the more control they have over our thoughts and behavior, not allowing us to operate from a higher level of consciousness and leadership. The secret is not to control our emotions but to balance, manage and align our emotions with who we are and how we want to lead. It’s key to productively use the energy the emotions carry to our advantage and become aware of the message it sends us so we can act in a productive way.
Let me share a five-step framework on how to increase your emotional mastery and leverage emotions in a conscious way:

  1. Become aware of the emotion. Feel it and label it. Do I feel anger or sadness? Happiness or excitement?
  2. Unconditionally accept your emotions and those of others. Don’t argue with what is. Accept without judgment and create space for the emotion.
  3. Regulate self and respond effectively to others’ emotions. Expand your awareness. Learn to respond and not react. Practicing equanimity and being able to use the power that emotions carry is a key element of emotional mastery.
  4. Inquire and analyze the story underlying the emotion. Be curious. Every emotion carries a message.
  5. Constructively express the emotion. Reframe and tell yourself a different, empowering story. Productively advocate for your own emotion. Productively inquire into other’s emotions.

Try this the next time you experience a strong emotion arising. Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, focus and spend a few moments to harness its power. Then consciously direct this power to support the people around you and the task at hand. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ll feel better, too.

In cased you missed it, here are the first five questions.
 
Dear CEO,

6) We are not going to refer to this as “the soft stuff” anymore. Devaluing the human dimension compared to the technical dimension of business is not helping us adapt more quickly. We will learn to measure and understand the direct business benefits of our transformation efforts across all three dimensions of success: i) the task, ii) the team, iii) the self. We will overdeliver on all three dimensions.

Regardless of the outside help we get, we can’t “outsource” this work. We have to do this ourselves. We have to become transformation exemplars, and that will require us to integrate the human and technical dimensions of business. We will work on designing and capturing tangible ROI from the beginning. The experts I am bringing in will teach us how to do that in a practical way that matters to us. At the same time, we can also illustrate tangible value by comparing the culture/leadership investment to the cost of NOT shifting (e.g., employee turnover, inability to attract star employees, stalled customer focus improvements, stalled innovation, slower implementation times, lack of agility).
 

7) Expect a significant transition during year 2 and year 3. Companies like ours that are successful shifting culture do not usually say, “we got it” during year 1. This is not an HR project; this is a business prototype, which will give us a chance to “really learn by doing.”

The experts I’m bringing in will take us through a series of 90-day sprints that will help us “learn by doing.” These prototypes will help us learn what helps us deliver better results in the context of working on the business, not in theory. They have seen and lived through all kinds of scenarios facing other peer executives in situations like ours. They heard me admit and ask the same textbook questions while giving me the objective, outside, cold-water-wake-up-call answers that we need to hear…

  • We’re stuck. How do we break free from the inertia of learned helplessness and tyranny of low expectations to get to the next level? Clarify the culture standards (and learning gaps) that we have between our current level and our desired level, then clarify how committed we are to get to the next level (and why). What’s at stake for you? me? our team? the organization?
  • How do we avoid the early-on potential for unskilled false starts (e.g., too big or too fluffy) or snapping back to homeostasis/current level? We won’t get tricked into shortcuts and we won’t “bolt this on.” Connect the development work directly to high priority business imperatives — that’s the best reason to train. We won’t treat this like a communication project; it’s a business prototype.
  • How do we accelerate the process? We will stop delaying it, and we will go deeper faster. We will let the leaders and teams also “learn by doing” with high-impact, real-world, 90-day sprints where we can experiment to see what works here (what we’re ready for).
  • How do we extend and keep the flame going? Let’s stop asking that “cascading” question right now. We’re not sure that we’re willing to do what’s necessary to even “pack the snowball tight” with the senior executives and focused experiments. Let’s focus on that first. If that sticks, then we’ll start building peer learning communities as well as formal/informal communities of practice where we all will learn while doing — we train together while delivering business imperatives.

 

8) Expect to pay attention to things you haven’t paid attention to before.

  • We are going to be doing something that most leaders have not been invited to do before…to courageously observe our own leadership style/techniques, the impact it’s having on delaying the organizational performance/shifts, and then optimize them according to what we say matters most to us.
  • We are going to start with the initiation phase of a vertical learning adult development program, where we will become more objectively aware of our current level and next level gaps…and we will see more clearly than ever before.We will be even more committed than ever to the possibilities that come with our next level goals. We all deserve to get to the next level!
  • It will take deliberate, focused practice to shift these specific organizational capabilities from unconsciously incompetent to consciously competent, and to deliver consistently on the high-performance attributes we have chosen. Some individuals will go faster than others, and some microcultures will influence others faster. Meanwhile, our brain’s biases, our history and our system inertia are working against us more than working with us to support the change. However, once we build our transformation muscles, we will have more wind at our back…exponential business benefits and odds of success for 202X and beyond.

9) I need you to ask for more help.

Not because you are weak but because you are strong — because you have all the power. When it comes to preparing yourself to be an exemplar transformation mentor/leader, you need to ask for more help so everyone will see that being a learner, “asking for help,” and being transformed ourselves is something we value at the highest levels of the organization. Saying “I don’t know how to do this” and asking for help is not a sign of weakness around here anymore. From now on, we win by learning.

You (we) should be asking for more feedback and more guidance on how other companies make this shift — on how to best mentor the executive team through this beyond stepping up as a public player in workshops. The majority of adult development/learning doesn’t happen in the workshop; it will happen in the learning experiences we share with each other during the course of running the business. And it will come from the social influence that we contribute in every meeting, every agenda and every interaction that we have within the leadership team.
 

10) We are going to lead the way.

 
 
 
 


Based on several true stories inside of multinational organizations:
When the chief human resources officer (CHRO) or any C-suite executive finally refuses to be a complicit bystander and commits to leading the business (like a real business leader)…here are 5 ways to start the conversation:
Dear CEO,

1) We have a serious problem …a culture problem.


We are witnessing a historic shift in what’s expected of us when it comes to understanding and evolving our company’s culture. We can’t deny or minimize the negative impact that our executive leadership is having on our culture any longer. The crisis of unconscious leaders is all around us, AND it is clearly a disadvantage for our business performance. This is a new era with new rules. We need to let go of some of the old success formulas…not all of them…just some. We are up to this challenge. We are going to shift the culture and expand the future-focused capabilities that we need (e.g., alignment, collaboration, curiosity, innovation, agility) so that we can not only stay relevant and competitive in the future but so that we can win. I (CHRO) am going to help you lead the way through this. I will need you to trust me. We will do this together.
 

2) Our industry, our history and our future are at odds.

It’s time for us to reactivate some of our originating startup/adaptive DNA and take our enterprise transformation seriously if we expect to win in the future.
Yes, we’re already rich, we have plenty of reserves, and we’ll probably stay afloat beyond your retirement…but we’re just floating right now. We’re not moving forward. We’re stuck. That’s not the kind of legacy we want to leave here after all this time, after all our hard work. The business case for change is undeniable, and yet we keep putting our head back in the sand, hiding in our offices, telling our employees and each other, “we got this.” But we’re just floating — and floating is insufficient. Just “getting by” is creating a long-term disadvantage for us, and it’s creating a ridiculous amount of unnecessary suffering right now.
“Just floating” is not going to be your legacy. And it’s not going to be mine either.This is not going to be fixed by having a two-day workshop or retreat. There is no shortcut. We need to shift some of our default thinking patterns/habits and close the gap on some key organizational attributes/behaviors that can make us more agile, collaborative and innovative. To be a legitimate competitor, we need to perform these attributes consistently at a professional, world-class level. This is not amateur hour or a time for dabbling/hacking away at this like it was a hobby to pick up over a weekend seminar. We have to evolve rapidly. We have to transform. We’ve been talking about this for years. If it were easy for us, we would have already been doing it. We’re stuck. We clearly all have a lot to learn. We need to adjust the way we think, relate, make decisions and take action. It’s never too early (and hopefully not too late) to ready our teams and ourselves for the future.

3) Our employees are losing faith…

So we have to act decisively. You saw what they wrote in the annual engagement survey. The research firm quantified just how much they are losing faith. You read the verbatims. You were upset by the quantity and toxicity of verbatims. You asked me:

“Who does that? Who writes that kind of terrible stuff, knowing that their bosses are going to be reading it?” Seriously, who does that? The “un-led” do that. (JL)
We can lead better. The people in our organization are telling us that we have a problem, and they want us to create a more constructive work environment.

  • They basically called BS on our leadership team’s ability to deliver on a majority of our company core values (e.g., teamwork, innovation, courage, respect, trust, creativity, integrity). They notice the incongruence. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
  • They said they have 20 percent less confidence in our business potential over the next two to three years compared to their confidence a year ago. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.
  • They said they are 25 percent less engaged than a year ago across all business units. THAT IS A STRONG SIGNAL FOR US.

None of this will fix itself. We MUST ready ourselves to respond more effectively by leading a sustainable, strategic culture shift.
 

4) Our leadership team is not yet equipped to respond/lead a transformation like this alone. We don’t know how to do this effectively yet (and pretending to know is only making things worse). 

By our own words, we are at an inflection point that our default thinking patterns, behaviors and leadership muscles are NOT prepared for and need to change in order to achieve our three- to five-year plan success/goals — LET ALONE THIS YEAR’S STRETCH GOALS. We can do this, and I am going to lead this. We’re not transformation experts yet, so I’m going to get you and our entire leadership team the expert support, learning and development we all need to feel strong leading the way.
We will focus on consistency over intensity. We’re going to play the long game — no culture “change theater” or quick fixes. We will lead the way, with humility and empathy — not by knowing but by BECOMING LEARNING EXEMPLARS, showing that we value learning more than saving face. We are not yet personally connected to the kind of transformation that we are asking of our people, but we will be. This journey will be one of the greatest achievements of our career. We can do this.
 

5) To ready the organization for change  we should expect to invest in both expanding leadership capabilities and building internal capacity. 

We need to work on our inner game (transforming our mindsets) and our outer game (the way we execute the business). Our internal team of leaders will be fully involved and take on this initiative in a way that integrates with all of our existing work. Our leaders will be doing the majority of the training and development of middle manager cohorts — once we get a couple of cycles under our belt and I am confident that we can skillfully marry executive mentors and the extended leader/team cohorts into effective, sustainable programs that simultaneously support specific business priorities. For the transformation and readiness part, we will need to partner with an expert firm for the high-leverage areas that require their expertise, and we will need to be focused on the C-suite leadership development and culture change readiness (mentoring and coaching) work as well as ensuring high quality, internal capacity building.





To successfully achieve next level results/culture shift that we say we want, to maintain momentum and to build internal capacity to sustain it, I would expect us to work with expert resources/interventionists over the next three-year time frame while we build internal competency. It will more likely be front-loaded than equally spread out across those three years. It doesn’t have to be incremental learning and development dollars; we can reallocate some of our other important learning and development budget for this essential work.
Here are five more questions to engage the CEO.
 

Times have changed. The last 20 years have brought as much change as the previous 50 years combined. This increasingly rapid change has created new challenges for today’s modern enterprise. Do you feel it? This new context or “new normal” is characterized by something experts have come to call, “Living in a VUCA world.”
LIVING IN A VUCA WORLD
This new VUCA world is characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Add to this the increasing forces of “velocity” that drive the need for speed, and “transparency” that drives a need for more effective communications, and we begin to see how the environment wherein project management occurs has changed drastically from what it was just a few decades ago. This new normal impacts how project managers make decisions, plan, manage risks, manage change and solve problems. When was the last time someone told you, “Take your time” or “Don’t worry, someone else will figure it out”? Exactly!
In today’s VUCA world, project managers need to move beyond receiving information to the leading activity—from organizing spreadsheets to managing people and their multiple positions of interest, and from tracking activities to being business partners who understand the subject matter of their clients, help to foresee risk, propose solutions and challenge their client’s approach so as to maximize effectiveness. In the end, what clients want can be summed up by Larry the Cable Guy, “Git ’er done.”

SEVEN CONSCIOUS PROJECT MANAGEMENT CAPABILITIES
What follows are seven conscious project management capabilities for today’s VUCA world. Do you have them all? If not, it’s time to start working on them.

  1. LEADERSHIP

Today’s project managers need to lead and manage teams, set a clear vision, get buy-in, motivate teams, coach them, inspire them and resolve conflict effectively. Without good leadership skills, people and teams can become demotivated and burn out, thus impacting the quality and timing of a project. To avoid this, today’s project management requires developed leadership skills that help project managers lead both strategically and operationally.
From a strategic perspective, project managers need to understand the business value proposition of the project and then be able to communicate it effectively to work streams and teams. They need to be able to clearly explain the work stream’s role and contribution to the project in the context of the desired value proposition to the business.
As projects move faster and include greater complexity, it’s important to be able to get people and team’s buy-in on both high-level strategic positions as well as commitment to more tactical tasks. This requires sensitivity, empathy and clarity—all essential to self-awareness, emotional intelligence and the development of leadership skills. This means sensitivity to the needs of the business to assure alignment; empathy for the work streams, their requirements and task load so as to continually load balance teams effectively; and clarity of direction, risks, milestones and mitigation plans so as to maximize time and resources. Together, sensitivity, empathy and clarity create buy-in.
Once buy-in has occurred, the project manager needs to leverage leadership skills to motivate, coach and inspire people and teams through the ups and downs, successes and setbacks of project implementation. Along the way, conflict will arise. Project managers with strong leadership capabilities are adept at managing conflict and resolving it with respect and honesty that leaves all parties further committed to the task and the team.
Leadership is a core competency of today’s project managers. By leveraging leadership skills, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, project managers galvanize participant buy-in while deepening trust and resolving conflict between multiple actors.

  1. COMMUNICATIONS

Perhaps more than any other skill, communications can make or break a project. It can be the source of strong alignment and synchronization between moving parts of a complex project, or it can be the source of ambiguity, confusion, misdirection and assumptions run amuck.
The communication skills of today’s project managers should allow them to build strong rapport with work streams and teams and to be interpersonal and engaging throughout interactions. Deeper rapport and engagement allows project managers to build deeper trust with work streams, which in turn makes challenging their thinking and holding them accountable for commitments more effective.
Additionally, project managers need to be clear and concise in their ability to communicate why, what, how and when things need to occur. They know how to use data and fact-based information to communicate risks and challenge work streams in a clear, contextualized message. Great communicators know how to get to the point effectively while building engagement at the same time. But communicating is only half of the communication skill required for today’s project management. Active listening is the other half.
Active listening skills include knowing how to listen to the words being spoken. It also includes a deeper skill for reading body language, tone and implied meaning. It requires checking one’s assumptions and inferences as discussions in advance so as to make sure that all parties involved understand the same thing at the same time.
Communication and listening are as vital project management skills in today’s complex work environment as any traditional project management capability. Knowing how to listen actively and communicate clearly and concisely helps to advance project goals while building rapport with key stakeholders.

  1. NEGOTIATIONS

Similar to communications, negotiation skills require understanding relationships and stakeholders’ interests. However, more than communications, it requires specific skills and techniques to help people move from surface level positions to positions of interest where common ground can be found.
Additionally, project managers require political savvy to manage communications and interactions between multiple work streams and actors in order to implement solutions. This in turn requires tactful compromise and the skills to bring people together to settle the ongoing reallocation of resources, changes in work stream activities, and managing the limits placed on a project by moving timelines.
All projects will require consensus building and compromise. Negotiation skills are core to achieving both. Negotiation skills provide lubricant to the scheduling of activities, allocation of resources and the movement of timelines.

  1. RISK MANAGEMENT

The best skill for effective risk management is experience. Project managers need to know what could go wrong and have the humility to ask others. Oftentimes, project managers get caught up in the act of reporting and requiring, without the flexibility required to engage others and seek their input on potential risks early on. In fact, risks can often be seen as important but not urgent and can lead project managers to a false sense of comfort.
Risk can occur at the macro and micro level of a project. Risks can be associated with people, lack of knowledge in required areas, contractors, sequencing, timing and resources to name a few. But risks can also exist at the work stream activity level due to the same variables mentioned and their being part of a smaller activity within a work stream. The risk can more easily be overlooked, coming back to create larger problems down the road.
Risk assessment is only of value if plans to mitigate risk are also considered and developed. No one likes surprises, and it is the project manager’s role to minimize surprises by foreseeing risk, communicating its potential impact, and providing stakeholders with plans to mitigate negative impact.
Today’s project managers are only as successful as their ability to manage risk. Successful risk management requires experience and knowledge. Great project managers are always seeking both for themselves and from others.

  1. SUBJECT MATTER EXPERTISE

Today’s project management is increasingly complex. It requires that project managers delve deeply into the business they are serving as well as the work streams they are managing. Project managers don’t need to be experts in all things, but the more they immerse themselves in the subject matter of each work stream and the business the project is serving, the more they can foresee potential risk, challenge the effectiveness of work stream activities, and understand where focus needs to be given.

  1. CRITICAL THINKING

Project managers need to take in information and weigh the pros and cons while assessing people’s ability to respond. The speed and complexity of today’s projects require a keener ability to think critically than ever before, as the issues and implications to be considered often span multiple groups and occur within matrixed work environments.
Strong critical thinkers have the ability to identify individual and integrated work stream challenges and propose solutions. They are able to manage project work streams in the context of the value proposition being delivered by the overall project/initiative and propose solutions that support the project’s business goals.

  1. MEETING MANAGEMENT

Meetings are the activity that most bring together project managers with their stakeholders. Due to their frequency, poor meeting management can lead to distrust in project managers and even avoidance of their involvement by work stream leads. Although a seemingly obvious skill, many project managers tend to “wing it” in meetings without leveraging them to build confidence and address the most important issues impacting the project at any given time.
Today’s project managers need to know how to run effective meetings with clear purpose, desired outcomes and agendas. Project managers need to know how to manage the three different types of meeting modes—inform, discuss/debate and decide—so as to adapt their approach to the required meeting mode.
By conducting productive meetings with clear purpose, desired outcomes, agendas and closings, project managers garner greater respect and confidence from their stakeholders.
 
CONCLUSION
Today’s complex work environment creates a “new normal” wherein traditional project management is not enough to successfully deliver desired outcomes.
The bottom line is that project managers are increasingly called upon to anticipate the issues that impact the project’s progress; understand the consequences of issues and actions; appreciate the interdependencies between multiple work streams and other variables; prepare for alternative realities and challenges; and to foresee, interpret and address relevant opportunities for effectiveness along the way.
In short, today’s project managers require a higher awareness of self, others and situations and should be ready to act decisively. Project managers need to be leaders as well as managers, strategists as well as tacticians, and business partners as well as business servants.
 
SOURCES
Kofman, Fred. Conscious Business. Sounds True, Reprint edition, 2006.
Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mango, 2016.
Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline. Crown Business; Revised and Updated edition, 2010.
Lonoff Schiff, Jennifer. “7 Must-Have Project Management Skills.CIO from IDG 30 Aug. 2017.
Aston, Ben, “7 Essential Project Management Skills for 2018.The Digital Project Manager 1 Aug. 2017.
Harrin, Elizabeth. “15 Top Skills Project Managers Need.Strategy Execution 8 Jan. 2015.
Udo, Nathalie and Koppensteiner, Sonja. “What Are The Core Competencies of a Successful Project Manager?Project Management Institute Jan. 2004.