Monday, 8 December 2008

The power of the self-talk

Modesty and self-deprecation are instinctive and engrained, even in managers. This may be particularly true in Britain, where being proud of something is considered to run perilously close to being conceited or arrogant, but it probably universal. Less universal, though, is the inability to take a compliment. I think it is reasonable that when somebody has decided to praise you, you are allowed to say " thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed the talk", not "aw shucks, it was nothing". Reasonable, yes, but easy to do, no.

But perhaps social self-doubt has its role in preserving relationships; unfortunately it often is mirrored by internal self-doubt, the monologue that says "this meeting's going to be hard, you're never very good at this, see, what did I tell you?, it'll be worse next time ...". As a result, it's all too easy to lose sight of the things you can do well, and to miss the chance to bask for a while in the satisfaction of achievement. For a course I was on recently we had to spend five minutes writing in our journals about three things we were good at. It really was hard to break out of the bonds of modesty, and felt completely unnatural. It was very useful, though, to remind us that, yes, we were ok, we weren't necessarily in crisis mode all the time. I cannot remember the last time I had thought along these lines, looking at the positives; self-criticism is a hard habit to break (not that it doesn't have its place, but it's unhealthy as the only mode of thought).

My suggested adaptation is this: write down three headings:
* a skill you have, something you are good at
* your greatest achievement
* the event or person that has changed you most

Think for a minute, then write soemthing down for each heading. You're not deciding your answers for ever; maybe tomorrow you'd choose other examples. What you should be doing is 1, reminding yourself what is important to you and how you have been effective; and 2, practising positive self-analysis that should assist you in understanding your own motivation, values and goals.

It sound silly, but it works.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Should project managers be optimists?

[This question arose from an office discussion about targets and programming]

The short answer: probably.

The longer answer: maybe not, not completely. But a project manager needs to be optimistic about the project, and to believe that it is worth doing and is achievable. If they don't believe that, they will be unable to convince anyone else; and they will find it hard to come up with the tenacity, flexibility and single-minded purpose that is needed to drag a reluctant project to a successful conclusion.

And they need to have faith in the ability of their team to learn and grow. There's no point planning a project team by assigning the roles to experienced specialists, only to discover that when it's time to start none are available. What can you do? Give up, or gather the best team you can and fill the gaps by improvisation.

They also need to be risk-takers. All worthwhile projects involve substantial risk, vene if it's just the risk to reputation that would follow from failure and the opportunity cost of other things that could have been done instead. The exclusion of all risk would make projects impossible to start. Good risk-takers are hard to find, of course; you don't want to mistake blind insensibility to danger for courage.

At a practical level, pessimism can be useful too: if there are important deadlines, best to look at progress with a negative attitude. But pessimism is often accompanied by despair: project managers have to believe that their actions can make a difference, that the world is perfectable, that salvation can be grasped.