Ever since the leadership bandwagon started some decades ago, there has been repeated advice for managers to become leaders. One central piece of this advice is to avoid micro-managing. Give your team members space to do their work how they see best. Delegate widely. Set broad goals – leave your team to get on with the details. Focus your attention on building an environment in which your team can succeed, rather than trying to control them.
This is good advice. But like many simple pieces of advice – it can be interpreted in significantly different ways.
I spend my life involved in projects, programs and change initiatives. A part of most of these initiatives is doing some form of stakeholder management. The aim is to engage stakeholders in the work of the program, to get their support in achieving the program goals and in accomplishing sustained change. I have come to realise that stakeholder management is like charity. It starts at home. By ‘home’ I mean with those you are working closest to - the program team itself.
Have you ever been in one of those meetings in which the whole conversation revolves around definitions? Occasionally these sessions are explicitly set up as an exploration of definitions. More often a meeting becomes about definitions when someone says something like “what do you mean by that” or “I don’t understand what you are talking about”.
In this blog I will explain why you should take the blame for things that go wrong that were your fault - even if only partially your fault. The most common argument for taking the blame is an ethical argument. The basis of that ethical argument uses principles such as we should tell the truth and not risk that others take the blame for our shortcomings. Whilst I support this ethical argument I am going to ignore it for the time being. What I want to build on is the selfish argument for taking the blame.
There are three outcomes that managers in business are regularly required to achieve. I want to discuss these three outcomes, or more precisely the inter-relationship between them. I am going to use the example of projects. That is not because this is an article for project managers, but because projects provide a very clear example of the problems of trying to achieve these three outcomes simultaneously. The ideas in this article are widely applicable beyond the specific domain of projects.
The three outcomes are: meeting commitments, enabling flexibility and keeping resources 100% utilised. The main message of my article is simple: you cannot achieve all three. Constantly trying to do so is a waste of effort that misses an important opportunity.
I was not the most diligent of students first time around. The pleasures of a vibrant social life seemed much more interesting. But I ploughed my way through 4 years of a double honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and Economics. Like many graduates, I have never practiced my academic disciplines. I have never worked as an engineer or an economist, and much of what I learnt has been discarded to the dim recesses at the back of my mind. I can at least say I had a brilliant time at university.
Ronald Coase the Nobel prize winning economist died recently at the ripe old age of 103. I have an economics degree and remember, very vaguely, having his theories explained.
The American philosopher Thomas Nagel ends his short book “Mind and Cosmos” with these words:
“The empirical evidence can be interpreted to accommodate different comprehensive theories, but in this case the cost in conceptual and probabilistic contortions is prohibitive. I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two – though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid. The human will to believe is inexhaustible.”
One of the habits I have observed in management is the tendency, in trying to solve a problem, to focus in one area, when it is a different issue that lies at the bottom of the challenge being faced. A key reason for this is the questions that are asked.
When is it appropriate to say no to a piece of work? If you are in professional services, are a contractor or consultant there will be regular times when client work is in the offing. Then you need to think “should I do this piece of work”.