Six Steps to Unleashing Your Potential
Susanne Madsen (Author)
Publication date: 02/01/2012
Knowing what you want to achieve is the first step in becoming as successful as possible. Only when you know what you are aiming for can you reach your goals and fulfill your ambitions.
The subconscious mind works to achieve the things that you think about most of the time, whether you want them or not. This is why I encourage you to switch your thinking away from what you do not want to what you do want.
The first part of this workbook, Step 1, is designed to make you think about what kind of project manager you want to become. Which qualities would you like to be known for, and what would you like to achieve in your career as a project manager? How do you define success, and what does excellence look like to you? There are many ways of achieving excellence, but you are the only one who can determine what it means to you.
I will guide you through a number of insightful questions that relate to your personal characteristics and to your behavior as a project manager. I will also ask you to write a vision and mission statement that encapsulates who and what you would like to be, do, and have. The vision and mission statement becomes your beacon and measure of success.
After completing Step 1 you will know what your strengths and challenges are as a project manager, what your goals are and what success means to you. A discussion of specific project management tips, tools, and techniques will follow shortly. But first we need to know a bit about who you are and what you want to achieve in your career as a project manager.
WHAT IS PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
Project management is about establishing what is in scope and out of scope of a project and subsequently organizing and managing resources in such a way that specific goals and objectives are achieved within a certain set of criteria.
Project management is the art and science of making a project’s vision come alive and getting things done—more so than determining what the vision itself is. Of course, there will be no project without a vision and clear objectives, but determining the “why and what” of a project is more a concern for the customer or change manager than for the project manager.
You could say that change management provides the project’s vision and is concerned with the human impact of change, whereas project management is related to how that vision is executed. These two disciplines go hand in hand and are both concerned with the transformation process between a present and a future state. The more experienced you become, the more likely it is that you will take on the role of a change manager in addition to your role as project manager.
Project management involves many different types of activities that all serve the purpose of ensuring that the project’s vision is executed and turned into reality within certain time, quality, and budget constraints. These activities relate to planning and coordinating tasks and to directing and supervising people. Scope and deliverables need to be specified, estimated, and executed, and quality must be assured. Risks, issues, and change requests need to be effectively managed, and a significant amount of time needs to be spent liaising with stakeholders and ensuring that the team remains focused and motivated.
In accordance with the philosophy that you manage tasks and lead people, it could be argued that project management contains an equal number of management and leadership activities. On that basis, we could go on to define project management as:
The management role that defines, plans, coordinates, and controls a project’s scope and operational activities, and the leadership role that inspires and focuses everyone contributing to the successful completion of the project’s goals and objectives.
To become a highly valued and truly successful project management leader, you need to be an excellent manager as well as a good leader. You must be able to access and make use of both skill sets, depending on the immediate need and the situation to which you are responding. In addition, you must be excellent at managing your time and consistently focus on the right activities. Some of the activities you engage in are essential to the dynamics and ongoing progress of the project and must be completed by you. Others are less important and could potentially be delegated to someone else.
Doing something very well that does not need to be done at all is a poor use of time. Before starting any activity, check how important it is to the overall success of the project or to the functioning of the team. Aim to always focus on the highest-value activities and delegate or defer the others. The tasks and activities that matter the most must never be at the mercy of the tasks and activities that matter the least.
Exercise: Project Management Activities
1. Brainstorm all of the tasks and activities that, in your experience, form part of a project manager’s job. Consider aspects that relate to the management of tasks as well as people. Write them down on a separate piece of paper.
2. Write each of the project management activities you identified in the leftmost column of the table below.
3. Assign a high, medium, or low rating to each activity depending on how much you believe it benefits your current project.
4. Next, assign each activity a high, medium, or low rating depending on how much you personally enjoy the activity.
5. Indicate how many hours per week you typically spend on each activity.
7. Which of the high-benefit activities do you need to spend relatively more time on in order to maximize your value to the project, and which lower-value activities can you spend less time on?
8. Examine the items that add a lot of benefit but which you do not particularly enjoy doing. How can you either make them more enjoyable or delegate them to someone else without jeopardizing the success of the project?
9. To add more weight to this exercise, talk it through with your manager. Get her views on what your tasks and responsibilities are and what you need to be spending relatively more or less time on.
MANAGEMENT VS. LEADERSHIP
The concepts of management and leadership are recurring themes throughout this workbook. I have chosen to use the word management to describe anything that relates to the control and direction of tasks, events, and processes, and leadership for anything that relates to the control and direction of people. On that basis, leadership and management encompass different but overlapping elements. It is possible to be good at one but not the other. It is, however, also possible to be good at both disciplines at the same time.
As a manager, you are typically involved in scheduling work, delegating tasks, coordinating effort and resources, monitoring and guiding progress, building teams, and appealing to rational thinking. As a leader, however, your role is to inspire people, explain goals, share the vision, provide focus, be a role model, monitor morale, create a positive team feeling, and unleash potential.
Field Marshal William Slim elegantly explained the difference between leadership and management in the following way: “Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision. Its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculations, statistics, methods, timetables, and routine. Its practice is a science”.
One of the biggest differences between managers and leaders is the way they motivate people who work for them. Managers are in a position of authority, and their subordinates largely do as they are told because they get a reward (or a salary) for doing so. Leaders see their role quite differently and typically offer more creative opportunities when it comes to motivating staff. Leaders focus on inspiring people and on giving credit to others. They focus on the overall vision and end goal and on how they can best engage and serve others so that they in turn feel inspired and motivated to contribute to the vision.
Leaders tend to have followers rather than subordinates. They do not tell people what to do; that would not inspire them to follow. People follow because they feel inspired and because they want to contribute, not because they are told to.
Many associate the word leader with a particular role, such as the CEO of a major company. But leadership is not a function of what you do or what your job title is; rather, it is a function of your personal capabilities. Leaders can be found in many guises and in all walks of life; many parents, for instance, are leaders.
Exercise: Management and Leadership Activities
Think about project management and how it overlaps with general management and leadership.
1. Make a list of typical project management activities that fall within the classic discipline of management.
2. Make a similar list of project management activities that predominantly reside within the discipline of leadership.
3. In which situations would you benefit from acting more like a leader than a manager, and vice versa?
We will be examining the concept of leadership throughout this workbook and will assess what you can do to actively incorporate some of the most important qualities of leadership into the way you interact with your team and project stakeholders.
WHAT IS A GOOD PROJECT MANAGER?
Managing projects requires a great deal of effort, skill, and finesse. As a project manager, you are expected to engage with a big-picture vision and make a certain promise to execute it and turn it into reality within certain time, quality, and budget constraints. This requires thoughtful consideration and a great deal of skill and personal leadership. It requires you to fully understand the vision, scope, and constraints of the project and to continually work to remove blockages. You must consistently spend time on those things that matter the most to the success of the project, and you must focus on people as much as you focus on tasks.
There are as many ways of executing a project as there are people. We all have different ways of doing things, and we experience different degrees of success in what we do. Yet some people stand out from the crowd. They seem to have a different mindset and tend to succeed at most things they venture into. That is not to say that they do not fail, because they do. What matters is that they have the drive, confidence, and attitude to keep going and to turn failure into key learning points which will eventually help them succeed. They have a winning mentality, and they set a great example for others to follow.
When you come across a person who has a winning mentality and whom you admire, it may be because you feel that you lack some of what he has. You admire him for having a particular skill that you would love to have. If you are searching for guidance on what you can do to enhance your own career, a natural first step is to look at people who inspire you.
Exercise: Inspirational People
Take a moment to consider the people who have inspired you in your life and career to date. This could be anyone you have worked with professionally, a family member, a friend, or a person you have admired from a distance.
1. Below, write the names of people who have made a positive impression on you because of their management or leadership skills. List people who stood out for one reason or another. Maybe they were particularly courageous, charismatic, driven, or inspirational.
2. Write down what you admired in each of them.
4. How would you feel if you embodied these qualities? What would you be doing differently from what you are doing today?
Role models can play an important part in your ongoing development. But when you look to people you admire, be careful not to put yourself down or say that you can never be as good as them. Each of us has unique qualities, and each of us is at a different stage in our personal and professional development. Even your role models are in many ways still students who continue to learn and grow.
Use your role models as a compass for the direction in which you want to go. Take a close look at their best qualities and ask yourself how you can incorporate some of them into your own personality and behavior. Visualize the person you would like to be, then act as if you are already that person. When you can imagine it, you can do it!
When I looked at my own role models and what I admired about them, I found that I was particularly inspired by people who remained calm during times of conflict and pressure and who always managed to keep their teams focused on the end goal. When I became aware of this, I examined myself more closely. I found that I was very task-oriented and at times very reactive. I wanted to become more visionary, calm, and measured in my responses to challenging situations.
When I realized this, I began to identify situations where I could proactively make a change. I visualized how I wanted to behave, and I imagined what I would say and do in particular situations. I also asked myself hypothetical questions such as, “What would the head of the department do in this situation? What would my role model advise me to do?” I found that this technique made it easier for me to actually make a change.
• Who are your role models in the area of project management? You may not be able to think of one person who is excellent in all areas, so identify several people who inspire you in different ways.
• What does each of them do well?
• How would you define a good project manager and his or her role?
IDENTIFY YOUR STRENGTHS
We all have strengths, unique talents, and abilities that set us apart from others. Your strengths are your most powerful skills and attributes and your best tools for accomplishment. They illustrate what you do really well and how you differentiate yourself from others.
When you play to your strengths, you create a positive situation for yourself and for the project, and all parties benefit. The project and people around you benefit from your expertise and positive energy, and you benefit from feeling good, being in control, and being in your flow.
When you do the things you are good at, you have an opportunity to shine, and you are more likely to be of value and a source of inspiration to people around you. Your confidence naturally grows, and you feel successful, calm, and resourceful.
Consider the following questions about the strengths and abilities that you contribute to project management.
• What are your strengths, talents, and abilities? Think about all your good qualities, things you are proud of, and past successes. These might include your personal characteristics, people skills, knowledge, or ability to handle specific tasks and situations. Write down everything you can think of.
• What is your hidden potential, and what are some ways in which you could make use of it?
• How can you become a role model for others to follow?
We all have different backgrounds, aspirations, and experiences, and we all have different stories to tell. Let me share my story with you.
A number of years ago I was, like many other project managers, working hard on a project that seemed to be getting increasingly complex, with tighter and tighter deadlines. I was stressed and overworked, and I was not leveraging my capabilities in the best possible way. I spent most of my time planning and tracking tasks and dealing with urgent issues. There was not much time left for being proactive, thinking ahead, or spending quality time with team members or stakeholders. I was under a lot of pressure and did not feel that I had anyone to delegate to. But more importantly, I was not enjoying myself, and I was not always in control of the project.
A number of things made me change.
The defining moment was a coaching session in which I discussed my issues with stress and managing my workload. Within just one hour, I realized that one of my core beliefs was that project management is inherently stressful (and painful), and there is nothing I can do about it. At that stage in my career I had been managing projects for well over ten years, and my experiences told me that project management was a very demanding and stressful job. Period.
Recognizing that project management does not have to be stressful was a true eureka moment for me. I instantly understood that my belief was subjective, not the objective truth, and that I had the power to challenge it and change it. What a shift that was! Understanding that my belief was not necessarily true allowed me to start working with it and to slowly dissolve it and become more effective and valuable in my job.
When you realize that you have the power to change your beliefs and remove a limiting factor that has been constraining you, you have an “aha!” moment. You feel relieved and empowered.
Today I have the audacity to challenge most people’s beliefs, as they are just that: beliefs. They are true only because we believe in them. When we replace them with more empowering thoughts, our worldview can change in a split second.
My eureka moment made me pause, take a step back, and do less. I did this to regain my energy and to free up time to collect my thoughts. And then something magical happened. New ideas started to pop up, and I began to see patterns and connections that I had not noticed before. I looked at the bigger picture and started to understand how I could leverage my strengths and work more effectively. I gave myself the opportunity to be more proactive and to work smarter.
I took a closer look at myself as a project manager and the values that were driving my work. I examined my own worth, and I explored my boundaries. Why was it so important for me to work long hours and to micromanage my team? Was there a better way to get things done? I had to acknowledge that it was not the hours I put in that mattered, but the quality of my work. I realized that in order to produce better-quality work, I would have to change the way I spent my time.
One of the changes I made that had a significant impact was delegating more. I recognized that I could not do everything by myself and that I needed to get better at asking for help and support. I got a project administrator on board to help with lower-level task tracking and administrative work. It was essential work, but it was not essential that I did it.
Delegating more freed me up to spend time with the team and key stakeholders, listening to their ideas and concerns and looking at what we could do better. I started focusing more on picturing the end state of the project and proactively reducing the risks associated with the road to getting there.
Today, I put as much emphasis on people as I do on tasks. I listen, I build strong relationships, and I trust others. I manage and lead people in a way that complements their individual needs, as opposed to micromanaging everyone across the board.
I often take a step back, observe the project, and ask the following questions:
• What is the core problem we are here to solve?
• How clear are the project’s goal and vision?
• What can I do to make everyone on the team understand it and buy into it?
• What could get in our way of achieving the end goal? What have we not yet thought of?
• How do I know that what we are building is what the users need?
• What can we do to improve the way we test and verify requirements?
• How has the project progressed to date, and what issues have come up (e.g., people, quality, scope, stakeholders, communication)?
• What can we do to improve the way we work?
• How motivated and committed is the team?
• What can I do to inspire people and use everyone’s potential better?
• Who do I need to spend more quality time with?
• How effectively am I spending my own time?
• What can I do differently to optimize the way I work?
Previously, I probably spent up to 75 percent of my time focusing on tasks and as little as 25 percent on people. Most of my time was spent firefighting and making up for the fact that we had not analyzed the problem and the end goal properly.
When I started delegating, my focus shifted. I spent more time liaising with the team and the stakeholders and ensuring that high-level and strategic tasks were executed smoothly. I was moving toward taking on the role of change manager in addition to my role as project manager. This shift enabled me to become more effective and to leverage my strengths better.
IDENTIFY YOUR PROJECT MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
Your beliefs about the world and yourself have a powerful effect on your behavior as a project manager. The way you think determines everything you say, do, believe, and feel. If you want to change the way you do things and the way you deal with challenges, you first have to change the way you think about things. Any improvement you desire on the outside as a project manager begins with improvements on the inside. When you change your inner world, you will notice that your external world changes too.
One of the differences between ordinary and successful people is that successful people do not give up when presented with an obstacle or a challenge. They pick themselves up, get to the root cause of the issue, and change their approach accordingly. Successful people come across as many roadblocks as everyone else, but instead of giving in and blaming others, they change their approach and do something about the situation. They are proactive and keep trying new ways.
Exercise: Challenges and Root Causes
1. On a separate piece of paper, identify the biggest challenges you are facing right now as a project manager. This could be anything from dealing with specific tasks to managing and directing people or handling stress. List anything that concerns you and that you seem to spend a lot of time and energy worrying about.
2. Select the five topics that concern you the most and list them in the leftmost column of the table below.
3. For each of the five entries, carefully examine what the root cause could be. What is the bottom line? What does the challenge ultimately come down to? To help you identify the root cause, keep asking “why” until you have found the ultimate reason for your concern. It is by identifying and addressing the root causes of your concerns and challenges that you are able to overcome them.
For example, imagine that a project manager is finding it difficult to manage her workload. She feels that there is too much work and that she never gets to do any of her tasks properly. On the face of it, the reason may seem to be the workload itself, or that her managers are giving her too much to do. But when she asks why, she may find that the root cause relates to her own desire to please and to her reluctance to ask for help and support from others.
4. Which actions could you take to address the root causes of your concerns and challenges? Record your findings in the column to the right.
IDENTIFY YOUR LIMITING FACTOR
In almost everything you do, a single factor sets the speed at which you achieve your goals or complete a job. This factor is a constraint that determines how effectively you manage yourself and others and how successful you are at achieving a specific outcome.
To put it another way, we could say that your performance is determined by your potential, less interference. This interference could be a limiting thought, an unhelpful behavior, or any external influences or distractions that have a negative impact on your focus and ability to perform an activity.
Many people are limited by a negative self-image and hold themselves back unnecessarily because they do not believe in their own abilities. If this rings true for you, you need to come to an understanding of what you have learned to think and believe about yourself so that you can unwind any negative thought patterns and start thinking and behaving in new ways.
To improve your performance and unleash your potential, you must identify and remove your limiting factor and limiting beliefs. Focus on what it is that interferes with your abilities and prevents you from performing at your best. When you take action at that level, you address the root cause of some of your biggest challenges.
Exercise: Your Limiting Factor
Take a moment to think about what your limiting factor might be.
1. On a separate piece of paper, identify and write down all the situations you can think of in which you tend to hold yourself back or not perform at your best. Examples might include giving presentations, facing off with senior stakeholders, challenging team members, or any other project-related activity.
2. Look at each of the situations you have identified and examine which underlying beliefs and habits might be interfering with your performance. Do you, for instance, believe that you are not good enough at certain things? Do you deliberately put yourself down? Perhaps you avoid certain situations or tasks because you do not enjoy them. Write down anything that comes to mind.
3. Go back to the previous exercise and examine the root causes you identified. Could any of these root causes be your limiting factor?
4. Which beliefs and habits do you need to change in order to address your limiting factor?
WRITE YOUR VISION AND MISSION STATEMENT
Formulating a personal vision and mission statement for your project management practice is an important step in becoming more successful at what you do because it articulates your aspirations and ambitions. A vision and mission statement expresses, in just one paragraph, who you want to be and what you want to do and have as a project manager. It also functions as a measure of your success in reaching those goals. If you have a vision and mission statement, it is much easier for you to direct your development plan and understand which capabilities you must strive to enhance and which behaviors you need to change.
A vision and mission statement encapsulates the essence of what you want to achieve and how you want to present yourself. It states your intentions, summarizes your values, and demonstrates your commitment to living up to these values.
A vision and mission statement should reflect your values, vision, goals, and purpose. It is really important that you feel excited and inspired by it. When you read it aloud, it should make you feel good and compelled to live by it.
Exercise: Composing Your Vision and Mission Statement
1. Answer the following questions as honestly and with as much passion and commitment as you can. The answers will help you compose a vision and mission statement of your own.
• What personal qualities do you most want to emphasize?
• How can you use and display these qualities in a working environment?
• What are the most important values you want to express at work?
2. Visualize yourself five years from now. Imagine that you are managing and leading the project of your dreams. Envision that everything is exactly the way you want it to be: the type of project you are running, the industry it is in, its size and complexity, the people involved, and your own capabilities and confidence as a project manager. Imagine that you are every bit as successful as you want to be. Feel it and see it.
Use the space below to draw a picture of yourself and your surroundings five years from now. Draw the things you see, feel, and hear. Use as many colors as you want.
3. Keep imagining yourself in the future, and be as specific as possible in your observations. Where exactly are you? What are you doing? Who are you talking to? What does the project look like? How big is it? How complex is it? How are you feeling? Why do you want to be exactly where you are? Add more detail and descriptive words to the illustration.
4. How would you sum up your vision and mission as a project manager? What are the things you ultimately want to achieve? Who do you want to be? What do you want to do?
5. What will need to happen in order for you to feel proud of your progress as a project manager in five years’ time?
EXAMPLES OF VISION AND MISSION STATEMENTS
“My vision is to live each day to the fullest and to treat others with the same respect I deserve myself. I look for strengths in others and the good in every situation. I grow stronger with each accomplishment, and even stronger with each setback. My mission and ultimate goal is to pass on these values to my family and to everyone I work with.”
“The project manager I choose to be is someone who lives life honestly and compassionately, and who inspires and motivates others to deliver remarkable projects with the philosophy that everything is possible.”
“My vision is to be honest and empathetic towards others and to build my reputation based on performance. I am committed to growing as a leader by learning from those with more experience than myself and to champion others to grow personally and professionally. My mission is to create and lead a dream team where everyone is playing to their strengths in order to deliver value-added projects that provide the end users with a superior experience.”
“I am calm and resourceful in everything that I do. I listen, I observe, and I make effective decisions. I build strong and trusting relationships and I put pride in being open, honest, and proactive. I choose to filter out negative and pessimistic views and strive to show strength during adversity. I find support and balance inside myself. My pleasure comes from seeing my team thrive and succeed in the delivery of great projects to a satisfied customer.”
Compose Your Vision and Mission Statement
Write your own vision and mission statement. Remember that above all, you must feel excited and inspired by it. For the remainder of the workbook we will be referring back to this statement as your measure of success. It illustrates what you want to achieve as a project manager and how you want to carry yourself.
Feel free to also make a drawing that complements your words.
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