Stop Managing Start Leading: The Engaging Leader

If you do a quick research on project success rates, you will notice the high rate of failed projects.  Project Management Institute (PMI.org), the globally acclaimed organisation that sets the standards and disciplines of project management, reported in their Pulse of the Profession yearly publication (February 2018) that 31% of projects did not ‘achieve their original goal or business intent’.

You can’t but wonder why there is a high rate of failed projects despite the many frameworks, disciplines, methodologies, trainings and continually improving processes.  It is certainly time to look beyond ‘how’ we do things (methodologies and processes) and carefully consider ‘who’ are doing things (people).

This is the theme of my presentation that I delivered in Berlin in May 2018 during the PMI EMEA Congress 2018.  My argument is “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.  To improve your project success rate, or any other business success for that matter, you have to:

  1. recruit the right people, and
  2. more importantly: motivate, inspire, encourage and challenge them.

In other words, you have to continually engage your staff.

Today’s knowledge workers are highly skilled with access to sophisticated tools; a plethora of learning and training resources to stay ‘on top’ of new trends and technologies; and easier access to a wider range of markets – local and overseas via outsourcing and virtual teams.  The moment that the good knowledge workers feel demotivated, they will jump off your ship and swim to another ship – and they are very good swimmers.

To keep your good staff on-board, you should have ‘engaging leaders’.  Read on my presentation slides StopManagingStartEngaging to learn how to be an engaging leader.  You can also download the one-page Handout-StopManagingStartEngaging to use with your teams.

Civility Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence, Social Intelligence, Strategic Intelligence, Leadership Intelligence, Cultural Intelligence.  These are some of the skills and behaviours of effective leaders, as promoted by many scholars and thought leaders.  I would like to add a new one: Civility Intelligence.

Sometime ago I was in discussion with our contracting team to renew some expiring engagements for some contractors in our business unit.  The situation had a sense of urgency and required fast turnover due to multiple processes and new guidelines mixed with overly optimistic assumptions and delays caused by many parties – my team included.  One step in the contract renewal process is to complete a certain contracting template.  My teammate completed the template and I joined her in a meeting with a couple of officers from the contracting team to review the completed template.

In this meeting, one particular officer missed no opportunity to remind me that we are in this situation of urgency because of my team’s delay and our business unit disrespect of the contracting processes.  The officer completely ignored their own overly optimistic assumptions that they took during the previous renewal round.  A colleague in my team who processed the previous renewals has clearly warned the same contracting team at the time about those overly optimistic assumptions – but the warnings were completely ignored. As a result, we all found ourselves in a situation where we have to rush things in a very short time to ensure the smooth running of the company’s projects led by those contractors.

I managed to keep my composure during that unjoyful discussion because my objective was to complete the renewals rather than discuss what happened and who to blame.  I presume that the officer’s intention was to make us pay more attention next time.  However, I did feel that the behaviour was tilted more toward the rude-toxic side of the scale.  This unexpected behaviour has indeed elevated my stress to an unprecedented level that I had to go out of the office for an hour walk, just to relax and regain my self-control.  My other meetings and to-do list have suffered as a result.

I recently remembered that incident when I read about a study mentioned by Christine Porath in her book Mastering Civility.  The study has clearly indicated that incivility has negative impact on workers productivity.  The study, conducted by the American Psychological Association, estimates that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year.  A poll of hundreds of managers and employees across different industries shows that among workers who have been on the receiving end of incivility, 48% intentionally decreased their work effort, 80% lost work time worrying about the incident, and 78% said their commitment to the organisation has declined.  Although this study was conducted in America, I can say that similar impact applies here in Australia.

‘Civility Intelligence’ is something that we should be aware of, and actively seek and develop.  On one hand, civility enhances the performance of teams and organisations.  Another study mentioned in Mastering Civility book reveals that when leaders treated members of their teams well and fairly, the team members were more productive individually and as a team.  They also were more likely to go above and beyond their call of duty.  On the other hand, rudeness has negative impact on work productivity, as well as health impacts.  Robert Saplosky in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains that when people experience intermittent stressors like incivility also experience significant health problems.  Incivility can deplete your immune system causing different kinds of diseases.

Sometimes we do uncivil actions at work unintentionally.  You should be aware of your own Civility Intelligence, notice whether you neglect to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; whether you email, text or check your phone during meetings; keep people waiting needlessly; belittle others nonverbally like rolling your eyes or smirking; ignore invitations; or write uncivil or unnecessarily long emails.

If you think that when you are not behaving rudely then you are behaving in a civil fashion, think again.  Civility Intelligence is not just ‘not behaving rudely’; it requires positive gestures of respect, courtesy and kindness that lift your staff and colleagues up.  The first step in developing Civility Intelligence is to be self-aware of your own behaviours.  To know how you actually behave, ask for focused feedback on your behaviours, teach yourself how to read emotions and make time for reflection.  Identify people or situations that cause you to lose your temper, and work on explicitly managing your temper and behaviour in such situations. You can also work with a coach who can detect subtleties in your behaviour that you may not be aware of.

To become more civil at work, Christine Porath in her book Mastering Civility suggests to start with three fundamental behaviours: smiling, building relationships with subordinates and listening.  Smiling lifts your mood, decreases stress and rubs off on others.  To smile more you can think about what makes you happy: your kids, a favourite hobby or a joke you recently heard.  Guy Kawasaki mentioned in his book Enchantment, while smiling sends a very clear message about your state of mind; not smiling creates an opening for many interpretations including grumpiness, aloofness and anger.

‘Relationships with subordinates’ is the most important success factor for those holding top leadership positions, as identified by the Centre of Creative Leadership (CCL).  To relate well with subordinates, you should first acknowledge them.  Practice the 4/2 way: if you are within 4 metres, make eye contact – with a smile.  If you are with 2 metres, say Hi.

Listening is very different to hearing.  Listening is hard work, it requires energy and concentration.  Practice to listen better, listen to learn, listen to understand, but don’t listen only to respond.  Be there completely, focus your attention and join in the conversation in the fullest sense.  Remember that listening well is very important to building relationships.

It certainly pays to develop your Civility Intelligence.  Think about it, if you need help from a colleague, would you call upon someone who is rude and uncivil, or someone who is usually nice to you and others?