I remember my first day at summer camp. My parents, and all of the other parents, had driven away. All of the campers had eaten dinner together, but the painfully shy introverts, like myself, mostly nibbled at their food in silence, while the extroverts got to know one another. And, the returning girls quickly caught up on a year of exciting announcements from their friends – laughing, cheering, clapping, and asking for seconds.
After dinner, two camp counselors gathered our group of six and seventh grade girls in a roped off area of the woods. It was dusk and she planned to get some housekeeping matters on the table. The bugs were starting to bite me. There was nowhere to sit because we hadn’t built the benches that we would later use. And all of us were new.
One of the counselors started talking about the rules at camp, all of which had been carefully thought through by the older and wiser leaders who were simply worried about safety. They weren’t called rules but that’s what they were.
And then, the other counselor started talking about the planned activities for the next day. We were going to spend the morning scrounging the woods for items that we could creatively use to build our own playspace in the woods, from which we alone would spend hours a day doing camp activities.
After lunch, we were sure to enjoy writing notes to our parents and friends, telling them all about our camp days, during “quiet time,” in our cabins.
The highlight of every afternoon was swimming and canoeing – in a large, spring fed lake surrounded by tall pines and mountain peaks in the Blue Ridge mountains. The first step was the mandatory swimming test, and I was terrified of deep water.
As I stood in the woods that night, I began to feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach. This was not going well. And by the third day, I was in the infirmary for the rest of the week, where at least the nurse was nice to me. Sadly, the counselors (like some project managers I’ve known) made no effort to get to know the campers before announcing the game plan.
Project leadership can come in many different ways and from various directions. It begins with knowing your people. Everyone is different. Some people can’t function without their paper lists while others can’t think unless their fingers are hitting a keyboard or phone.
Some people can’t speak in public and that includes your team meetings. While others can’t plan a simple trip to a grocery store without some help. Some are gifted at seeing the next critical course of action while a precious few are pied pipers who will lead your team down the path they are on. Let’s hope it’s the one you want them on.
Many projects fail because the project loses executive support, which includes funding. Others fail because the project manager wasn’t able to lead effectively.
But very often, your project teams, your clients, and your management consist of very smart people. They are full of lots of innovative ideas that you won’t be able to execute effectively if the team doesn’t stay focused.
So a big part of leadership means learning how to focus your teams on the results you want. You simply cannot do everything. You need to understand how to bring out the best in your people, how to coach people, how to let go and let them self-manage a bit, and when to step in and direct your project teams.
The Smart Projex methodology uses very specific meeting agendas to bring accountability and focus to your projects and your people.