by Lou Russell

October 05, 2011

Lead, Follow and Be Left Behind: The Plague

I am annoyed. The quality of my work is suffering, I am redoing things because I screwed them up the first time, and I am exhausted and frustrated. I can see where I want my business to be in the future, and it's taking me way too long to get there. As the leader of this company, I recognize that this trend is not going the way that is best for the success of my teams or customers. As an alleged export in Project Management, I am guilt-ridden. Lucky for me, there is plenty of company for my misery. There's a plague in offices all over the country and it's killing our productivity and psyche.
Here's how we greet each other, the secret 'handshake' of those of us who have the plague: "How's it going?" "Oh my goodness, we are all so busy…", "Well, that's a good thing in this economy, right?', "Umm, ya sure. Of course, it is. " Not only are we teetering on the edge of a very tall cliff, but we also can't tell anyone about it. It just wouldn't be right to complain. So many people out of work, so many people whose lives are much more difficult than ours.

So, we swallow our feelings, put our head down and muddle on pretending to do important, sustaining work but really checking things off as fast as we can in hopes that the list will somehow end. That email will break one day soon and be down for a while. That it really is possible to finish a project, at least one, right?

We're breaking. As our facilitator, Nadine Martin always says "Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." I believe we are all practicing this truism on a daily basis.

Here's more proof. My two project management books Project Management for Trainers and 10 Steps to Successful Project Managers have been selling the best of all my books. That makes sense - they are about doing more with less. My students love the techniques for the Project Charter, especially the visual scope diagram. It's a great idea to use these tools to communicate to all our busy stakeholders (living lives of chaos just like we do) how complex our project is and what we're going to need to get it done with the quality expected. Notice this focus is on other people being accountable to us. Students do not like doing the Project Plan. This requires detailed work, specifics, dates, and holding people accountable, especially the project manager. Hmmm… that's about us being accountable to others. Oops, sorry, we don't have time. One particularly truthful student emailed that he was too busy doing projects to learn project management.

Suddenly one of my older books Leadership Training has been selling like crazy. We have all been way to busy for leadership for the last three years or so and it surprised me. Actually, this book has everything you need - Powerpoint, teaching notes, detailed games and interactions - to teach a 1/2 day, 1 day, or 2-day leadership workshop. Are people getting stressed enough to trigger supervisors to try to teach themselves? Or try to teach their staff? Can we check off leadership development as quickly as possible? At best that's a starting point. Let's step up and get back to being leaders more than once every few weeks.

We know life is flying by while we're distracted and distraught. We are trying to lead, follow and still, we are getting left behind. For my part, here is how I am working to change my approach to work:

  • Timebox projects into sustained, focused amounts of time instead of bits of emails, phone calls, and conversations. Work on one, finish it, go to the next.
  • Limit how many times a day I look at email to less than a handful.
  • Walk away when I need to. Exercise, eat well, spend time with my family. When you're struggling, stop.
  • SAY NO. I can't do everything (have proven that very well). If you're out of time and money, you have to CUT SCOPE. What will I cut?
  • The amount of activity does not equal my value. They have nothing to do with each other.
  • Try to get my arms around being a leader in life, in the office, in my family. Stop following. Notice others and help them, because they likely have the plague, too.

Lou Russell

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