A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

The eXtreme Project Management™ Series: No. 8
Based on the forthcoming book:

The End of Project Management as We Know It:
eXtreme Project Management™ for Everyone

by Doug DeCarlo, Principal
The Doug DeCarlo Group
www.dougdecarlo.com

GETTING BEYOND EMOTIONAL IGNORANCE:
The Feelings –> Facts –> Solutions Model

(This article has been adapted from the chapter entitled "Critical Success Factor #2: Leadership By Commitment,"
from eXtreme Project Management™ for Everyone to be published by Jossey-Bass, September 2004)


eXtreme projects are emotionally charged ventures: The combination of high speed, high uncertainty and constant change causes stress and conflict as stakeholders with different viewpoints and temperaments continually vie to steer the project towards its desirable outcome. Surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant, can keep the project on a constant roller coaster.

If the project goes into a bad mood and stays there, its ability to succeed is seriously compromised. An important role of the extreme project manager is to manage the mood of the project. And this involves practicing the art of emotional intelligence. The ability to apply emotional intelligence is one of your most powerful tools.

How to Practice Emotional Ignorance
I used to be a master at emotional ignorance. That was in the days when I was a workaholic, which played a big role in wrecking my marriage.

One evening (or I should say "night") I walked in the door around 11:00 p.m. Waiting for me was my wife Lucrecia. She was livid and lit into me full throttle. "Where have you been? You missed your son's little league game today for the 3rd time this year. Even when you're home and not on a plane, you still don't take the time to be a real father. Every other father was there rooting for his son. But not you. No, not you. You and your damned job are turning your son into an orphan!"

At the time, John Grey's book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus had not been published. Even if it had been, I would have been too busy to read it. So as the man from Mars, I calmly proceeded to reach into my suit jacket pocket and pull out the timeline for my latest project which was to launch a market intelligence service to be sold to computer equipment manufacturers. I then proceeded to explain the facts of the matter and told Lucrecia that if she looked carefully, she could see that I was on the critical path for this project and I had to finalize the direct mail package to meet the printer's deadline.

The words "critical path" were all she had to hear. "Critical path!" she responded, incensed. "I'm going to put you on the critical list!" She was about to haul off.

It took me years to realize what I jerk I had been in attempting to explain my position by giving her a mini-lecture on the facts of my job and my deadline. Lesson: When someone is in the feeling state and upset, throwing facts at the person only inflames things, just like throwing gasoline on a bonfire. It will invariably make matters worse. This is the height of emotional ignorance.

Emotional Intelligence
So how could I have responded to Lucrecia? Had I known better, I would have acknowledged her feelings. I could have done this by saying, "I see my coming in late is really upsetting to you." And, I would have postponed any discussion of (my) facts until the emotions had calmed down. Only at that point, would I even be in a position to really hear her concerns and her mine. Until that happens, no solution is possible. And we remain stuck in our muck.

The process of emotional intelligence I am referring to can by summed up by this sequence: Feelings –> Facts –> Solutions. Said in an even more shorthand way, you can refer to it as the Feelings First Model. (I had it backwards in my example with Lucrecia: I put the facts before her feelings.)

Like people, projects can be in a good mood or a bad mood. Unless the feelings running through a situation are addressed and relieved, people and projects will stay stuck. After all, projects are people. It's the touchy feeling stuff.

This means that if project stakeholders are upset and differences are not aired, those suppressed feelings will block progress. The project's energy will be misdirected into underground activities that undermine the project. These include badmouthing, pulling people from the project team, delayed approval cycles, no-shows at team meetings, negative body language and much more, all of which keep the project in a bad mood because the context has gone sour.

The typical response to these anti-project activities is to put in place rules and policies to get people to cooperate. These mandates can then be used as a clubs for purposes of compliance and even coercion. But, it's difficult to squelch the human spirit. People are creative and like to find workarounds, just like water will make its own way around obstacles in its path.

The moral is: Feelings first. This applies not only to your dealings with the people around you; it applies equally to how you deal with yourself. Unless you can first deal effectively with your own emotions about a situation, you are playing with a partial deck in making decisions and in managing, communicating and leading others.

The importance of processing one's own feelings first was brought home vividly to me when my former wife Lucrecia passed away from cancer. Even though we were divorced at the time I played a major role in making the funeral arrangements. I was grief stricken, yet was challenged to make intelligent financial and other decisions relating to the burial. This was complicated because of the paperwork and logistics of shipping her remains to La Paz, Bolivia. The emotional pain got in the way of my ability to think clearly and consider the options being presented. In order to be effective in my role, I had to spend a good amount of time experiencing my personal feelings about the tragedy. Only then was I able to act in the best interests of all concerned.

The same principle works in less somber situations. I remember stopping at The Wiz, a discount consumer electronics store, and seeing a demonstration for a camcorder. I got really excited at the prospect and made an impulse buy (a cool $950) so I could record my speeches. I've had the camcorder for 6 years and used it 3 times. Had I let my initial excitement calm down until I was more rational, I doubt I would have made the purchase.

In his landmark book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman cogently sums up the argument for emotional intelligence:
    "How well leaders manage their moods and affect everyone else's moods, then becomes not just a private matter, but a factor in how well a business will do."
Not everybody who is thrust into the role of eXtreme project manager has the temperament for the job. It you don't, there's nothing wrong with you. But unless you can adapt, my experience has shown that you are putting your personal well-being—call it sanity if you like—at grave risk. It's also a strong signal to look for other job or project environments that are more suited to your native style.

The key touchy-feely points here are:
  • The extreme project manager lives in a world that is emotionally charged
  • To be effective, s/he has to be emotionally intelligent when dealing with team members
  • The first feelings to be dealt are your own



eXtremely yours,

Doug




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