3rd Degree Burns on 95% of the Body

bodyonfire.jpgOne of the biggest mistakes I made as a novice project manager was burning bridges that I would later need to walk across. Heck, I was a friggin’ arsonist! If someone on my team didn’t do their action item, I’d chew their ass and then came back and do it again before it even had a chance to grow back. If the quality engineer gave me any lip about not having an environmental test chamber available to heat, cool, and otherwise torture to death my $100,000 one-of-a-kind prototype, I’d make sure his boss knew that this small-thinking Neanderthal needed to learn how to use the telephone book (yes, I am THAT old that I remember telephone books!) in order to find a place to rent test chamber time. And if the manufacturing manager, in charge of hundreds of people, wasn’t on schedule getting the manufacturing line set up for the imminent pilot production run, I’d lob a public-embarrassment napalm bomb at him in the next project review meeting in front of the other executives. Naturally my feet got pretty scorched walking over the flaming hot coals of the bridges that I burned as I came to need the cooperation of these unfortunate souls at some future date.

What was I thinking? One theory was that I was a bitch, and that’s entirely possible. I’m certainly capable of bitchy behavior. But inside I truly believed that I was doing this all for the good of the project. Somehow I had gotten the idea that the project was important enough to justify any hideous behavior on my part, only to find out that the relationships last a helluva a lot longer than the projects, or even the companies, in the Silicon Valley. Were there other ways to achieve the same project results with a bit more tact and diplomacy? Very likely! But I was young, brash, convinced of the justness of my cause, and willing to throw gasoline on anyone who stood in my way.

Here’s my advice to anyone suffering from a similar pyromania. Don’t self-ignite! No project is worth destroying valuable relationships over. Yes, we need to be determined. Yes, we need to be persistent, even relentless. But, as one person who was unlucky enough to be my boss during this era said “There’s a difference between scratching your ass and ripping it to pieces!” If you find yourself torn between achieving the goals of an important project and treating other people with basic courtesy and respect, here are a couple of suggestions that might help:

  1. Write down a complete list of goals for yourself for the project, including your goals for the relationships and for your own behavior. What do you want your team, other colleagues, your manager and the executives to be saying about you when the project is over? Do you ever want to work with these people again? Will you be applying for a job one day and see their name on your interview team?
  2. Imagine that the person who seems to be an obstacle is actually just as hard-working and committed to the success of the project as you are. What would have to be true for their behavior to make absolute sense, so much so that even YOU would behave the same if you were in their shoes?
  3. Find ways to let off some steam and relax. Exercise is fantastic. Meditation helps. Smoking cigarettes will do in a pinch, especially if you are not a smoker, because the lack of oxygen to the brain has a calming effect. And then there are always medications, like a good stiff drink now and then. (Careful with that one!)
  4. Get a coach who can reflect back to you how you appear to the world. As selfless as you may think you are in pursuit of project success, you probably look a whole lot more selfish than you imagine to those around you.
  5. Give yourself a break. One of the reasons we’re so demanding of others is that we’re so hard on ourselves. Once in a while give yourself permission NOT to achieve the impossible using your super human project manager powers. Once we start cutting ourselves some slack it’s easier to accept that other people are human beings, too.

– Kimberly Wiefling, Author of Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces, hovering among the top project management books in the USA since launch last fall.

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