Are You Leading a Project or Just Managing It?

Are You Leading a Project or Just Managing It?

Do you ever feel like your to-do list keeps giving birth to other lists? 

I’ve been in the midst of launching a big client project this past month and I’m amazed at how checking one item off my to-do list seems to lead to 3 more next-step items taking its place. 

Have you ever felt this way, Sharon? If you’re like me and thrive on efficiency, moving quickly through the to-do lists and checking off items feels productive. However, be warned. A desire to push a project forward at a brisk pace can sometimes create more bumps in the road. 

As an executive coach to clients who manage large-scale enterprise projects, I am sharing some of the best practices I’ve learned, and have been re-learning this month, on how to move from simply managing a project to truly LEADING large-scale initiatives. 

Dr Jo’s Top Three Strategies for Leading While Project Managing:

1. Turn around your learnings quickly: If you’re a savvy manager, you know it’s important to lead your team through post-mortems at the end of a project. But wise leaders also know that the learning doesn’t need to wait until the end of the project. In fact, you’re learning more every single day about what works and what doesn’t, how to engage different stakeholders, and what to prioritize when.

Take time weekly to reflect on what you’ve learned that week and then quickly assess where you can apply this new learning right now, and in the next stage. 

New details, constraints and dependencies constantly emerge once you start working your game plan. Use your weekly step-back sessions to note these things that came up for yourself and then look ahead to see where those same surprises and extras might emerge in the future so that you can plan for them now and save yourself valuable time later.

2. Save space for stepped-on toes: I recently sent an email that I shouldn’t have. I’ll be honest, as I was hitting send, my Spidey sense warned me that I might be stepping on a colleague’s toes. However, I dismissed this voice in service of moving the project forward.

Listening to that intuitive warning and taking another moment to truly think it through would have been my best course of action, I admit. Sometimes, however, we miss that intuitive hit, or like me, we feel it and move forward anyway.

Once you’ve realized that you have created frustration or resentment for others, find ways to make it easy for them to air their irritations, so you can apologize and start over before issues turn into bigger discontent within the team. With our team, we’ve discussed setting time aside twice a month to air “pinches” and annoyances before they blossom into more. More often than not, I’ve found that speaking things out loud diminishes a lot of their charge. Create regular space in your meetings for your team to reset.

3. Meet more frequently in the beginning: As someone with meetings daily, I’m always looking for opportunities to streamline my day by sending an email instead of scheduling yet another Zoom meeting.

However, I keep re-learning that for large-scale coordinated efforts, it’s best to proactively schedule a frequent cadence of meetings before there are issues. Once you have an hour meeting booked and run out of things to discuss at minute 15, you’ll know you can reduce the frequency, but if emails and slacks are flying back and forth all day long, you will likely save time and confusion by scheduling shorter, more timely meetings.

For those of you like me, who like to get a lot done as efficiently and as quickly as possible, slowing down, especially in the beginning, can feel counterproductive. Yet, you may also find, as I did, that purposeful pre-planning and creating regular space for you, as well as for you and your team to think and review progress will reduce bumpiness and make the project a successful experience for all.  In the end, we want not just a successful project, but also stronger stakeholder relationships that can lead to more successes in the future. . . together.

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Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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