The Platinum Rule for Project Managers: Grateful Best Practices with Leadership

By Dr. Tresia D. Eaves

(Blog 3 in the Series)

     What if we were treated as WE wanted to be treated rather than the way the retailer, business, supervisor, partner, or other party wanted to treat us – based on their own paradigms? This is what the internet is bringing about: when we search for something on Google, ads get routed to us through various channels trying to sell us what WE want rather than what they think we want as they did before. This could also be transformational in business as a whole: performance management (you reward me in the ways I want to be rewarded, not some corporate standard based on what the company WANTS to give me) or in customer service where you give the customer choices, and they choose what works best for them. You are seeing great applications of this thought process in customer loyalty programs where people now have a choice of their rewards.

In this edition, we’ll explore applying “The Platinum Rule for Project Managers” as leaders and how that maps to the “5 C’s of Acknowledgment” from Judy Umlas’s book Grateful Leadership (2013). I’ve gained knowledge and wisdom during my former military career and my 25+ years as a civilian and technologist that I will share with you including some of the best practices I’ve adopted and found effective. What is leadership? We are often taught that leadership is NOT management. I like to think about it this way: management is a set of skills that can be learned/taught whereby we learn channels of information about the people and places we work. To manage a delay to the schedule means that first you must be made aware of it, preferably before it happens, and what steps you take to correct. Management is more about keeping things on track with the day-to-day work. Leadership would be the way you handle the situation of a slipped schedule, whether finding out before or after the delay is caused. How do you communicate about it? Do you blame someone for the failure or do you look for solutions and work collaboratively with your team members to address the issue?

The idea of leadership is to communicate the vision through goals, objectives, milestones, chunks of work, or even stepping stones, and being present to work with people to turn the vision to reality. We must also overcome the “chain-of-command” mentality meaning that you can lead from anywhere in the organization – lead up by modeling the behaviors you want to see in your leaders. Lead across by showing the effectiveness of these behaviors to your peers. Finally, showing these skills to your team as a leader creates a development opportunity for them to grow and learn to be an effective leader by how they see you doing it. In Unmanageable (a newsletter which has garnered the title of ‘World’s Best Newsletter’), we learn about “add-on management” where in tech startups, people were given new titles and business cards and told to go make it happen – with little or no training. Therefore, we have many who never learned to lead and really fumbled through learning to manage. These skills and assignments (of being a people manager) as well as continuing to manage projects were just added on to what the person was already doing.

We can teach people to be great leaders and I’ve mapped these ideas to Judy Umlas’s “5 C’s of Acknowledgment” from her latest book, Grateful Leadership (2013):

  1. Consciousness
    a. Inspiring leadership involves having a healthy amount of self-awareness – a story I think about with this “C” was when I was a brand-new second lieutenant in the Air Force stationed at Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City, OK. We had a cubical land of 6-foot walled cubicles in a large office space of the 90’s and I entered the room, but my team couldn’t see me (due to these walls), and they were talking about me. I heard labels like “micromanager” and “bossy supervisor” and lots of other less than favorable comments. Instead of making a big scene, I just listened and really heard their feedback. It was hard and I decided to be better so I enrolled in a Covey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People course that set my leadership life on a whole new trajectory. Know thyself first and foremost.b. Conscious leadership means having a high level of situational awareness by understanding the challenges your team members are facing. It means being aware of what is going on around you at all times. We have seen how important this is, especially over the past 18 months. Team members may be facing illness/death in their families, challenges with young children learning at home, a spouse’s loss of employment, or any number of issues.c. As leaders, we need to be thinking ahead and including a policy of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Awareness training for ourselves and our teams which is as needed as security or other training courses that employees are mandated to take these days. In a former firm, we had sessions called “Difficult Conversations” where we talked about some tough topics over the past 18 months. These sessions included discussions on Black Lives Matter, Parenting in the Pandemic, and Asian Pacific American Hate. Providing a safe place for your employees to be their authentic selves and express their concerns (and there have been so many concerns lately) promotes a healthier work/life balance. That former firm called in experts to facilitate these conversations to keep things positive and moving forward.d. Effective leaders need to have a healthy amount of Cultural Awareness. This means they know where in the world people are working so they can respect time zones and healthy life boundaries. They are aware of the culture of team members and if their team members want to share their traditions. They know their team members’ preferred languages, religions, holidays, traditions, and cuisines. Great leaders avoid stereotypes and are always curious and ready to learn.
  2. Choice
    a. Choosing “yes” to recognize your people: when in doubt, praise rather than think. In Judy’s book, we understand the blockers to positive praise but I’d rather fall on the side of too much praise than having employees leave because they didn’t feel valued.b. Choosing “yes” to recognize others: tell people they look nice in that color or new hair color, genuinely thank your barista for the correct coffee order, give positive comments where applicable on surveys.c. Choosing to truly care about people in their journey, meeting them where they are, and walking with them (not ahead or behind them) while modeling the behaviors/values you abide by will raise the effectiveness of your leadership. Likely your values align to the company/organization you work for.
  3. Courage
    a. As a leader, have the courage to give praise within your team. Don’t let the scarcity belief stop you – the negative voice in your head saying, “there is too much false praise…” or, “they’ll think I want something…” as these are just blockers to you openly giving the authentic, heartfelt praise that could change someone’s day or even life!b. We have this neighborhood social media channel where often times, I feel it’s a place for people to complain. And yet, sometimes, there is a sweet story of a neighbor helping another neighbor. I try to comment on those and give praise within our community so try to do the same with your neighbors, community leaders, and first responders through social media, letters, or any way you can.c. Being brave about developing your “soft skills” which are really “human skills” and are so important to our success as a leader. Simon Sinek had a post on LinkedIn recently about how we shouldn’t mislabel skills as “soft” as this gives them a seemingly less important rating of skills through our use of language. Another tip Sinek gives is that leaders are always learning new things and using cross-functional knowledge in their daily work. This technique gives these leaders more creativity to cope with changing methods, attitudes, and technology.
  4. Communication
    a. Listening – in my last blog, I talked about how to listen, how it maps to “Grateful Leadership” based on how it’s a form of acknowledgment to make a person your priority for a period of time. This is a form of basic human respect and despite the distractions of daily life, we need to focus on listening. In my previous blog, I talk about several techniques that can make you a more effective listener. You can revisit these ideas here.b. Positive Language – using positive language (‘and’ instead of ‘but’) in your communications is key. I learned about this “flip of the script” in a recent design thinking course. The idea is not to cut off any creativity or resourcefulness about how to solve problems. The word “but” is synonymous with what is wrong with our idea and therefore, it’s a trigger for our brain to turn off when we hear the word. Also remember a great trick when giving feedback: start with positive feedback before getting to the constructive criticism. Make sure to be specific in your feedback by mentioning the situation, who was involved, and how the person’s behaviors/words/actions made a positive impact. With constructive feedback, be sure that your relationship is in a good place otherwise the “fight or flight” reaction will kick in and they will hear very little of what you are saying to them. They might also think you do not have their best interests at heart and will disregard your feedback.c. Set the vision – communicating your vision is key to the success of the team. In my experience, using visual engineering concepts such as Kanban boards, sprint boards, and Agile/Scrum concepts can set a vision for a period of time for teams – use these methods to communicate your vision in manageable pieces at a time. Be sure to connect the dots on how all of these pieces add up to a final purpose. Giving people purpose to their daily work is statistically shown to bring more engagement to their work, and higher retention rates.
  5. Connection – call me overly positive if you want, but I believe the whole purpose of this life is connection. When we spend so much of our lives working, it is important to have these connections at work. Research shows that the tighter connections workers have in their workplace, the longer they stay, the more productive they are, and the higher their commitment to the company’s cause. That true connection with others happens through communications. For instance, we can show empathy by communicating effectively and showing our understanding by being able to “walk in someone else’s shoes” – apply this skill in your communications and you will be a much more effective leader through connection. Also, do not assume what someone knows or doesn’t know about your situation. Be willing to be vulnerable and speak your truth. Brené Brown talks about this in her books/podcasts and explores how we connect as people through that vulnerability.
  6. Commitment
    a. Be committed to the betterment of your people – acknowledge their strengths and help them develop where they have opportunities to be more effective. Pay attention and notice when things change for your team members – for better or worse, so that you can truly help them. They will see the commitment you have in their well-being and will respond.b. Be committed to model the engagement you want to inspire for your team, co-workers, even for your boss! The “do as I say, not as I do” approach will not yield the best results. This is part of the “leading up” mindset. Be the boss you wanted all of your career and maybe by seeing your actions and success, your team, co-workers or even your boss will learn to be a better boss.c. As Judy Umlas says in her training, “Your passion will be contagious…” and that is what we want: to commit to spreading positivity through acknowledgment in all we do as leaders, as project managers, and most of all, as fellow humans!

Dr. Tresia Eaves has 30 years of technology consulting and Information Technology leadership experience.  She is also an author, instructor, public speaker, and proud veteran of the US Air Force.  She earned her Ph.D. in 2020 from the University of North Texas, and her area of study was Information Science. Dr. Eaves is a published author with her book, “Above and Beyond: The Secrets of Outstanding Project Leadership” published in 2014 by IIL and multiple other articles in professional and academic journals. She resides in Grapevine, Texas with her family. You can reach her at Tresia_eaves@yahoo.com or find her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tresia-eaves-phd-agilist-pmp/