Fit To Lead

One of my core beliefs is that the quality of life is largely determined by the quality of our relationships – whether they are intimate relationships, or those with friends, coworkers, or within organizations. One of the key determinants in our ability to create and sustain those relationships is our own level of what I call emotional fitness. This is especially relevant when it comes to our ability to oversee project teams that are typically made up of a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, agendas, and perspectives.

Are you emotionally fit to lead a team? Maybe you’ve never thought about it before. Let’s take a closer look at what I mean by emotional fitness, how it applies to leading project teams, and most importantly how you can become more emotionally fit.

Every day, and throughout each day, we are confronted with circumstances and choices. In every situation we experience, we are making three unconscious decisions: what we choose to focus on, the meaning we assign to it, and the resulting action we take. These three decisions drive our emotions, and determine how we see and interact with the world around us. Let me give you an example.

You come into work, and are immediately confronted by Harry, a member of your project team who is well known for finding issues in your projects. He walks up to you and says, “We need to talk about this project.”

What’s the first thing that you focus on? “Great, it’s Harry again and he’s got something to talk to me about… Great way to start my day!”

Next, what is the meaning you assign to this situation? “Now what?! This guy is like the ultimate Bad News Bear! He always finds something to complain about – even when there isn’t anything. He’s going to totally trash me, my project, and my project management skills.”

Finally, what action do you take? Do you give Harry the audience he’s seeking? Do you make an excuse and ditch him? Do you tell him you’re just not interested? Or do you get angry and criticize him before you even know what’s on his mind?

What if there was a better way to run your emotions? Just go with me for a minute here. Same situation, you just walked in the door and Harry wants an audience. What if your thought process went something like this?

Focus: “Looks like Harry needs a few moments of my time. I wonder what he’s discovered?” Taking a curious approach removes the judgment.

Meaning: “He’s been a reliable team member and has saved us a lot of lost time and effort by his diligence in reviewing our processes. I wonder if he found something that will help us.” Assigning an empowering meaning leaves you open to access more of your resources to respond effectively.

Action: “Sure, Harry, let me get settled in and send you a meeting invite so we can review your concerns. How does that sound?” Taking a positive focused action is more likely to produce a positive result.

My question is this – Who gets to decide what all that means? (Okay, this really is a trick question, because the obvious answer is YOU!) Which one will lead you to a more resourceful approach? Is it the automatic reactive pattern, or the proactive, positive approach? I know this may seem obvious, and that may be so. But how often do you remind yourself of this – especially when you are faced with a situation that may be uncomfortable or difficult?

Like strengthening any other muscle group, becoming more emotionally fit requires discipline, focus, and repetition. You wouldn’t go to a gym, work out once, and proudly proclaim yourself physically fit. (Note: If you ever find a gym where this is possible, please notify me immediately!) The same can be said for becoming emotionally fit. Practice, patience, and persistence are key.

You literally can train yourself to be more emotionally fit by concentrating on your focus – what you’re thinking about; meaning – what the situation means to you; and action – what you do as a result. By finding and focusing on the positive aspects of any situation, assigning an empowering meaning, and taking proactive action in the direction of your preferred goal or outcome, you can effectively transform your level of emotional health and fitness in profound ways.

And consider the benefits to you as a Project Manager. Deeper understanding of yourself and your emotional life, stronger bonds with your team, the ability to maintain composure even in difficult situations, the loyalty of team members, and the reputation for being a PM that others want to work with. Sound like a win-win? Learn to master your inner world, and you stand a much better chance of succeeding in the outer world!

So you see, we are not victims to our emotions. They do not just happen to us. The truth is, we DO our emotions. And most of us have become quite good at it. Unfortunately for so many of us, myself included, we tend to run on autopilot and rarely consider actually taking the controls and deciding how we want to feel. Change your focus, change the meaning, change your actions – and you will change your emotional fitness.

To think otherwise is to think that the tail wags the dog.

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2 thoughts on “Fit To Lead”

  1. Thanks, Loyal. I’m so glad you enjoyed this series. I agree with you that it’s a key ingredient in the PM process, and one that doesn’t get its due. I have heard for so many years about the “soft skills” side of project management, but I can tell you there is nothing soft or easy about dealing with the fallout of a dysfunctional team! It’s my goal to bring top-quality training and coaching to the PM world, in order to help address one of the most important aspects of Project Management. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your community. It’s a privilege to serve all of you, and I will be back with more posts in the very near future.

  2. Great series, Kevin. Too bad great PM resources like the PMBOK don’t include at least a chapter on this material. I have worked with some great leaders that were missing knowledge on many elements from the PMBOK, but never have I met a great leader who was lacking in understanding people and what makes them happy.

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