Pretend You’re Totally Responsible

Scrappy Project Management Mindset Series – Part 2 of 4. If you’re going to lead projects to success you’ve gotta have a powerful mindset that supports you. This week I’ll share some mindset medicine that will keep you scrappy. – Kimberly

Being both a human being and a project manager poses some interesting challenges. To me, psychology is as important a project management tool as a realistic schedule. And choosing a mindset that gives us an edge is a powerful strategy. Another mindset that I’ve found dramatically improves results in projects, and in life in general, is pretending that I’m totally responsible for what happens in my life. As a scientist I know that the evidence doesn’t support this, but as a human being intent on cultivating a mindset that predisposes me for success, I embrace this illusion fully (except on occasion when I just can’t resist blaming my parents, teammates or the economy for my problems). Why? Because it provides me the belief that I have some control over my situation, and hope that I can improve it. That belief and hope motivate me to think of ways to make a positive difference and,most importantly, to take action. If I allow myself to believe that I’m a victim of circumstance, and that there’s nothing I can do to affect the situation, I’ll give up and just go shopping (I’ve found that retail therapy does alleviate the stress of hopelessness.)

In project management this mindset means taking ownership of the success of the project, which includes avoiding like the plague the temptation to play the helpless victim caught in the web of circumstances beyond my control (wishy-washy executive support, inadequate budget, not enough time, unreasonable customers, to name a few).

Language reflects mindset. In my experience many people incorporate certain phrases into their language that place responsibility for their lives outside of their control. People say things like “I have to X.” For example “I have to be at work by 8 AM today.”, “I have to get my car’s oil changed today.” or “I have to visit my parents over the holidays.” Have to? Unless it’s death or taxes, nobody  “has to” do nuthin’! I’m vigilant about eradicating what I call “victim speak” from my language. Instead of the above, my language sounds more like “I have committed to being at work by 8 AM.”, “I am determined to get my car’s oil changed today.” and “I’m going to visit my parents over the holidays.” Although subtle, for me there’s a definite shift from a world where “things happen to me” to a reality that I am choosing and purposely creating through my intentions, commitments and promises.

Now, being totally responsible isn’t the same as doing everything yourself. It just means coming from a position of “I have the power to make choices and to make a difference.” Each person on your project team can take total responsibility – there’s generally plenty to go around.

If you’d like to adopt this powerful mindset, start by shifting your language to take responsibility, owning your role in creating the “have to”s in your life. Then work your way up to meeting every situation, however much it seems like it wasn’t in any way your fault, with these two questions:

1. How did I contribute to creating this?

2. How can I make a positive difference here?

Although some people might pass this whole approach off as self-deception, I have found that it works. It buoys my spirits, vastly increases my persistence, and inspires me to stay positively engaged in situations where I’m tempted to wallow in self-pity or give up entirely. But don’t take my word for it – just a day or two of shifting your language should help you determine whether this Scrappy Mindset is a fit for you.

Want to get even scrappier? Check out all 5 “Scrappy Guides“, including August’s Scrappy Women in Business by me and 11 gal pals,  Scrappy General Management by Michael Horton, released in October, and Scrappy Business Contingency Planning by Michael Seese, released in November 2010.

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