Leaning to People Positive Outliers

An end to engagement?

One of the gifts that a project manager brings to an organisation is a mindset of finiteness: that is, her work – the project – will end. There is a discipline to this thinking; she plans and works towards an end state, rather than in some kind of endless repeating cycle of the next job to do.

However, this gift can also become a curse when it comes to relationships. The project manager can think of relationships with her stakeholders as for a season, for the duration of the project, and perhaps shortly afterwards. 

My experience is otherwise, particularly where the project manager is employed within a client organisation, moving from one project to the next. Often they reunite with the same people, sometimes when these same people are in new roles, with new levels of power and influence. We need to continually be cultivating important relationships.

Are you ABLE?

The acronym ABLE is useful here: Always Be Leading Engagement. Are you ABLE?

Are you continuing to invest in relationships from project to project? Are you building on these relationships with trust and honour, or do you abandon people when they are no longer of use to your current project? At the end of your project, or shortly thereafter, do you drop them like a brick? To paraphrase Brutus, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

The good that men do dies shortly after their project ends;
their neglect comes to haunt them later. 

By evil, we can merely mean neglect of a relationship, of the interests of the other person when our transaction is done. 

Or, as Paul, the Apostle once wrote:

Whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

In a research study we conducted a few years ago, we observed that all high-performing project managers are high-performing influencers; they are always engaging, always depositing into the relational bank account of key relationships. They were fully ABLE.

For more about the research findings, in particular, the seven key behaviours that are relevant to us all, you can download a free eBook here.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work

The Seven Keys eBook

Discover & Practice the Seven Key Areas that All High Performers Share

Download my free eBook

Leaning to People

Humanising the Enemy

My wife and I are working our way through seasons 1 and 2 of the TV drama series Madam Secretary.  In the episode we just watched, a compromising photograph of the heroine’s young adult daughter, Stevie, has been leaked. 

[Spoiler alert!]

Very quickly, the photograph is traced to a former secret serviceman who is now in custody. Mother and Father visit him and leave the culprit being interviewed by their daughter, Stevie. She obviously asks him why he did it. The man is crestfallen, not justifying his actions, but explaining how it was revenge on his government employer who had sacked him.

Stevie goes on to ask the man about his life and he, full of defensive suspicion, asks her why she wants to know. 

“Because,” she replies, “I don’t want to define you for the rest of my life by one stupid act.”

Demonising the enemy

It is a well-established psychological phenomenon that soldiers find it easier to kill their enemy in battle if they dehumanise them if they don’t allow themselves to consider that the person in the crosshairs of their gunsight maybe has a partner and children. Hatred further dehumanises the enemy, whoever they are. Distance, not meeting face-to-face with people, not returning their calls, also helps us to dehumanise someone. And we do this all the time in political debate and in business struggles, as well as in physical battle.

I don’t want to define you for the rest of my life by one stupid act.
Stevie McCord, in Madam Secretary

Furthermore, repeated misinterpretation of actions and behaviour can build an almost-unassailable myth about the person we hate. We rehearse our version of their motives again and again until that myth takes on the diabolical appearance of an undeniable truth in our mind, whatever the facts may be.

Doing the opposite

If demonising our enemy is easy, humanising them is much harder. It needs to be more considered and courageous. Facing our enemy, and asking them questions is sometimes the only way if we ourselves are not to be enslaved to hatred and to its deeper cousin, fear.

So, in almost-hostile relationships at work, I always advocate a courageous stepping towards the enemy first. We may not want to do it. We would rather indulge ourselves in self-righteous hatred.

It takes courage and maturity to be more Stevie.

Leaning to People

The Relationship Bank Account in Action

One of my projects right now is helping the opening of a new local school for 5 to 11-year-olds. Since the government likes the idea, much of this will be publicly-funded, which means we need to evidence demand for the school by getting parents to sign up before it opens.

So, I was with another volunteer, who is also a friend of mine, visit a manager of a pre-school nursery recently. We left leaflets and asked this manager to make parents aware of this new school. 

I found the manager to be a helpful, experienced woman, who was willing but overwhelmed by all the demands and constraints placed upon her. I began to see before me not so much merely a gatekeeper, or manager, or even merely a channel to market.

Rather, I saw something of the real person. This woman clearly had a great passion for her kids. It kept her going

Burdened by bureaucracy, imposed by this same government, she nevertheless was willing to extend us the courtesy of her precious time in the middle of the day.

I was impressed.

My friend and I began to empathise, asking how we might help her. My friend also began to ‘call out the gold’ in her; that is, telling this woman what she recognised in her that was good and worthy.

If we get the chance, my friend and I will help her as best we can. We will, where possible, deposit something into our relationship with her.

The relational bank account technique is a simple and powerful way of building relationships.

This is the relational bank account in action. It’s a simple concept: never make a withdrawal from a relationship without depositing something in first. 

We could have just tried to make a withdrawal without depositing anything into her account. We could have asked her to hand out our leaflets to parents, and then left her.

Instead, we came away committed to seeking ways to make that manager’s burden a little lighter, ways of helping her express her passion and vision for her children more possible. We did come away with a new friend and, I think, ally.

The relational bank account is a concept we explore more in EPE. You can download a paper about 10 ways of making such relational deposits here.: