Lots of people talk about leadership – including us if you review other blog posts we’ve made on www.Waddellgrp.com. People talk about how you get your team members to do what you need them to do. How closely should you manage? How should you give difficult feedback?
This article will approach leadership from a different perspective: What motivates your team members to do their best? We’ll start by going down a historical lane and examining what one ancient general believed motivated people to go to war. While not the whole truth, I believe we might find enough here to give us insight into how we might manage those within our charge.
A Walk in the Dusty Past
It was the year 431 BCE and three regional powers in Greece were angst ridden. One was powerful Sparta, with a culture and army driven to be the best. They oppressed the local slave population called the Helots who farmed their fields while the sons of Sparta spent their days in training to be the best warriors in Greece. Another powerful city state was Athens. They were an economic powerhouse with thousands of ships, used both for protection and for commerce. The third powerhouse was Corinth. This up and coming city was engaged in colonization and building a name for themselves among the Greek states.
The political upshot was that war broke out between these three powers. Before long one of the Athenian generals was given the boot for failing to save an Athenian city. His name was Thucydidies and he spent his time recording the events of the war. Along the way he distilled the primary causes of the Peloponnesian war as Fear, Honor and Money.
At the beginning of the war, Sparta was driven by fear. This may seem counter to our modern perspective with movies like 300 telling of the brave deeds of the Spartans. While they were amazing warriors, they lived in fear of their slaves, the Helots. If the Spartan army were to go out and fight on a field far from home, the abused Helots might justifiably rise up and attack the wives and children in Sparta.
Athens was a thalassocracy, in that it used its ships and navy to project power. Modern equivalents would be the British in the 19th century or the USA today. They dominated the Mediterranean and they used their navy and trading ships in commerce to accumulate an enormous war chest. Led by the famous politician Pericles, they used their wealth to expand project their power. More wealth meant more ships, more trade, and more wealth. This led to the advantage that their battles were often fought away from Athens as they kept on the offensive. Athens itself was rarely at risk.
Corinth was the upstart, looking to establish their credibility by accumulating honors. We don’t typically view honor in the ancient Greek sense. Honor was the other side of the coin of accomplishment. In our age we point to prideful individuals and say, “They are arrogant.” This would be akin to the Greek word hubris. In ancient Greek myths, great deeds engendered great honors. Corinth was always striving to prove that it belonged at the big powers table. It did this by waging war, stealing colonies and building coalitions to win the Peloponnesian war.
Many historians have taken the Thucydidiean triad (fear, honor, money) and sought to explain why some wars took place or – in the case of Donald Kagan’s The Origin of War and the Preservation of Peace – why some things like the Cuban Missile Crisis didn’t lead to combat.
In our experience, we have seen these motivations play out in business witheach form of motivation, and it’s reciprocal: So what motivates people? We can talk about the Spartan strategy being driven by fear – and they were fearful – but that culture didn’t come from the top. It came from the collective activities of the people of the city to oppress the Helots in slavery. The Spartan strategy was hamstrung in that they never felt comfortable going very far from home, or from being independent.
We see the same thing in cultures of teams. Sometimes you must crack the whip to motivate people who are struggling. This can create explosive, effective results in a short period of time. However, the culture of fear has a long-term impact. If you create a culture of rulers and followers, your followers will not feel comfortable in exploring new territory. Likewise, leaders who rule in fear must themselves beware of running roughshod over intelligent people whose ideas are suppressed. This will not create a long-term culture of teamwork.
Greed can be an effective motivator. Indeed, when you have precious talent, you should pay them accordingly. You can always hire the mercenary talent who has built a career of being excellent, knowing they are great and charging for it. These fixers can provide results over short or long terms.
One of the hurdles of hiring people strictly motivated by the paycheck is that you know what will motivate them to leave. Further, they can be difficult team members. They usually are in the contract for themselves, for the paycheck and to get the project done. If they are getting paid, great. If they stop receiving remuneration for their contribution, expect them to move elsewhere. Other team members might perceive that they aren’t in it for the team and not trust them to have the best interest of the team at heart. As the Athenians said to the Melians, the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must.
This does not make Honor the great catch all and the “right answer” for this test. Honor as a motivator creates strong drive in people to be great. The best players will gravitate to the best teams to work on the best projects and create the best results. And yet, how do you know? As the Greeks well knew, hubris and pride could drive people to risk more than is prudent. Or to have their egos write checks their abilities couldn’t cash.
When we look at our Hierarchies of Teams considering honor, elite team members want to be challenged and improved. They want the best for the team, for the company, for the project. Because of this, people who are driven by hubris and not by honor usually self-select out. They lack the humility to constantly be improving themselves. The true honor driven individuals seek out great deeds and expect the accolades that accompany them. If you have an honor driven team member and you do not recognize their excellence, they will resent it. And they are right to do so.
The Greeks engaged in a war that dragged on for almost three decades as their city-states fought for supremacy in honor, in power, and in wealth. When we look at projects, we recognize that each team has all three motivators. At times you use recognition, bonuses or corrective interviews to motivate and keep a team hurtling toward the completion of the project. We strive to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each form of motivation. More important, as project managers, we seek to understand how our team members are best motivated. What gets the best results from them?
At the Waddell Group, our project managers strive to be honor driven. We do great deeds and glory in their accomplishment. But we also look in the mirror and remind ourselves to be humble, knowing that the company, the team, and the project are the most important.
There are multitudes of articles and books that contain advice on how to be a great leader. But what if you’re like most of us and not at the top of the food chain? In most teams, there is one leader and a team of people doing the work. While we like to place the responsibility for a project’s success or failure on the leader, every team member has ownership and influence in how a project turns out. Your contribution to the project must make a difference, otherwise you wouldn’t be there for long. The core responsibilities of being a good team member will help you stand out and succeed no matter where you fall in the chain of command.
Integrity in a team is doing what you said you would, doing what you know you should, and holding team members to account for what they said they would do. This positively influences those around you. For core principles, none are as important as integrity. If you lack integrity, the whole project is at risk no matter where you are in the chain of command because all the following core responsibilities discussed here will fail.
Without doing what you say you will, the team will not trust you. Lack of honesty creates unpredictability within the team structure. You must do what you should as well. More than merely following through with your commitments to the team and the project, doing what others will expect of you positively builds at the core competency of the team. Simple examples are to be on time, work hard, and contribute to the team.
Finally, integrity involves more than self-discipline. It also involves holding your team members accountable for what they said they would do. It may be that they need your help in getting their part of the project done, and providing the information or help they need can be critical to the overall execution of the project.
The great thing about integrity though, is that no one’s integrity is perfect, and we can all improve starting now. Haven’t been doing what you said? Create some structure such as writing down what you agree to or get a planner. Every improvement in this core principle makes a very positive improvement to a team.
Like any good team or partnership, running a project requires strong communication between team members and the project manager. Strong communication between team members with the project manager allows the project manager to do their job effectively. Strong communication between team members works to educate the whole team on the issues addressed in different parts of the project. You and your team members are smart people. Review project issues with your team members and you will find better questions and better solutions for your problems.
If we want to be able to trust that our communications will be effective, we must be honest and observant. We must understand each other’s communication style. If we are always direct, we may come across as harsh to someone who wants things presented more gently. Conversely, “gentle” may come across as “salesy” or “fake” to your team members who prefer their facts undiluted. Keeping in mind how others in your team communicate will help you be an effective team member.
Things change. We can either be adaptable to change or not, and all of us should understand that things change. Your level of adaptability to change makes you more or less valuable to your team and the project. Our adaptability gives us the potential to learn new skills and work with different people to make projects flourish.
As an effective leader, fostering an environment that allows the team to handle change, and even thrive when it arrives, will help your project excel. Adaptability means that you and your team won’t be tied to a specific solution; you are given the freedom to choose the best solution under the circumstances. One way to foster this kind of environment is by anticipating that things will change and factoring that into the roadmap for the project. Having a buffer of extra resources – time, talent, or money – will help relieve pressure to conform to the strictures of the project.
Treat others the way they want to be treated. Apply integrity to respect; this rules out disrespect and gossip. Team members who do not respect each other will kill projects.
Each of us wants our boss to know how best to motivate us; money, praise, and special favors are common ways they can do that. Similarly, when we work together on a team, we can do the same thing for each other. It is not uncommon to ask people to do something extra on a project or to call on favors for your project. Figure out how you can reward those sacrifices to show that you appreciate the team member making that sacrifice.
Perhaps you are in one of these camps: “Yes We Can!” or “Make Our Project Great Again!” Having a positive attitude has an extraordinary effect on the project outcome. This attitude can be encouraged from the top but if it really exists, it does so because of the belief of the team members. When it comes to projects, you might be in one of two camps: Team Team, or Team Project
Each team, at its core, basically states that we know we can all get the job done if we work together. The difference between the two is whether they rally around either the greatness of the team or the greatness of the project. Sometimes this might be an individual sense of contribution to be on an amazing team doing something so important.
Our education doesn’t end when we graduate from college, or when we get our various certifications. You have a great opportunity to learn with every project you work on. You get to see what does work and what doesn’t work. You’ll experience up close how “things change” can impact a project and its team members. Take this opportunity to learn.
Learn what works best. Learn how people respond to adversity. Learn about your team members, how they communicate, how they are motivated, how they deal with change, how they exemplify integrity.
Ultimately, understand what works and why it DOES work. This will prepare you for the hurdles of future projects where you can continue to be an outstanding team member.
By Tom Waddell: [email protected]
In previous blog posts we talked about how projects can go off the rails and also how to prevent them from going off the rails. But those only apply if you are actively involved in the project. If you have Project Managers who report to you, what should you be looking for to know when their / your project is having trouble.
The big “E” on any Project Management eye chart is always whether the project is on time and on budget. The other issues tend to revolve around team chemistry, managing team engagement and holding the team leader accountable. If you think that the project manager isn’t giving you the full status, ask for the next level of detail on tasks that should be completed. If you include slack in your schedule, ask for how much of the slack is used. If you can spend an hour with your manager, have them lay out the full project schedule and ask them to show you where they are.
Here are some additional items to watch for.
Is the Team Energized or Struggling?
When you meet with team members there are clear issues to look for. The best indicator is whether they are interested and excited to be working on the project. When a project is being managed well, the team should be excited to work on something this big, this important and with people so talented. This is true for any good team, whether a medical device project team, sports team or music group. They should enjoy working together and the outward messaging from the team is “enthusiasm”.
Another good barometer for this is whether they buy in to the project. Do the team members believe it will be done on time and on budget? Or do they second guess other team members or the Project Manager? The sense of team cohesion will reveal a great deal about the health of the project.
Third on the health of the team centers around communication: Do they hide issues or work through them honestly? When you have a well-run team, there should be a balance of respect for each other as team members but also a commitment to intellectual honesty to fight for positions they believe are valuable. There will be issues to deal with: working through them respectfully and honestly demonstrates team health. The opposite would be refusing to discuss issues in team meetings and instead gossiping and complaining outside of the structure.
Fourth, it is important to ask how many hours a week the team members work. If you have team members who are burning the candle at both ends on a project, working nights and weekends, the team is poorly managed and you risk burning out quality talent. Often the people who are willing to work too many hours are people most vital to the project or who have embraced a level of responsibility not healthy for the good of the project.
What does the Project Manager need to prove on a regular basis?
Your Project Manager needs to be held accountable just as much as their team members are. We start with the big E: Is the project on time and on budget? The Project Manager needs to be able to prove this on a consistent basis. This means they need to have scoped the project properly, with built in contingencies, plans and even slack. Many things can be anticipated, but there will be things that won’t be.
Your Project Manager must also be able to show that the project will continue to be on time and on budget for the next number of months. To this end, they need to not only show what resources they will need and also how they will garner those resources when they need them.
Finally, your Project Manager should be able to prove that they know what contingencies they should plan for, explain how they anticipate them. There are many tools for this, but that is for a future blog.
These are simple and effective ways for you to know if your Project Manager is doing a good job and whether your project will be completed on time and on budget.