The Velvet Glove
I’m not a desk-pounder. You know the type of person I mean. The desk-pounder is the guy in the meeting who is adamant about what he wants to accomplish in his project, and he wants you to know that he is adamant. He drives home his message by adamantly (figuratively or literally) pounding the table in meetings.
I’m adamantly opposed to this.
My style is more give-and-take. I say something. They say something. Of course, if the other person is a desk-pounder, they interrupt before I’m finished. Being a somewhat slow talker exacerbates the situation (an old boss thought I should come with a “progress bar”!). But this is the nature of civil discourse. Developing means for coping with the desk-pounding colleague sis truly the way the best progress gets made.
What’s bad about one-sided conversations?
When considering this question, the most obvious answer is that only a portion of potentially good ideas get aired. Eventually, the project team winds up with monolithic and dictatorial solutions. There is another side effect: the people whose ideas are being ignored also see their (cost-cutting, scope-limiting) dissent dismissed. Lack of alternative viewpoints can be devastating to a project.
Take risk management. This is a field that is rife with preconceptions and biases. Rushing headlong into a project phase after considering only one risk scenario can lead to project destruction. The desk-pounder typically presses for rapid agreement to his proposed solution. Evaluation and management of risk benefits greatly from the input and experience of all project participants. (The caveat here, of course, is that this process cannot go on indefinitely; the good project manager processes the input and arrives at a decision in short order.)
Urgency is the enemy of sound decision-making. Unscrupulous salesmen often use urgency as a tool to keep you from having enough time to arrive at a decision that might not benefit them, especially if the product they’re selling is questionable. In the same way, the desk-pounder will at times employ urgency to push through his solution. Rare is the instance when dedicating a little-time to consideration of a decision turns out to be a bad thing. Furthermore, better decisions make for fewer problems – and fewer opportunities for assigning blame – later in the project.
The fist pounding the desk can often belong to the customer, and it’s hard to ignore a loud voice when it’s providing the funding. Probably the most common problem associated with this is scope creep. It’s in every human’s DNA to want to get a little extra. While a well-place/well-timed concession may be helpful for the provider-client relationship, it is clear that the project manager must be careful to reign in requests before they get out of control. The charter and the contract are two of the most important tools at the project manager’s disposal, and provide a great defense against demanding desk-pounding.
“I’m over here!”
So how do we get managers and colleagues to engage in dialogue where everbody gets heard?
It’s critical for the project manager to get a handle on controls and stakeholders at the start. Setting reasonable ground rules about meetings and other interactions goes a long way toward establishing and maintaining control.
It’s also important to remove as many “fire-starters” – or opportunities for conflict and tension to arise – as possible. For instance, pre-assignment (without too much detail) of duties for team members often eliminates much territorial squabbling, and can help limit desk-pounding. Developing techniques for respectfully shutting down desk-pounders helps the project manager give voice to all contributors while maintaining control. Comedians do this all the time. Great comedians do it without inflaming the situation.
Many people working internationally don’t take the time to learn about the culture they’re interacting with. Consequently, they can sometimes end up being like a bull in a china shop, destroying relationships and good ideas before they see the light of day. Worse, they come across as a desk-pounder. It’s important to know one’s audience.
Saving the desk
The project manager who wants to be an effective leader needs to cultivate ways to deal with the desk-pounder in his meetings, and that takes time. But the sooner the project manager starts initiating steps to deal with people who want to drive the ship, the sooner he or she can confidently take the help. The good project manager will find with experience that pounding the desk is rarely necessary.
Still, you might want to keep an iron fist inside that velvet glove.
Project Management Toastmasters Clubs - Tips and Discussions
Quote:"Those who tell the stories rule the world” – Natïve American Proverb
- Toastmaster International's "90 Tips From 90 Years"
19. Use visuals. Make sure your visual aids reinforce your message and don’t distract from it.
Leadership: it’s NOT About YOU
To be a good leader, you have to change your mindset from Getting to Giving.
Some Observations on leadership of volunteers>
- The more you can think of your job as making it possible for others to succeed, the more successful you’ll be as a leader of volunteers.
- Creating a climate of accountability, setting clear expectations and managing team conflict takes a different mindset when leading volunteers.
- The more leaders can view themselves as facilitators of knowledge and team success, the more effective they become.
- Leaders of volunteers need to make the transition from me to them and identify what drives members of their teams, because the source of that motivation can differ from person to person. The only way to find out what motivates your team members is to ask questions and take time to truly listen to them.
- To Lead is to Appreciate. Thanking your fellow volunteers for the roles they play and the work they do is a gift that keeps on giving. It has been said that “A human being’s greatest support system is gratitude.”
How to Succeed as a First-Time Leader
Here are some of the areas where new leaders need to flip their thinking:
Mindset Flip> The most successful new leaders don’t seek perfection but accept that they’ll make mistakes and grow from them.
Skill-set Flip> The technical skills that have made new leaders successful in past roles don’t carry the same weight in leadership positions. It’s usually about their communication skills, their mentoring skills, their integrity or how they supported their teams through thick & thin.
Relationship Flip> A top challenge for new leaders is transitioning form peer or friend to boss.
Do-it-all attitude flip> It is crucial that new leaders learn early to coach, develop and mentor others than simply taking over their work.
Perspective flip> This requires a Win-Win attitude rather than the zero-sum game of I win, you lose. It’s about shifting from a narrow perspective to a broader one that understands how all of the pieces of a team or of an organization fit together.
-Excerpted from Toastmaster magazine, September 2017 authored by Dave Zielinksi based on interviews with Shar Mc Bee, Marshall Goldsmith, Doug Van Dyke & William Gentry
You can learn more about telling your stories at a Project Management Toastmasters Club! Project Management Toastmasters clubs are open to all, but members are predominately professional project managers. Houston Area Project Management Toastmasters Clubs are sponsored by PMI Houston and aligned with the goals of PMI® International. Certified PMPs receive Professional Development Units (PDUs) for participation.
Visit a meeting to discover the benefits of membership!
Jim Benvie answers our questions:
How long have you been working in Project Management and what's your current professional position?
I have been a full-time project manager for around 20 years, but did part time project management for 10 years before that. I retired last year from NOV and have started my own consulting company, “TyauvinOn Solutions”.
How long have you been involved with the Houston PMI® Chapter and in what capacities?
I first volunteered at the North venue, as what we now call an ambassador, in 2005. I then became the North Venue Director, for 4 years before being elected to the board, as VP Programs in 2016.
Describe the most interesting/challenging/exciting project you've ever been involved with.
This is a difficult question for any project manager, and I cannot think of one that clearly stands out from the rest, during my professional career.
However, before I moved to the US, I was a volunteer with the Scouts, and designed a weekend long training exercise, based in a fantasy universe. The scouts had to use all their learned skills, and logic, to navigate a fictional world and prevent an alien invasion. This took many weeks to design, coordinate, and implement. It was both interesting and challenging, and it was wonderful to see the excitement and commitment of the scouts.
Which part(s) of the Chapter’s Strategic Plan really resonate with you and why?
Working on the development of the Service Catalogue.
I enjoy meeting the members directly and working with the programs team to provide and, refine the range of programs we deliver.
If you could change something about the Project Management field, what would it be and why?
I am interested in introducing gamification into the training of project managers.
Project managers do a lot of academic training, but often the first time they deal with a problem is when they do it for real. The use of simulations, or games, has been proven to improve real world performance of pilots and military personnel, and I believe the method should be used for project managers.
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