Monthly Archive: March 2015

Leadership That Inspires

Transformational LeadershipThe popular quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi summarizes Transformational Leadership well: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

How do you best inspire others? By being who you want them to be and doing what you want them to do. By walking the talk. By leading by example. By enthusiastically sharing your vision and inspiring them to join you in making it a reality.

One who inspires trust, respect and admiration in his followers to the degree that they agree to work with him toward a common goal for the betterment of all—that person is a transformational leader.

Remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? How about John F. Kennedy motivating Congress to support his dream of sending an American to the moon? Both transformational.

According to John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development, transformational leaders such as King and Kennedy—and millions of others such as teachers, scout leaders and heads of community groups—work toward change that is for the good of the whole. They provide needed guidance in times of change, whether it be societal, environmental or policy.

Transformational leadership has four pillars:

  1. Inspirational Motivation is the passionate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., facing millions of inspired supporters in Washington, D.C., using powerful words in a powerful speech in an attempt to bring about profound societal change.
  1. Intellectual Stimulation challenges others to reach for the stars. Literally, in Kennedy’s case. As Juzbasich says, “We weren’t even a player in the space race at that time!” Some great benefits came out of that challenge being taken up in 1961: space blankets, Velcro, and dried foods are all invented byproducts of the space race.
  1. When the group looks up to its leader and wants to be like her, that leader has Idealized Influence. Both attitude and behavior must match; this is where the leader must walk her talk.
  1. Individualized Consideration. Think about Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers. He knew each football player on his team so well, he knew exactly how best to motivate them to inspire performances beyond all expectations.

“You see people who work toward positive change all over the world and they are changing the world in various ways,” says Juzbasich. “We all have these qualities. They can be measured and developed. Paint a picture of a better world and inspire your people to want what you want, reframing the task so the person feels honor and prestige.”

A transformational leader is a role model who challenges team members to ‘own’ their work. He understands the individual strengths and weaknesses of those he seeks to inspire and assigns tasks appropriately so that team members can be successful.

And he doesn’t stop there. Transformational leaders not only inspire others to pursue a task that was thought to be impossible, they empower group members to grow into inspirational and transformational leaders themselves.

Just as these leaders expect the best of themselves and strive to perform at their highest level, they expect the same from their teams. That expectation, along with the leader’s belief in them, continues to inspire the group to do its best, in turn creating higher levels of satisfaction all around.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can transform your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.


© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/what-it-means-to-be-a-transformational-leader/

How to Coach an Underperformer

How to coach an underperformerIt can be one of the most uncomfortable situations a project manager faces: You have a team member who simply isn’t delivering. Their work may be late or poor. They skip meetings or don’t file their progress reports in a timely manner. For whatever the reason, their role in the effort hasn’t gelled, and the gap is causing everyone else to scramble.

Most PMs dread such scenarios. After all, it’s never easy to call out someone on their performance. But when the need arises, you have no choice but to address the issues quickly and firmly. If ignored, personnel challenges can spread as other team members shoulder extra work and become distracted from their own priorities. Ultimately, the project’s quality, schedule and budget can be threatened.

The conversation is made all the more awkward by the unique relationship PMs usually have with their team – a position that’s more about dotted lines than formal reporting structures. When the underperformer isn’t a direct report, the PM must take the approach of an interested and invested colleague, a fellow team member whose focus is on solutions rather than blame.

Talk to the person. Your first order of business is to meet with the person and examine the issues you face. Express your concerns, but make clear that you’re beginning a conversation and looking for a solution, not issuing edicts. Be sure to get an acknowledgement of the problem and an agreement that it has to be resolved.

Be clear. Explain the ramifications of the person’s lagging performance. For example, by missing his own deadlines, he’s holding up the work of his teammates. Or, because she’s skimping on quality control, her colleagues have to put in extra time to identify and fix problems on top of meeting their own responsibilities. Be honest about what you’re seeing, and specific in your observations.

Understand the problem. The issues may be symptoms of a larger problem. Your team member may be facing challenges at home, with his boss, or something else. Whatever the underlying cause, it’s important to understand the forces that are at work here. After all, you can’t address a matter until you know its dynamics.

Have ideas. Good project managers always have solutions in mind. That’s as true when it comes to working with people as it is when facing logistical or technical hurdles. As you come to understand the problem, develop approaches for addressing it. It might be the person has too many competing priorities and needs clarity. There could be a personality conflict with another team member. Whatever the issue, proactively work with the person to develop an approach that will get their efforts back on track.

Put in the time. Coaching people takes time – sometimes a lot of it. Chances are, a single conversation isn’t going to do the trick. Set up regular one-on-ones with the person so you can track her progress and follow up on previous discussions. Develop metrics so you have an agreed-upon mechanism to measure her performance until the situation is resolved.

Remember, this process should be interactive. Encourage the team member to develop his own ideas, and listen to them carefully. Sometimes, all a person needs is an opportunity to talk things through in order to get refocused.

For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.


© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/how-to-coach-an-underperformer/

Tips for Negotiating With Project Stakeholders

StakeholdersProject managers have to be expert negotiators, able to forge agreements between people who often have competing agendas. For example, the sales team may be determined to speed up a project so that it launches before the holiday shopping season, while Product Development wants to delay long enough to include a hot new feature. Meanwhile, the development team warns that a change in either schedule or scope will wreak havoc on the work they’ve already done. Whatever the dynamics, the project manager has to labor between parties to develop an acceptable solution.

Negotiating with stakeholders is tricky. They can be possessive of a project and pressured about its outcome. Because they have so much riding on its success, they can become prickly when issues challenge their assumptions or their comfort level. At the same time, their lack of technical expertise can make it difficult to understand the options that are viable for resolving an issue. And, of course, project managers can’t unilaterally impose a solution. They have to rely on their negotiating skills to keep things moving forward.

In the end, all participants want the same thing: a successful project that is complete in scope and delivered on-time and on-budget. For this reason, maintaining a perspective of partnership often pays the most dividends.

Think About Their Point of View: Recognizing why your stakeholder approaches an issue in a certain way is as important as understanding what they’re arguing for in the first place. For example, grasping the Sales department’s considerations – their overall targets, the competitive pressure they face and the demands salespeople hear from customers – will allow you to have more effective discussions around their concerns about schedules or feature sets. Similarly, understanding the technical and logistical constraints of the development staff will lead to more meaningful conversations about delivery and quality control.

Be Prepared. You can’t go into a negotiation assuming you’ll wing it, so anticipate your partner’s concerns, and be ready to address them. If you know tradeoffs will be required, outline the stakeholder’s choices and explain the impact each will have on the project’s scope, timeframe, and budget. In some cases, schedule is the overriding concern. In others, it might be cost. Bear those priorities in mind as you lead the discussion. It doesn’t make sense to stress the schedule-related aspects of a problem when the stakeholder’s mind is on how much money they’re spending.

Be honest: It’s just as important for stakeholders to understand the challenges you face. So be proactive about sharing your perspective, and remember that the stakeholder’s goals are impacted by many of the same things that influence yours: You all want the project to succeed, for example, and for your company to be well positioned in the market. Always be forthright in discussions about business outlook, project status and any difficulties you may anticipate. Not only will this provide a complete picture, it could help uncover solutions as the stakeholders weigh in with their own experience and ideas.

Listen: In any negotiation, it’s important that both sides be heard. Be sure to let the stakeholder outline their viewpoint, and ask questions when necessary to make sure you understand where they’re coming from. As your discussion continues, address the issues they’ve raised or promise to research areas that you can’t reply to on the spot. Too often, negotiations go off-track when one party believes their concerns are being given short shrift.

Of course, the situation is complicated by the unique place where PMs sit. Responsible for addressing everyone’s concerns, they almost never have the pure authority to pursue a particular approach without building some kind of consensus. Even if they did, successful projects are rarely built by edict. The best project managers have a knack for getting all sides to understand the others’ point of view and work cooperatively to attain the effort’s overriding goals.

Stakeholder Management can be tricky. Learn how to work with your internal partners more effectively in Merit Career Development’s Stakeholder Management course. To learn more, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Stakeholder Mgmt


© 2015 Merit Career Development. All rights reserved.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/tips-for-negotiating-with-project-stakeholders/

The Right Leadership for the Right Situation

Situational LeadershipDo you change your style, and adapt to the abilities of your employees?

If you are in a management position, you probably won’t have trouble imagining the following scenario.

Boss to subordinate: Please enter these statistics into the database while I’m at my meeting.

Subordinate: Sure thing!

Two hours later, boss returns to find subordinate had either 1) entered statistics in unintelligible ways or 2) had done nothing because he wasn’t sure of the process.

Can the boss get angry and upset? Sure. Should he? How would you react?

Leaders must be sure to take a few steps before delegating any tasks to their employees or they risk the above situation—wasted time and effort and upset people all around.

The act of taking the time to determine the maturity and training levels of the people being supervised and then guiding them accordingly is known as Situational Leadership. Instead of using just one style, successful leaders adapt their styles to the training and experience of those they lead, based on the job that needs to be done.

Leaders can choose from among four leadership styles:

  1. Tell: The leader tells his group what to do and how to do it.
  2. Sell: Leaders give information and direction, but do more in the way of “selling” their ideas in order to get people engaged.
  3. Participate: The leader works closely with the team, sharing the decision-making process and focusing on the relationship with his group.
  4. Delegate: Leaders hand off most of the responsibility. They oversee the progress, but are less involved in routine decisions.

There really is no single best style of leadership. The most effective leadership is task-relevant and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership styles to the maturity, and education and/or experience, of an individual. By maturity, we mean the individual’s ability to set attainable goals and the willingness to take responsibility.

John Juzbasich, CEO of Merit Career Development, says that Situational Leadership is actually a simple model and easy to follow. “Look at the task at hand and the individuals on your team and choose what style to use based on their level of readiness. Know your people well and know how to work with them.”

The choice of leadership style—telling, selling, participating or delegating—is always made relative to the task-at-hand and the person’s readiness to perform.

The four levels of employee readiness are categorized in the following ways—from lowest to highest.

  1. Lack skills, knowledge, or confidence. These employees need to be developed so it’s important to give them stretch assignments. But it does mean you’ll need to give more support, clear direction, and oversight.
  2. Willing, but skills not there yet. The willingness is there, but these people will need to develop the skills to do the job well. Be prepared to do more handholding and teaching.
  3. Have the skills but not the confidence. These people are ready and willing and have a better skill set, but are nervous. Meet with them, coach them and give as much support as they need to feel confident.
  4. High levels of confidence and strong skills. Sounds perfect, but you still need to be available for guidance and input, just give them the breathing room they need.

Can these levels change? Sure.

With good coaching, readiness level can improve more rapidly than you expected. Likewise, someone can be fully motivated and engaged and then have a flat tire or have an argument with their teenager over breakfast, and suddenly they seem to go backwards in their ability to perform.

An aware leader would recognize that something was wrong, that the situation had changed, and would adapt her style to meet it.

Many variables, including personal issues and changes within the company, can cause shifts in employee readiness, and the effective leader must continually assess the best way to present projects to his or her subordinates. The ability to assess an employee’s readiness level and adaptability are hallmarks of the situational leader. The leader’s level of success will reflect how well he or she has learned those lessons.


For more information about how Merit Career Development can hone your leadership and management skills, please contact Jim Wynne at jwynne@meritcd.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://meritcd.com/blogs/are-you-a-situational-leader/