Monday, March 16, 2015

Rethinking People Skills and Effectiveness

For a long time I have said that the most important asset for a project manager to have is good people skills. I still believe this is true. However, I recently realized that Hitler had people skills, and so do leaders of street gangs. In fact, leadership is amoral. There are leaders of every kind, in every walk of life. And most have good people skills.

However, I believe that project managers who use their good people skills to manipulate their followers, taking advantage of them, will eventually find that they are no longer able to do so, as being manipulated causes people to begin avoiding such individuals. So there is a self-protective component built into most people.

What I believe must be added to people skills is a genuine caring about the welfare of others. Most leadership experts talk about this as being servant leadership. Such leaders have the interests, concerns, and well-being of followers in mind and realize that their obligation is to influence followers to meet the needs of the organization (or project) while simultaneously ensuring that the needs of followers are also met.

I know that there are some who don't like the term servant leadership. It almost sounds like a contradiction in terms, and at the very least it sounds demeaning to the leader. So I prefer to say that such leaders enable their followers to perform at the highest possible level.

This is in contrast to those managers who try to restrict the behavior of employees out of fear that they may do something wrong. Such managers also cannot truly be called leaders. 

One point I believe is worth making: you can't fake caring about people. They see right through you. So if you find that you don't have strong feelings of concern for others, my suggestion is that you find another profession than that of leading project teams. You won't be a highly effective project manager for very long!

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