Project Practitioners > Managing from the Heart

Managing from the Heart

By Randy Englund

I've had the on-going privilege of facilitating an on-line course for the UC Extension.  Participants engage in story telling about topics on management and leadership.  Here is an example describing that effective leaders are out there and that there is much we can learn from them:

Very early in her career, Brenda was a direct report to a manager whom she still admires as a leader to this day.  "Although I no longer work for her, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be coached and mentored by her.  She helped to shape the leader that I am today."

“Margaret (I’ve changed her name slightly) is very skilled at the political games that the senior management team engages in.  She has great vision for the organization, and she knows how to inspire her people to be their best.  She is the type of leader that people do not want to disappoint by doing things halfheartedly; because she never gives less than 100%.  But best of all, she is an all-around genuinely nice person."

Brenda applied for a position as a lateral move but in a high visibility position that would have put her in front of the senior management team on a regular basis. “I had all of the qualifications for the position: a bachelor’s degree in business, a master’s degree, and 13 years of operations experience.  In my mind, there was absolutely no reason why I should not get the job.”

“Then came that fateful Friday afternoon when I found out that I was not selected for the position. According to the hiring director, while my technical skills were a perfect match for the job, a few of the 'stakeholders' had expressed concerns about my interpersonal skills and my ability to effectively interact with others.  I was crushed!  In my mind, there was nothing wrong with the way that I communicated and related to people. My thought processes on technical matters were always very logical and I presented them the same way.  I’ll admit, there were a few instances when communications between me and someone in another department were not as smooth as they could have been, but I chalked that up to those folks not wanting to do their jobs!”

“I remember going into Margaret’s office that Friday afternoon, shutting the door, and crying my eyes out. She let me go on and on about how the organization that I had committed my entire adult life to could treat me so horribly. After about 10 minutes of my incessant babbling, Margaret asked me if I would be open to hearing some honest feedback about my personality.  I said ‘of course’ and she proceeded to tell me that, although I thought I was the most wonderful person in the world, other people in the organization did not necessarily share that same sentiment.  She told me that there were times when I was too focused on getting the technical aspects of the job done right, and not focused enough on cultivating relationships with the people around me.  She told me to consider taking a ‘softer’ approach when interacting with people. She guaranteed me that once I mastered the art of relationship building, I could have any job that I wanted.  Margaret said ‘Just as the key to real estate is location, location, location; the key to business is relationships, relationships, relationships’!  That was the best advice that anyone has ever given to me,” says Brenda.

“Along with that advice, Margaret also gave me a book to read called Managing from the Heart by Bracey, Rosenblum, Sanford, and Trueblood. She told me that I reminded her of the book’s central character and perhaps there were some lessons that I could learn from that book.” The book’s main points are that leaders should heed the following five tenets when interacting with people:

1.       Please don’t make me wrong, even if you disagree

2.       Hear and understand me

3.       Tell me the truth with compassion

4.       Remember to look for my loving intentions

5.       Acknowledge the greatness within me 

“I read the book and Margaret was right; I was the main character.  I was talented, focused, and driven, but my interpersonal skills were horrible!  From that moment on, I committed to being a different employee by utilizing those five mantras in all my interactions with my coworkers, and now with my own employees.  In hindsight, I deeply appreciate how Margaret employed all five of those tenets when she spoke with me.  It is sometimes hard to hear not so flattering things about yourself, but on that day, it wasn’t hard at all. I can honestly say that Margaret and that book have forever altered my personality, in a good way!” 

Upon reading Brenda’s story, another student noted, “Great example of a ‘learning conversation’ conducted by a skilled negotiator.  Your manager could have just as easily listened to you, then let you go on with your business without sowing into your life those important words you needed to hear. I hope there are people in my life who care enough about me to tell me the truth when I need to hear it!  Three cheers for Margaret!!! Hip hip hurray!!!”

In situations like these that matter the most, we often perform at our worst.  The basic question we need to ask is, “What is at stake here?”  To avoid failure, the solution is to conduct a learning conversation which means to engage in dialogue with a free flow of meaning.  Figure 1 depicts the flow from challenges to options:

Dialogue (Small) 
 
Figure 1. Conduct a Learning Conversation

Much as happened in Brenda’s story above, here are suggested steps for achieving dialogue in a learning conversation:

  • Begin from the third story—not your story or the other person’s story, but how an impartial observer would describe the situation; also could be an alternate story creating an ideal situation.
  • Explain your purpose and extend an invitation.  It is always wise to ask people if it is okay to give them feedback or share constructive criticism.
  • Explore their story to demonstrate empathic understanding.
  • Share your own story that brings personal learnings into the dialogue.
  • Take the lead in problem solving.

May we all have the good fortune to encounter leaders like Margaret and learners like Brenda who spread these practices among our community.

Randy Englund, Englund Project Management Consultancy



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