Project Management Institute

Original thoughts

VIEWPOINTS   LEADERSHIP

BY NEAL WHITTEN, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Do you think for yourself? Or do you allow yourself to be lead by the maze that surrounds you? The most important lesson to learn on projects and within organizations—even in life—is to think for yourself, to challenge tradition, authority and the status quo professionally and maturely and routinely question your own behaviors and actions. Otherwise, you become enslaved by the past and its outdated or ineffective ideas, a willing victim of indifference, mediocrity, narrow-mindedness and unimaginative thinking. Then, you are stuck inside the proverbial box, doomed to repeat past mistakes. Eventually, you and that which you lead become grossly ineffective.

Many—perhaps most—so–called leaders do not consistently think for themselves. Do you:

Blindly follow processes and procedures regardless of their effectiveness?

Retreat from confronting problems that negatively affect your performance?

Consistently allow others to dictate and manage the use of your time?

Consciously do things wrong the first time?

Accept substandard work from others?

Follow “group think” regardless of its effectiveness?

Consistently ignore your instincts?

Demonstrate little or no initiative in challenging authority on questionable issues and proposing a better way?

Trade popularity for integrity?

Routinely repeat past mistakes?

Think you cannot make a difference?

Many of us have not been sufficiently trained or convinced to think for ourselves. We are “encouraged” to conform even if conforming is harmful to our well-being or the well-being of our project, organization or company.

For example, consider an organization with a project office that has defined, documented processes and procedures. I commonly hear members of such organizations complain of the rigidity and bureaucracy imposed on them. When I ask for specific examples, many cannot articulate a problem. Most of those who can identify a legitimate problem still follow the processes and procedures blindly. They don't think for themselves. They allow processes and procedures to “think” for them instead of professionally seeking to tailor the system to better suit their business needs.

Most of those who can identify a legitimate
problem or annoyance still follow the
processes and procedures blindly.

From a different perspective: Your company lacks good processes and procedures and never seems to learn from its mistakes so you leave for a company that has its “act” together. But when you get to the new company, you find the same conditions. Why? Because you are the problem and you bring the problems with you wherever you go. If you were unwilling to dig your heels in at your last company to fix the problems, you probably won't be motivated to fix them at your new company. Again, you wait for someone else to solve them and resist thinking for yourself.

One more example: Ask yourself what you would do during a “hiring freeze” when you need to hire someone with unique, hard-to-find skills, without which, you cannot meet the delivery or revenue commitments of your project. You assume that no hiring can occur even for the perfect candidate. However, if you have, first, an approved and funded project, and, second, no out-of-control problems, most executives would support such a hire in order to protect business commitments.

One of the most important traits of a consistently successful leader is thinking for himself or herself. Practice the mindset that it's not about the ability of those around you to lead; it's about your ability to lead, regardless of what is happening around you. There is no substitute for thinking for yourself. PM

Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His latest book is Neal Whitten’s No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects.

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | FEBRUARY 2005 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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