Out of the Abyss
During the past two decades, Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP, has risen through the project ranks. A onetime project manager, program manager and project management office (PMO) director, Mr. Dias was director of operations at Ericsson in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, until March. He is emphatic that leaders aren't born with the skills they need; they sharpen them over time and through experience—including their failures.
When I first started as a project manager in the 1990s, the focus was much more on getting the project done. You learned to motivate and manage your team, to prioritize, to know when to escalate a problem. There wasn't as much emphasis then on a strategic mindset or business acumen. Leadership didn't typically extend beyond the project to the bigger picture.
Leaders aren't born with the skills they need; they sharpen them over time and through experience—including their failures.
—Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP
ILLUSTRATION BY HUGO ESPINOZA / THINKSTOCK PHOTOS
What's the best leadership advice you've ever received?
“Do the right job, the right way, when required. Your team will follow you not because they have to, but because they trust you.”
—Daniel Levine, PMP, senior program manager, enterprise operations, BlackBerry, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
“Leaders trust without controlling. They unleash the energy and intelligence of others. They listen more, talk less, empower team members and provide an ethical decision framework.”
—Daniela Chiricioaia, PMI-ACP, PMP, senior project manager, SIVECO Romania, Bucharest, Romania
“Everyone has their own reason for work. You have to find the way to motivate people individually and as a team.”
—James McKim, PMP, operations, strategy and project management office lead, technical learning solutions, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Goffstown, New Hampshire, USA
“A leader is only as strong as their team. Elevate team members and their capabilities, and you all rise together.”
—Karen Chovan, PMP, principal, Enviro Integration Strategies, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
“You can't manage everyone the same way. Each person is different—so manage them accordingly to get the best work out of each person.”
—Matt McFadden, global strategist, Samsung, Seoul, South Korea
The biggest challenge for many people I see is a natural tendency to erase failure from their memories. The truth is, even with hard work and the best intentions, sometimes we fail.
—Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP
But as the amount of responsibility I had increased, I realized I had to concentrate more on the benefits the project would deliver—rather than just delivery. When I was promoted from project to program manager at Ericsson in 2000, I jumped from managing 15 people on one or two project teams to overseeing as many as 500 people engaged in the telecommunications program. I had to think beyond the deployment of any one project. That was a learning curve for me.
So I found a mentor within the organization. I was careful to choose someone who wasn't directly involved in any of my projects. I actually had two mentors as I worked my way from program manager to project executive to the PMO. The first person was cut and dry in his approach—very analytical. The other person was much more focused on the human element, on asking people nuanced questions. I'm very lucky I saw those different leadership styles up close, because it allowed me to take what I wanted from both and find my own style—to know how to be soft when I need to be and how to be blunt when I need to be.
I know some people struggle with having hard conversations. I'm grateful that I've never had a problem being straightforward or sharing my opinions, whether I'm facing my boss or a customer. It has helped that my roles were very customer-facing, and so I saw firsthand how extremely important a sense of trust was. The customer didn't expect us only to hit scope, schedule and budget—we had to deliver strategic value. More than once, I had to have a hard conversation in which I recommended shelving or postponing a project that no longer made strategic sense. From the point of view of that one project, it wasn't so beneficial to our company. But from the long-term view of the customer relationship, making a difficult recommendation like that was really beneficial.
You can't strengthen your weak spots until you know where they are.
—Luiz Andre Dias, PMP, PgMP
As a director at Ericsson with global responsibilities, I devote time to coaching people, to helping them develop. The demand for leadership skills is stronger than ever. Today, there's a greater emphasis on big-picture thinking, even at the project manager level.
The biggest challenge for many people I see is a natural tendency to erase failure from their memories. The truth is, even with hard work and the best intentions, sometimes we fail. But one thing that's improved me most as a leader is facing a failure head-on. When the emotions and regret and anguish have cooled, I try to sit down and figure out what I could have done differently, what I can learn from the failure. If you can do a good analysis, you can improve. But if you push bad outcomes from your mind as soon as the project is over, you'll be stuck repeating the same mistakes.
During an annual performance review, it's natural to want to note only the spectacular stuff. But for your own sake, do a personal leadership review as well, and don't be afraid to focus on the failures. You can't strengthen your weak spots until you know where they are. PM