Leading In The Situation

DirectionWhen we think about leaders whether they are people we know personally or famous people from history what we tend to think about are how they dealt with particular situations. Or perhaps it’s the differences they made and the particular taglines that have become attached to them. Just search for leadership quotes on the internet and you will be inundated with them.

Each effective leader is effective in a given situation. Whether individuals consciously modify what they do and how they behave to accommodate the situation is a moot point. To my mind these people are effective because they consciously focus on three aspects at any one time and at the same time consider how they personally interact with those around them.

What are the required outcomes?

Just where does the business need to get to for it to be considered a success? The outcomes that determine success are key and the leader needs to ensure those around them, including suppliers, are fully bought into this. The vision, mission, strategy and plans need to be understood and the best leaders ensure these are kept as simple as possible (the worst let committees and consultancies produce huge tomes that no-one understands but at the same time aren’t honest enough to admit that).

Recognizing the environment

Unless the leader can gain a thorough understanding of the environment in which they are required to operate then it doesn’t matter what they believe the outcomes need to be, there will be a miss-match between their intentions and the reality in which the business sits. The environment will include internals within the business, the way it operates and the culture that permeates everything. Taking that 100 days to watch and see what happens after a new leader takes over makes absolute sense even if the gut feeling is to make a difference from day one.

Understanding your resources

Resources of course include people, the talent at the leaders disposal. Getting an understanding of which direction each of the top team think they are headed is essential early on. In any given situation different people will have different views on the right direction and approach to be taken and it’s the leaders responsibility to find that out and deal with it. Others around the table will have their own personal power and influences that must be anticipated by the leader. If this sounds far too political then maybe it is, but that’s what a leader must be comfortable with even if their own style is to be more open and transparent than those around them.

So whatever the situation is, good or not so good, the leader must determine where they need to get to and recognize the resources they have to play with while keeping an eye on a complex environment and figuring out what outcomes will get them to their destination. This is a great deal to keep track of for anyone and requires the leader to consciously watch and see what’s happening around them as much as getting involved as making a difference. 



Quiet Stakeholders Aren’t Always Happy Stakeholders

For some people the idea of stakeholders staying quiet for the duration of their project might sound like paradise, something to strive for even. Being left to just get on a deliver what was asked for in the first place without any interruption surely must be bliss for anyone working in a project team. Well, maybe it is and once we wake up from this wonderfully contented dream and return to reality we realize that trying to make it happen by closing down communications with people outside the immediate project team doesn’t make much sense (although I’ve seen it tried lots of times).

Unfortunately what happens is that, perhaps after a difference of opinion or a change in requirement, the project team decides to go all incommunicado with their stakeholders and metaphorically puts up the “We’re busy – do not disturb!” sign. This can work for the stakeholders of course as they too don’t want to get into another difficult situation or conflict – after all, they want the project delivered. 

Such naivety can appear to be working until there has to be some form of communication between the project and the outside world. Starting that conversation again from scratch is never easy and the relationship needs to be re-established at the same time as an important piece of project communication. What happens next is the relationship re-establishment gets forgotten and the cycle of differing opinions and conflict starts up again. Hardly helpful for anyone.

So if deliberately not communicating with stakeholders in the miss-judged belief that they only get in the way and all the talking and reporting just takes you away from working on the project what should you do when some of your stakeholders are quiet and don’t initiate much communication with you? Should you take it as a blessing in disguise and get on with the project or should you be the proactive ones and make ‘first contact’?

There are a number of reasons why stakeholders might not be as communicative as perhaps a project might expect them to be:

Content with project progress – they may hear from other avenues how the project is progressing against the plan and are happy with it. Entirely possible, but wouldn’t it be worth just making a call to clarify this?

Other priorities – or even other projects that they find more interesting. It’s a project’s responsibility to appreciate where it sits in its organisation’s priorities. The only way to really find this out is my maintaining a regular dialogue with those stakeholders who are ‘in the know’.

Don’t know – sometimes stakeholders, especially in large organizations, don’t understand the way projects work and might assume that once something has been set in motion they can simply get on with their other work and wait until successful delivery. If your stakeholders don’t have an appreciation of what projects are about isn’t it your responsibility to keep them apprised of what’s going on? After all, there may be a time when you need their assistance.

Lost interest – you might be working on your project all the hours you can but none of your stakeholders will be, they have other jobs to be getting on with. This is why you need to be careful and considerate when you do engage them because you are doing so for two reasons. Firstly, to let them know how things are progressing and any issues that are arising and secondly, to ensure you have their support for the project in the future. If some stakeholders have gone all quiet on you and you don’t know why it’s imperative that you engage them to ensure that they haven’t lost interest in the project as this could be symptomatic of wider issues in your organisation.

A set of quiet stakeholders isn’t something that a project should be aspiring to cultivate. If some stakeholders are quieter than others or become less communicative than they have in the past then that’s a signal that something needs checking out.

Some Do’s and Don’ts for dealing with quiet stakeholders:

Do:

  • Make contact with them or their representatives to understand their level of continuing interest in the project.
  • Look at how you are already communicating with them, if at all, and consider any changes that might suit them better.

Don’t:

  • Ignore the silence and focus on those stakeholders who shout loudest.
  • Assume that a quiet stakeholder is a happy stakeholder – they just done’ know until you ask them.

Remember that a project’s stakeholders are its allies and advocates and it’s down to those working in the project to stay engaged with them. This does take time away from what some might say is direct project work but ensuring you have a well engaged and supportive set of stakeholders will pay off in the end.