When You’re Guessing, Say So! | Leadership Honesty

Finally! It’s your break-through assignment—the chance to lead a project that breaks new ground.

Leadership alert!  Find out whether that ground is hard or soft, rocky or sandy, dangerous or solid before you go too far. Figuratively speaking, you’re now the company’s excavator. Time to get fitted for your hard hat!

Everyone’s counting on you! 

New initiatives come with high expectations. There’s often a lot of hype and eagerness around a new effort but shaky consensus about:

  • Scope—how big or small it will be
  • Resources—the money, personnel, and time to be invested
  • Impacts—the effects it will have, both positive and negative, over time
  • Deliverables—the reports, analyses, communication, and products
  • Roll out—when the effort will be completed and implemented 

Once you’re designated project leader, all eyes are on you. You will likely start out assembling an in-house team. You may get to hire independent contractors or collaborate with experts within your industry or in higher ed. Every one you assemble is counting on you to lead the way.

The hard realities 

Getting selected to lead a new project team is a major opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities. It broadens your visibility and expands your brand. So you don’t want to blow this!

There’s pressure because it’s a “new” initiative. No one has led a project like this before. There have been other new projects, but not with the parameters you’re expected to meet.

That means you’re on foreign ground. No one knows exactly how this project needs to be done. You can ask advice from others, but ultimately you have to figure out what to do.

This can be a lonely and unnerving spot to be in. 

What’s a Project Leader to do? 

Provide structure, first. Then provide process. That’s the surest way to keep your team going in the right direction and your eye on what is and isn’t getting done.

This is what you need:

  • A “charter” for the project that is approved by whomever is senior to you, stating the scope, owner (you’re the leader), expected outcomes, your decision-making authority, budget, and deadlines
  • A detailed action plan with specific accountabilities for each team member and deadlines
  • A budget and system for tracking expenditures
  • A reporting mechanism for the team and you to use that keeps the project owner and/or company at large informed 

Everything on a project, however, won’t go according to plan. Things get messy and uncertain.

Draw on your team and your honesty

If you pretend you know what to do (when you don’t), then give a directive and are wrong, you will lose the confidence of your team and boss.

This is what has worked for me at a crossroads:

  • Meet with your team and/or the owner of the project.
  • Summarize the options/choices on the table.
  • Describe the “what if” scenarios you’ve considered
  • Ask for their input
  • State the course of action that you have decided is best.
  • Ask once more for input and then act. 

I have always told both my teams and my boss, when it comes to complex new initiatives, that ”I’m making this up as I go along.” I say this because it’s honest, helps manage the expectations of the team, and motivates everyone to do their best to make things work.

Embrace calculated risk-taking

Breaking new ground means developing something that never existed before. No one knows how it will turn out. It’s the tried and true business best practices that help us find our way.

That’s why our business fitness is so important. The seven smart moves give us the insights and the relationships we need face uncertainties and keep moving ahead with confidence, even when we’re unsure! Now fire up that backhoe!

What missteps have you seen that have affected a new project/program? What should have been done? I always love your comments!

What Your Job Search Says About You. Sometimes It Isn’t Pretty!

I hear a lot of excuses, justifications, and whining from people looking for a job. It’s always the same things:

  • “I hate networking.”
  • “I followed up on a bunch of leads and nothing!”
  • “I’ve got my resume out there but don’t hear anything.”
  • “I don’t know what to put on LinkedIn or how to use it.” 

Come on now!

Face reality. 

Jobs rarely find you. They don’t call it a “search” or “hunting” for nothing. The process requires research, exploration, and discovery. It means:

  • crawling through a jungle of complex paths and unknown obstacles
  • lifting up rocks and seeing what crawls out
  • following leads and taking advice from people who know the drill 

I can’t say this any more plainly: The job search is WORK!

When you’re looking for a job, you have a job: Project Manager! That means you need to use the right tools:

  • An action plan with steps and deadlines you’ll complete each week  
  • A strong resume and cover letter
  • Behavioral interviewing skills
  • Contacts via social media, friends, community and professional groups 

You don’t just whip this stuff up in a day. You have to invest serious thinking, a zillion drafts until your message is right, and a clear focus on what jobs you’re after.

You have to make big decisions like:

  • Are you willing to move or drive a good distance from where you live?
  • Will you re-credential yourself? If so, how?
  • Are you willing to start over in an entry level job with an industry that you think will grow?
  • Are you willing to work two part-time jobs or perhaps a lower paying job while starting your own business? 

Today, you have lots of options. Sometimes being creative about the way you piece together your career outlets is the ace in the hole you need.

The way you job hunt brands you! 

If you’re not aggressive about your own job hunt, why would an employer think you’d work hard for him/her? The stakes and rewards for you couldn’t be any higher. So why doesn’t everyone dig in and work at their search? Is it:

  • Fear of rejection or laziness
  • Some kind of weird denial
  • Belief that the job-fairy is out there flying around looking for them
  • A crippling lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, or naiveté
  • Inability to try new approaches, solve problems, or manage time
  • Procrastination, lack of discipline, or poor initiative 

Would you hire someone with these attributes? If not, don’t adopt them yourself!

Suck it up!

Job hunting is a full time job when you’re out of work. That means you need to:

  • Work on it 8 hours a day Monday through Friday; 4 hours on Saturday. (Yes, you need to work OT on your search.)
  • Set up your day to include: networking appointments, follow up correspondence, materials preparation, researching opportunities, and reaching out
  • Arrange information interviews, job interviews, and community/professional meetings weekly
  • Stay current on business matters related to the jobs you’re seeking
  • Expand your visibility (i.e., use LinkedIn, blog, and attend professional events)
  • Follow up on leads, take creative steps to get in the door, and ask friends for referrals 

Do not give yourself “time off” from this work unless you’ll definitely make up the hours. Remember: It could take you 6 months to get the job you want, so you’re in this for the long haul.

Make yourself proud. 

Being out of work feels awful. We can either wallow or get over it.

I developed the business fitness model because we all need to be ready for a career curve ball. Sometimes we’re even thrown a sinker! Working hard on your job search empowers you. It gives you momentum and builds optimism. Get started and stay with it. That’s the measure of your heart! Believe in yourself, okay?

What piece of advice would you give to someone out of work? Every idea helps!