Stuff Worth Doing is Hard

Therapy helps

I firmly believe that anything worth doing is going to be hard and being a great Project Manager is really, stinking difficult. Creating timelines, tracking progress, running meetings, and doing all the standard stuff is not necessarily hard. Tedious, sure. Challenging, sometimes. The hard part stuff is all the undefined and undocumented stuff great Project Managers do, but Task Managers do not. (TMs are what I call PMs with the title but not the acumen.) Great PMs have a huge sense of personal responsibility for making sure the team does the best they can, all the time. Great PMs shield the execution team from all the noise and criticism that could slow them down. Great PMs have the respect of their team and their stakeholders. They don’t take this respect for granted once earned, but constantly work at keeping it. Great PMs do NOT always meet time, cost, and scope expectations. Great PMs fail in these traditional metrics because they are the ones asked to lead the projects with the difficult team members, the unreasonable stakeholders, or the toughest schedules.

As I mentioned, being a great PM is hard. The inevitable side effect of doing something hard, is pain. When leading a project, there is a desire to be strong and appear to have complete control, but this leaves us alone in our struggles and pains. We bury the anguish all day only to vent to love ones, or require too much wine with dinner. OK – maybe that’s what I do…

Sometimes the pain is good, like soreness after a workout that lets you know you’re getting stronger. Sometimes the pain is bad, like an injury that will set you back. It can be pretty clear when physical pain is from an injury, but it’s tougher with psychological pain. This is why we need therapists, or in this space, mentors. Mentors can help us know if we are setting ourselves up for injury or they can help us recover after we already stumbled.

I use my experience to coach a few select people with the drive, talent, and passion it takes to be great. I often remind them (and myself) that this career is supposed to be hard. Finding the work difficult reminds us that we are probably doing something right. If it feels easy, we probably aren’t pushing ourselves hard enough. If we feel damaged, we are probably pushing ourselves too hard. It is ok to need help with finding the right balance and it’s ok to need help getting up from a bad fall.

Communication Strategies

to Fight Intimidation

In an early post, I wrote that stuff worth doing is hard. The inevitable side effect of doing something hard, is pain.  Sometimes the pain is good, like soreness after a workout that lets you know you’re getting stronger. Sometimes the pain is bad, like an injury that will set you back. When it comes to public speaking, there are two types of intimidation; one can be good for you and one can be bad. Each has its own communication strategies. If you’d rather not read, I gave a talk on this to the Austin Women in Technology. See Here is a summary of the talk.

Healthy, Situational Intimidation

According to, intimidated is when we are “made to feel timidaffected or held back by feelings of fear or timidity”. This is when, no one is trying to hurt us. I call ths Situational Intimidation. We are just dealing with stressful situations like your typical public speaking engagement. It can feel especially stressful if we are the only woman in the room, or the youngest person, or the newest employee, or any number of reasons we feel stared at or singled out. Here are some communication strategies to make us appear more confident:

Listen ActivelyMake sure you are on topic
Say something unique and constructive
Reference a previous speaker if possible
Get Their AttentionEnsure the receiver is getting your message by creating interest, conveying importance, and even stating your need for their attention
Don’t ask permission to speak
Put your Bottom-Line Up Front (BLUF)Get to the point immediately and be direct – don’t sugar coat the message It is your responsibility to focus your message, so the receiver is certain about what they are supposed to do or know
Clear is KindGiven the choice between a simple word and a long word, with no difference in the meaning, use the simple word
Avoid jargon and acronyms
Keep it Short and Simple (KISS)Written – If you need more than 3 sentences to make a point, call a meeting
Verbal – Speak in bullets or short sentences
Be PreparedFor meetings, review your notes from the previous meeting If there is data to be presented, have it ready
Look AliveSit up straight, make eye contact, avoid fidgeting
Slow DownSpeak with intention
Talking too fast will make you seem nervous
Avoid Minimizing WordsAvoid saying “just” or “only”, i.e. “I just want to…”
Avoid apologizing, e.g., “Sorry to bother you…” or “Sorry, but I made a mistake in my last email…”
Recover QuicklyWe all make mistakes, and we all have bad days
Think like NPR… after you say the wrong word, just say “rather, [correct word] …” and move on gracefully
Admit You Don’t KnowThe smartest people are never afraid to say “I don’t know”
It is much better to get back to people than to be wrong
Be GenuineDon’t try to be funny if you’re not funny
One caveat, don’t alienate anyone
Know your audience and try to use examples that resonate with everyone
Know Your RoleUnderstand why you were invited to participate
Sometimes it is ok to be an observer or listener
Avoid DistractionsPut yourself on do not disturb mode
If you can’t, like family member is in the hospital, inform others beforehand

Over time, speaking up in meetings and giving presentations should get easier and easier. As you practice, and use the above strategies, you will feel less intimidated and more confident.

Unhealthy, Intentional Intimidation

According to, the legal term for intimidation is “intentional behavior that would cause a person… to fear injury or harm… Threat of harm generally involves a perception of injury… physical or mental damage…”. I call this Intentional Intimidation. This is when a person (or multiple people) really try to rattle you. This is when the bullies start to yell or the a-holes attack you personally. This is when we must think bigger to keep our dignity over all else.

Bullies are generally trying to get their way through strong arm tactics rather than using good rational decisions. We must resist the urge to engage in a fight with a bully. Arguing can have bad consequences.

  • You could lose
  • You could appear petulant, or heaven forbid, cry
  • No one remembers who started the fight
  • They think it is ok to talk to you this way

Staying calm can have great consequences

  • You could win
  • People see how well you handle stress
  • Everyone knows who tried to start a fight
  • Even if you lose, you’ve maintained your dignity

Instead of fighting, try practicing overcontrol.

  • Inhibited emotional expression – Get stone-faced
  • Overly cautious and hypervigilant behavior – Chose every word extra carefully
  • Rigid and rule-governed behavior – Be an HR poster child
  • Aloof and distant relationships – Remember who is allowed to affect your feelings

Acting in an overcontrolled manner or resisting the urge to fight is ok in small doses, but it is really STRESSFUL. After it is over, breathe, vent, cry, or whatever! Make sure you are doing as well on the inside as you appear on the outside (read Burnout by Emily and Amelia Nagoski). Complete the stress cycle! If you deal with more unhealthy, intentional intimidation than healthy, situational intimidation, you may need to make a change.

‘You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.’ — Winston S. Churchill

Vacation ready?

Start acting like a leader

It seems every few weeks someone posts a boss vs. leader poster on LinkedIn or Facebook. They are all pretty similar; bosses depend on authority, inspire fear, place blame, take credit, give commands while leaders depend on goodwill, generate enthusiasm, fix problems, give credit, and ask questions. Basically, bosses are the wicked witches and leaders are made of glitter and sunshine.

These posters make the good vs evil message clear, but why does it matter? Some may argue that being a boss isn’t all that bad. Sometimes it takes a witch to really get sh*t done. I have in fact worked at a company where the President made it clear on multiple occasions that Project Managers would not be needed if people would “just do their jobs.” He would bark orders at people and kick people out of meetings for asking questions. Managers were fired if they weren’t bosses – full on, scary, a-hole, bosses.

Most of the time, the boss-type attitude is not revered. Rather, management is supposed to act like leaders. However, being a leader takes time, lots and lots of time. Leading means investing in and coaching others that are worth your time and energy. Leading means there will be days, maybe weeks, when you work with someone, side-by-side, for hours, so that next time they can go it alone. You may have to do your own work after everyone else has gone home. Leading means there will be times you will find someone is not as capable as the team needs and you have to make the tough decision to let them go even though you will now have more late nights pouring over resumes to find a replacement. Leading means taking as long as necessary to explain the strategy behind the new initiative until the team totally gets it and is fired up to work on it even if it feels like you’ve answered the same questions multiple times.

There are thousands of other examples, but what I’m trying to get at, is that leadership is full of unplann-able stuff. Training takes as long as it takes. Hiring takes as long as it takes. Motivating takes as long as it takes. The people who have the patience to stick with this stuff and the empathy to see when others are with them to the end are the natural leaders. But why? Aside from just wanting to be a nice person, why invest all this time? It really can seem quicker and more efficient to just tell people what to do and have them do it.

In my experience, the boss style of commanding staff can work to get stuff done, but it is not self sustaining nor does it lead to staff development. When people need orders to know how to do their job, they lack the skills to make decisions on their own or work autonomously. Innovation and creativity generally don’t occur because staff are rarely given orders that award such behaviors. Only tasks the boss thought of are accepted and praised. The worst part, when the boss is unavailable, and work dries up, people are afraid to do anything. People are so scared of doing the wrong thing, that they end up doing nothing.

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies that highlights this very well. In the movie, The Fifth Element, the Mangalores are the ogre like thugs that shoot up the space-yacht. To defeat them, they only have to kill the “leader”. Once they do that, the rest of the Mangalores wander around with no idea what to do. Imagine if the Mangalore leader had actually coached even one other dude! It would have been a totally different movie.

If my life were a movie, it would probably be a pretty boring one… There would be lots of one-on-one conversations, lots of team discussions, retrospectives and project kick-offs. All this time consuming stuff probably sounds more like the Gilmore Girls and less like an action packed sci-fi movie, but I actually think it is somewhere in between. Crises do happen at work, and all the discussions in between build the trust to help people up speak honestly and solve problems together. During these discussions staff are learning what goes into the decision making process. They are learning about the company strategy and corporate goals. They are being taught how their individual strengths align with what we need to get done right now, tomorrow, and the next day. The coaching and leadership allows managers to go on vacation, turn off their phone, and feel confident their staff can handle things.

In a nutshell, a leader’s army can continue marching even if the leader falls. A boss’s army stops dead in their tracks as soon as the boss falls. I want my army to know how to carry on.

Be Careful Counting Years of Experience

Avoid 1 Year, 15 Times

One of my favorite gigs was working as a Project Manager for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It was the perfect blend of my love for the environment and my talent for managing software development. I was the liaison between the Information Technology Department and the Wildlife Division. I managed several projects to turn manual, paper based permitting systems into online systems. I feel like I’m aging myself here, but I’m proud enough of the work to let the world see my grey hairs.

A friend recently asked if I struggled with regret over leaving that job. I quit over 10 years ago and frankly; I do not regret it at all.

At the time, I had a personal goal to make a certain amount of money by a certain age.  When an opportunity arose, I took it. I was pretty greedy, and it was a really stupid decision. Within three months my whole department was transferred to another country, I was laid off, and became majorly depressed. However, in those three months, I met some brilliant people, and learned some new skills.

Okay, let’s not sugar coat this too much. Back then, I was MISERABLE. I felt like I flushed a great career down the toilet for a sh*t show. I’m writing this with lots of hindsight. I can now see that I needed to leave to start getting more experience. I needed to leave to start seeing what tools and processes were specific to Parks and Wildlife, which were specific to this new place, and which transcended.

Over the years, I’ve done contract work, full-time work, public sector, and private sector. I’ve worked for large, international companies, as well as small, collocated companies. All this variability helped me see what works where and why. Experience is so much more than doing the same job for some number of years. Rather, it’s getting to understand why operating different ways can make sense in different contexts.

Let’s be clear, I don’t recommend switching jobs too frequently. It’s kind of like traveling the world. Jumping through airports and eating fast food does not count as visiting a country. Unless you’ve been to a place long enough to have a few good stories where everything was a total disaster, or you made a fool of yourself, or you got totally lost, you haven’t actually lived in that country.

A better reason to have left Parks and Wildlife would have been that I was running out of things to learn. If I had stayed, I don’t think I would have gained 15+ years of experience as a Project Manager, I might have gained 1 more year of experience, 15 times. Many companies have career ladders (or jungle gyms) that allow staff to have long careers where they grow and learn for many, many years. Parks and Wildlife has people hang out on those ladders until they retire, and I’m not very patient. I needed to learn and to grow. That is why I do not regret leaving the job I loved.

I want to dedicate this post to two people that really helped me through the miserable part. Dustin Lanier has always been an inspiration. If you don’t follow him on LinkedIn already, you should ( He really helped me pull myself up by my bootstraps and realize that I control who can impact my feelings. Second, Richard Carter filled me with confidence when I needed it most. Neos Consulting Group is a bad ass staffing firm. I highly recommended them if you ever need techies in Texas.

A Kind Contrarian

And the Crappy Assumptions That Made Me This Way

It is not uncommon that a little event really gets under my skin. I stew on it and talk to some friends until I find the reason why. Typically, one of my core values has been violated. In this case, I was doing phone screen interviews and several candidates were just, plain rude. Why? Because they assumed I was a recruiter. They changed their tune when the found out I was the hiring manager. Too bad the first impression was already made.

I learned the Golden Rule from The Berenstain Bears “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” Quick digression: I think it’s spelled that way so we can have drunken debates about whether or not they are Jewish. Getting back on track… My core value is a little more nuanced: “Assume others are equal to you and treat them as such until they teach you otherwise.”

There could be another #Metoo movement of people who were treated as “less than” for the silliest of assumptions. I’ll give a few stories of my experiences. It should be known that calling people out on this behavior is one of my favorite things to do.

When I was in High School a guy in my friend circle asks why I’m not in any of their classes. I tell him I’m in the honors track. He literally says “I didn’t realize you were smart.” I say “I knew you weren’t smart (smirk), but why didn’t you think I was?” The answer: “Because you’re cool.”

Silly assumption #1: Smart and cool don’t mix.

When I was in college (it was the 90’s in California) I dressed like a skater and my hair looked a bit like Leeloo from The 5th Element. Some girls were making fun of the Greek system so I told them I was in a sorority. They started cracking up and thought I was joking. Why? My hair and clothes. I told them I was serious and invited them over for lunch. They declined.

Silly assumption #2: Dress defines group affiliations.

In my twenties I was doing Cultural Resources Management and I studied all the laws backwards and forwards. I was the expert on what would need to happen to make sure no archeological resources were damaged by a particular construction project. The client just would not believe my assessment. Why? I was too young. My reports had to be coauthored although not a single word was written by anyone other than me.

Silly assumption #3: Experts must be old.

In my thirties I was a Project Manager and Team Lead for some Software Engineers. I’m in line at the company cafeteria and the guy serving food says “What’ll you have Boss?” to each customer until it’s my turn. He says “What will you have?” in this much more dainty way. From there it goes like this:

  • Me: “Why didn’t you call me Boss?”
  • Him: “Because you’re a lady.”
  • Me: “Seriously?”
  • Him: “I mean, are you a boss?”
  • Patron behind me: “She the only one in this whole line that’s a boss.”
  • Him: “Ohh. Sorry.”
  • Me: “Just give me the special.”
  • Patron: “Dude.”

Silly assumption #4: Line cooks are enlightened. I kid, I kid… actual silly assumption #4: Ladies aren’t Bosses.

I always strive to treat others as my equals. I get to know people and I don’t listen to gossip about others. I form my own judgements based on my own history with that person. I think this makes me kind.

A contrarian is someone who “opposes or rejects popular opinion; goes against current practice.” Considering many people make false assumptions and I don’t go along with it, but rather call it out as bullsh*t; I feel like a contrarian.

Therefore, I consider myself, a kind contrarian.

In all honesty, I like to keep my posts lighthearted, but I think this is a serious topic for women and minorities. There are still systemic biases that lead to invalidating, and damaging messages that repeatedly go out to a large portion of our population. Not all people are lucky enough to have family and friends to support them or even know they need building back up. I would love to make this world a little better by growing some more kind contrarians. I just want to find a few more people who are willing to treat others as equals and never shy away from asking “Why would you assume THAT?”

The Handshake

A Symbol of My Principles

Recently it came to my attention that people may no longer want to shake hands as a way of greeting new people. I didn’t realize how important beginning new business relationships with the perfect handshake was until I thought about this trend. At first, I blew off the decline of the handshake as no big deal; I mean, of course it makes sense. Who really wants some random person’s germs going directly onto the hand you know you are going to touch your face with, about ten seconds after you think about how you don’t touch your face as much as everyone else touches their face? But then I couldn’t stop thinking about handshakes. The handshake means a lot to me. Some pivotal moments in my life, moments that have made me who I am as a person, and a leader, are directly related to the simple handshake.

When I was 12 years old my dad lived in an upside-down house on a hill. He had the kind of house where the front door is on the second story and the bedrooms are downstairs. I vividly remember being in his bottom-floor bedroom one morning when he gave me lessons on how to do two very important things; tie a tie and give a handshake.

The tie took longer because I had to learn the double Windsor. He had high expectations for me. Clearly I wasn’t going to be the kind of professional that would wear a crooked tie. Wait… as a female I would NEVER need to wear a tie, but the point was still made and well taken. (I have used this skill many times over to prevent colleagues from looking like total slobs in company pictures but that is not the point of this blog.) The second lesson, the handshake, was the more important lesson.


  • Firm grip, once up, once down.
  • Do not squeeze too hard.
  • Too soft is a cardinal sin.
  • Make sure to connect all the way to the base of the thumb.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Don’t pull in.
  • Elbow bent at slightly greater than 90 degrees.
  • On first meeting, get their full name.
  • On second meeting, ask about their kids, if they have any.
  • No business questions during the handshake.
  • Leave the left hand at your side.


My dad is a man of principle. That day when I was 12, I was learning one of his fundamental beliefs about treating all of his children equally. His daughters, his sons, his eldest, his youngest, his biological children and his stepchildren are all treated as equals. To this day, this is true. Later in my life, I became close with another person who I also learned was dedicated to treating people equally when there was drama over a handshake.

I was now in my 30’s, and I was being introduced to a large group of people because I was the new Project Manager for a large software suite. I needed to get to know all of the people that ran the servers and hardware that would host our software. One of the primary server lab staff persons was a devout Muslim, and it was against his beliefs to have physical contact with women. In short, he could not shake my hand. He had emailed me ahead of time and informed me of the situation. I said I understood. Unfortunately, he did not tell my boss.

We went to the large meeting, 10-ish people, where I met the lab managers and staff. This guy shook hands with everyone, except me. My boss was furious! I can’t remember the exact quote, but it was a public shaming to the effect of “IF YOU CAN’T SHAKE HANDS WITH HER, YOU SHAKE HANDS WITH NO ONE!” He went on about how he: “would not have any of his staff singled out and treated differently. In this space, I was a Project Manager before I had any gender”, etc., etc. It was kind of brutal. After that meeting, I only ever spoke with the lab management. I never dealt with the staff that “treated me rudely.”

This boss is a man of principle. He has firm beliefs about the respect and equality that should be afforded to all people. He can’t defend everyone, but he can defend his staff. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life. I also defend my staff like a momma hen on a mission. When it comes to protecting my children, I’m like a wild bear with Satan on my side. I have very strong values about getting to know my staff and treating people well. Who would have thought, these principles were reinforced by something so simple as a handshake?

This post is dedicated to my dear friend Evelyn LaLonde. Thank you for taking me to the desert and reminding me of my strength; both physical and mental.

Want to be a Leader?

Failure May be your First Step

I went to a networking event and there were several panelists speaking about their beautiful careers. At the end of the talk, a young woman asked a really interesting question:

“How did you know you were ready to be a leader?”

The panelists each gave lovely answers about their career paths and the steps that led to their successes. I just didn’t feel right about the answers so I stood up and asked if I could add something. I was really trying to be nice, but it might have come across a little like the crone in that dream sequence of the Princess Bride. You know the part where Prince Humperdinck says “I present to you your queen. Queen Buttercup!” Everyone is silent and then the old lady shouts “Boo! Boo!”

Except I wasn’t shouting “Boo!”. I’m was saying “You have to fail.” I wasn’t shouting or anything, but I was standing to make sure I had the floor. I explained the importance of failure to them, as I will explain here.

One of the core things leaders have to do, is deal with problems. You can either prevent them from happening (good luck), or expediently solve them. People often get chosen to be the next leader after someone important has seen them:

  • Keep their cool in a crisis;
  • Course correct really quickly;
  • Spin a bad situation into a win;
  • Notice early when things are going downhill; and/or
  • Recover from a setback.

If any of these things happened, it means your project did not go as planned. Some might think that means there was poor project planning. Maybe those critics have a crystal ball that helps them predict the future, or they aren’t trying very hard to get the project done quickly. Truthfully, projects rarely go exactly as planned which is a big part of why we need to manage them.

Problems happen. Not all problems can be solved. Sometimes they keep us up at night. Sometimes our boss doesn’t like how we handle them. Sometimes they are completely out of our control. Sometimes we fail in our efforts to fix them. Sometimes we become the scapegoat for them. Sometimes they get us fired.

Every problem you face will help inform you for the next one. Every problem that causes you suffering will give you more compassion for others when they go through similar ones.

In my opinion, you know you are ready to lead when you can fail gracefully and still know, without a doubt, that you are amazing at what you do. Every failure makes you more and more resilient. You get better at handling the problems without getting rattled. You are able to give others examples of success strategies. You can support colleagues and show them they are capable of surviving their struggles. You are living proof that failure can make us great.

Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Colin Powell

Work is for Projects, Home is for People

Pick your Priorities

A colleague recently questioned their innate project manager-ness when her spouse expressed surprise in her reluctance to “manage projects at home.” I let her know some of the things people have said to me over the years.

  • “You are so organized at work, but your house looks so cozy and…lived-in.”
  • “Staff march to your orders, but you can’t even seem to control two children.”
  • “I bet you print out daily agendas for your vacations.”

At work, I’m very focused on accomplishing the objectives at hand. Typically, that means my primary focus is delivering a project. I care for my teammates, but the project is usually the top priority. Therefore, I can come across as rather rigid, with little time for non-project related banter.

My job at the office is to keep people on task and motivated so things keep moving as efficiently as possible.

At home, it is a very different story. At home relationships come first. Dishes, laundry, dusting, and bedtime routines are a distant priority to the emotional needs of my children, spouse, self, parents, siblings, and friends. I have many unfinished projects going on in my home. These projects are not measured by scope, schedule, and budget. They are measured by the opportunities they create for me to bond with my family members.

My job at home is to keep people health and happy so we can be our best selves and treat others as kindly as possible.

My unwillingness to control things at home like I control things at work means I am a well rounded person with my priorities in order. However, I understand how an accomplished PM with everything under control can be really sexy. What spouse wouldn’t want that side of his wife to walk in the door every once in a while…

We Need Checklists

And Therefore We Need PMs

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, is a great book that will teach you the importance of checklists. Checklists can literally save lives. When I read it I was filled with longing for a checklist driven job.

Imagine: Did you check off all the boxes? Yes! Did anyone die? No! Awesome. you’re amazing! Unfortunately, my life has never been like that.

After stewing on this for a while and wondering why this book was recommended, it dawned on me. Project Managers and the teams they work with DO NOT follow the same checklist day after day. We make them! We even have a fancy names for them; Work Breakdown Structures, Product Backlogs, Risk and Issue Reports.

  • Project Managers bring teams together to define what needs to get done in order to successfully meet a goal. We force people into a billion meetings to determine business needs and project objectives.
    • We make the initial checklist.
  • We constantly assess if the goal has changed through a billion more meetings and then communicate modifications to the project team. We find new paths forward when obstacles are hit.
    • We edit the checklist.
    • We edit the checklist again (weekly on a good project, daily on bad ones).
    • We create an alternate checklist or two in case of a disaster.
  • We communicate status to all stakeholders throughout project delivery with beautiful presentations and crazy excel formulas. We attempt to measure progress made by people who only answer our questions with vague noncommittal answers.
    • We communicate checklist progress.
  • We ensure the project is completed on time and within the final budget (or at least as close as humanely possible).
    • We validate checklist completion.

Basically, we make teams successful by defining and refining our checklists. We also take all the responsibility if an item is missing and things go wrong. Let’s be clear, our checklists are not cute little lists with boxes to be ticked off. We have to master tools like MS Project, Jira, Redmine, Bugzilla, TFS, or whatever home-grown tool was created where we currently work. It takes complex software to even begin tracking the items we identify in the billions of meetings we attend.

Maybe our checklists don’t save lives, but good ones will make teams less stressed, more efficient, and more successful. The best checklists can also highlight the value of the team and make people feel proud of their accomplishments. They can even allow the people who hate meetings to just wait for your updates. This is the best gift a Project Manager can give an engineer.

Don’t Bother Fitting In

Keep your Pride Instead

A dear friend of mine started a new job and started to worry about her performance within the first few weeks. She is fairly new to project management, but is one of the brightest minds, and quickest learners I have ever encountered. I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs about how wonderful she is, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is that I could not believe anyone could feel like her performance was anything other than stellar. So who made her feel this way? The other Project Managers.

She was being ostracized for doing “too much” and working harder than the other PMs. She was truly feeling like she misunderstood the job and should just follow their example. I have also faced this struggle, and I’ve seen other great people go through it. Luckily, I had a lot of coaching from family in the form of “NOONE IN THIS FAMILY DOES ANYTHING HALF-ASSED!” Also, I admire people like Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I loved the part in Tina Fey’s book Bossypants where she recounts Jimmy Fallon saying to Amy Poehler, “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it” and she replies “I don’t f*cking care if you like it.” 

I try and be a little gentler in my coaching, so I asked her a question. Do you want to be liked by them, or do you want to be liked by you? Before emulating them, she needed to figure out a couple things. First, and most importantly, would she be proud of herself everyday? Second, does she know if others in the company respect them? I reminded her that she was not hired by these other PMs nor is she being evaluated by them.

Make sure to gain respect from the most important people – yourself and hopefully your family. Maybe Tina Fey and Amy Poehler too. If you can not stay true to your own values AND be respected by your colleagues, the job may not be a good fit for you.

A few months have passed and she is killing it at this job. The other PMs are not her best friends (surprise), but her team adores her and she is proud of her accomplishments.

UPDATE: A few more months have passed and there was a round of lay offs. Guess which PMs lost their positions and guess who got promoted.

Nice is Bad

Be Better

I was recently venting to someone I care not to identify about a tough conversation I had with my project execution team. While I was expecting them to be impressed with my accomplishment, I was instead told I probably should have been nicer. NICER! WHAT!?!? Let me explain what “nice” stands for.

  • Nothing
  • Important,
  • Creative, or
  • Exceptional.

I am not nice. I am so much better than nice. Nice does not motivate people to work hard and be proud of their accomplishments everyday. Nice does not lead to brainstorming sessions where new possibilities are exposed. In Project Management, nice does not result in positive project memories.

I create very clear expectations about what needs to get done and when. Clearness is kind (Brene Brown said that so it must be true). Seriously, though, I am kind and I get to know my team very well. Getting to know their capabilities and goals allows me to have high, but not unreasonable expectations. I hold them to these expectations because I know they can get it done. I will be tough if people seem like they are being lazy, but I will help them however I can if they are struggling. I will not be nice. Instead, I will find creative solutions to important problems so we can have exceptional results.

They say “Nice guys finish last.” When nice Project Managers finish, no one remembers them and no one attributes any successes to them.