Have you ever tried to lead a project and allow people the autonomy to do their part, only to be told you weren’t assertive enough?
Whether you are leading a small project or a massive innovation, you want to be seen as inspiring your group toward the finish.
You’re right in thinking that people are motivated by the freedom and space to do their part.
So how do you get the balance right; from totally hands off- to getting out your assertive stick and poking them along?
It’s all in the deadlines, that is what gives you control without seeming pushy.
Why Deadlines Get The Best From People
I like Myers Briggs Preference theories because they are simple and intuitive. One of the preferences is about how we like to organize our time and our projects.
What J Preferences Like
People with “J” preferences like to plan. They like to have things organized. They will happily pop something in their diary 6 weeks from now.
They rarely procrastinate. They say they don’t feel like they can play, until they’ve gotten their work done.
“J”s are delighted to have everything finished early, they feel a little anxious if the deadline looms and they aren’t ready. If their part of the project depends on other people, they’ll want assurance that the other group won’t let them down.
And when “J”s are done, they’re done. It is scratched from the to-do list, sent on its path and hopefully never revisited.
What P Preferences Like
“P” preferences are spontaneous and flexible. They don’t want to be too obligated to things, until they know all their options. They are happy to have things open ended and get to it when they do.
While “P”s say they have not yet started working on something, they have – they just aren’t ready to share it yet. They are thinking about it and playing with possibilities, but they always believe they may come up with something better so they aren’t going to commit to those ideas by saying them out loud.
When “P”s are faced with the deadline they have a surge of energy, their thinking all comes together with clarity and creativity. They will voluntarily work late because they are in the flow and can deliver their work in one big push.
When “P”s finish their work, they often continue to think about it. While they’ve turned their part in, because it was due, them may come up with more ideas and want to revisit what they’ve completed.
You can get the best from both groups. It’s important to say we can all work in both these ways, and may have changed our natural style to suit our work place. But we still have a preference, backed with years of practice, and this is our default way of working if we have a choice.
As The Project Manager
As the manager on your project, you can delegate and allow people autonomy while staying firmly in control, by setting out clear deadlines.
Everyone needs the final date – that’s a given. Your job is to identify and set out the timing on the interim steps.
Set regular catch ups from the start, that makes them seem normal and expected. Be clear what you need to see at each of these junctures.
For people with a “J” preference, they will feel you are in control of the project. It gives them confidence to know there will be check points to evaluate progress and the teams they’re dependant on will deliver.
For your “P” preference colleagues, you’ve given them those energising deadlines where their thinking goes into overdrive and they solve their part of the puzzle. It might happen hours before your meeting, but it will happen.
The big advantage for you is staying informed.
You’ll need to decide whether the catch ups are as a team or individually, I’m not suggesting you waste time in endless meetings.
Your goal is simply to get the best thinking from both these natural preferences. You are facilitating their productivity.
Stick To Your Plan
If you can stick to your plan a couple of things will happen. You should not need to nag or chase. If someone cancels because they aren’t ready – immediately put in a new date.
Don’t anticipate trouble, if the dates are clear, trust people to get on with their jobs and give them that motivating freedom to do it their way.
You won’t get caught out. Because you’ve had check points, you know who is moving comfortably forward and who is struggling. You can make an informed call about who needs support or has been given part of the project that is too big for the time or experience they have.
This builds your reputation as an inspiring manager. You are holding the reins lightly and leading a group of people forward without drama.
The result? You are getting their best thinking as your reward and that lets you shine as the project leader.