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The People Side of PMO Leadership

Posted by Johanna Mickel

As Director of Business Development for PM College, the learning and development arm of PM Solutions, Johanna Mickel possesses over 25 years’ experience as a business development professional working with major organizations by providing professional services for the planning and implementation of large, complex solutions especially in the professional development arena. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Johanna manages PM Solutions’ global learning and development.

One of the better leadership presentations in I’ve attended in years was the highly engaging talk by Dick Costolo, former CEO of Twitter, “From Twitter to New Economy.”  He stressed that creativity was the chief quality leaders need to encourage, citing Creativity, Inc. about Pixar as “a top management book.”

To boost creativity, leaders can do a number of things differently. For example, Costolo says the two key questions he asks at staff meetings are:

  • What is taking too long to learn?
  • How can we do that faster?

In the push for speed of execution, asking those questions generates cross-functional ideas and challenges organizational assumptions as well as setting up an urgency to communicate and act. Because, while a lot of the metrics that organizations produce and pore over to make management decisions are backward-looking (last quarter's results, for example), leadership needs to protect the future and not the past. He urged that no one should get in trouble for making mistakes or be in a defensive mode about why things take place. One way to create this is for senior leadership to publicize their own mistakes, letting the rest of the organization know it is okay to fail as long as everyone learns from it.

When Costolo taught his leadership class, he frequently used the work of the late, great Bill Campbell (a former football coach who also mentored Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and others). He shared a few of Campbell’s ideas:

  • What’s your communication architecture? Do leaders communicate authority (“because I said so’”) or context (“this is the ‘why’ for making a decision”)
  • A leader’s job isn’t to make decisions but to make sure decisions are made, so, delegate
  • Eliminate politics. Tip: It is political if there are a lot of “pre-meetings” that are engaged in to do an end-run around debate or disagreement. One suggestion he gave – “Ask what is working well” – is straight out of the Appreciative Inquiry playbook, something that we have presented on for many years.
  • Don’t punish people for telling the truth.

I thought of these leadership tips while attending the session on” Harnessing Generational Challenges for Effective Project Management” presented by  Bridget Carney from the Argus Group. Many of them seemed ideal for forging bonds across not only organizational levels and functions, but also between generational groups. She began with a nice review of the various generational groups (silent, boomer, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z / iGen) and their key traits. Of course, the traits are generalizations – in some cases, maybe even stereotypes, and should not be considered set in stone, but there is some wisdom there (and a lot of head-nodding in the room). Carney noted that the groups had a geographic factor as well: US age groups and UK age groups may display differing characteristics, for instance. Her key suggestions – and good advice no matter the generation – find balance, flexibility, support choices, messaging and have fun!  She also did an overview of how “soft skills” make a huge difference: a super timely topic, given recent stories in the business press about this topic.

These sessions renewed my sense that the PM College focus on leadership and soft skills training is a critical one.

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