A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr James Brown from Florida for my GettingAGrip Inner Circle private member's monthly audio.
James was a NASA engineer and project manager for 16 years, including many years working on the space shuttle programme, has received several awards for his work, and these days lectures around the world on effective project management.
Today I want to share just a few of his pithy words of advice.
His opening words took me by surprise: 'know what to ignore'.
Almost everyone in any business has more demands than time, an over-crowded schedule and limited resources. It's critical to become comfortable about ignoring 'stuff'.'
* Meetings are 'sinkholes of time'. If you allow them to meander on and waste time, thereby requiring you to stay late at work, you're cheating on your family and personal time.
* Many meetings are not aggressive (focused) enough. If you're the leader of a team, allow your staff to walk out of a meeting if there's no value in their being present.
Waiting for information or documents:
Take a proactive stance in following up on items you're waiting on others for - look for a gentle way to 'bird-dog' the person or people you're waiting on. If you're managing a lot of deliverables you can't assume they'll provide without some prompting.
Dr Brown: 'If I can make them feel guilty, that's my job! However, it's important to be graceful about the way you do it.'
* A phone call before the due date. You might say, 'Thank you in advance for [the deliverable].' At the same time you'll possibly explain the importance of what they'll provide.
* Or you might say: 'Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to make the date?'
* Sometimes you might use a bribe, i.e. a candy bar.
Management by walking around at the working level:
Dr Brown: 'So many managers are so busy in meetings or listening to presentations that they're not out with the people who have their hands at the wheel. You won't know what's transpiring in the organisation if you're not amongst the action. It is the most important thing for a manager/leader to do.'
Bob Sieck, a highly respected space NASA shuttle launch director always went out on the floor to find out what the hands-on people were doing. He regarded it as the most valuable part of his day and critical to his role as a leader.
* You cannot lead people without a feel of what's going on.
* Your direct reports will lie if you don't know what's happening. Your job as a leader is to ferret out the truth.
* People want to look good so, rather than ask for help or indicate uncertainty, they'll think: 'I can fix this problem without help'. The problem might need high level help but if the leader doesn't know about it, he or she can't help. [In New Zealand we've just seen that exact scenario played out at Fonterra.]
* By being amongst the workers on a regular basis you accelerate trust, which is the foundational skill set of a leader.
Last words from James:
If you can't build trust, it doesn't matter how good you are at spreadsheets and going to meetings!