I suppose one of the most difficult mindsets to take hold of (and keep a grip on) is that it’s not about you. Yes, you’re the person who formulates the vision, divines a strategy, crafts a plan, and designs the machine that executes the project, but really, it’s not about you. It can’t be about you because if it is, you’ll become distracted and drop the ball. And then it will be about you. And you don’t want that.

People who struggle with habits and addictions know that the battle isn’t only about stopping. It’s about replacing. So, if you’ve been thinking it’s about you, but you now accept what I’ve just told you (that it’s not), then you need to find a new focal point. And the best suggestion I have is to think of yourself as a servant.

I know, right? A servant? Are you kidding me? No, I’m not kidding you. Your job is to make your client look good. And I mean good in the simplest sense of the word. It doesn’t mean finagling the facts, inserting yourself into the organizational politics, hiding the truth about what’s really going on in the project, or blatantly lying to buy a little more time. It’s none of those things. It means working the problems, surfacing the issues, assigning and managing accountability, reporting the whole truth, and when necessary, taking the hits on behalf of your client.

So, yes. A servant. It also means waiting patiently in an executive’s office when they’re 30 minutes late to a meeting that they requested, never batting an eye of annoyance or irritation when they finally show. It’s not your time. It’s theirs.

A servant doesn’t betray the trust of those served. From the top executive to the new guy just hired to install a suite of servers, your job is to be the one they can trust. Stay out of the politics and don’t gossip. Will you be spending most of your lunch hours eating soup alone in your cube? Yes, but it’s worth it. Socialize on your own time. You can vent then.

A servant anticipates and notices the needs of those served. For example, when there’s tension in a team meeting, you will definitely notice it. It’s your job to get to the bottom of it so that the team can move on. You don’t know what it’s about. You don’t know if you’re walking into a long brewing dispute. But you need to address it, so what do you do?

You ask simple questions. What kind of questions? Questions that a fifth grader might ask, such as “how does this work?”, “what does such and such department do with the request?”, “how are the incoming requests tracked?” Then you wait, listen, and watch; giving your full attention to understanding the actual problem. If the room goes silent, one scan of the room will tell you who knows the answer. Go ahead; ask them if they know. Most of the time, they’ve just been waiting for their moment to be heard.

There are always reasons behind why people behave the way they do. I can’t think of one instance in my own dealings as a project manager when the reason wasn’t substantive, but the lines of communication had broken down, and those impacted did what we all do; they had filled in the blanks with their own stories. It’s your job to bring the real issue to light, depersonalize it, and just make it another thing to address in due course. In other words, make it safe to bring real issues to the table and collaborate as a team to solve them. It is the most powerful and quickest way to build a high-performing team.

Finally, seek to no longer be needed. That means that when you’re finished formulating the vision, divining the strategy, crafting the plan, designing/building the execution machine, and most importantly, herding cats into a project groove, you can eventually leave knowing that there is an entire organization ready to take on the next project challenge without your help.

It’s a mindset thing.

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