jim@millikenproject.com

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Just Do It! Do It Right

Just do it!
What a great slogan! It clears away a lot of the fuzz and distraction. Just do it. Act. Get things done. Results. We love it. The phrase emits a shiny, glowing simplicity that feels really good.
It would be great if only it worked. It doesn’t. For the athletes (and wannabes) the Nike slogan is aimed at, there is an implication of a simple need to unleash intense action based on high-level preparation. As a slogan, it may even have value for the couch potato who needs a boot into motion, any motion.
For general purposes of life for the rest of us, the “just do it” concept is dangerous nonsense. Think about it in the context of managing projects. Reasonable expectations about human behavior say “no way just do it.” You can’t lead project teams that way.
“Just do it!” says “impulse.” Don’t take time to think it over – your determination might drain away. Jump before you think about it too much.
What do you think it does to the team you’re trying to lead if people never know when you’re going to lurch into unexpected, unexplained action in response to some unpredictable impulse? That’s not leadership; it’s solo hyperactivity.
This is not to dismiss the project manager’s need for motivation. Leaders are by no means exempt from the fundamental and very human reality that we need a recharge on occasion. In fact, a project manager’s emotional battery must have extra capacity. It has to supply the energy for the leader’s own demanding role as well as frequent jump-starts for numerous dependent stakeholders. If the project manager is not driving forward with vigor and confidence, everyone else loses headway. The drag increases exponentially and can become irreversible very quickly.
So the project manager must have and display fire and determination, as well as focus and mental engagement. The project manager’s behavior must reassure and inspire others. He/she must be tuned to the needs and momentum of all those others who operate at lesser speeds on lower levels.
That central role demands steady direction and guidance. Impulse is out. But the need for self-motivation is not. And, in fact, for the project manager the need is greater – often much greater – than that of other project stakeholders.
But we’re not superhuman. Just do it! won’t do, so we must look elsewhere for self-motivation.

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