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Friday, December 19, 2014

Project Attitude

     "You've got an attitude."
     Wait! Wait! Don’t get angry!  I don’t mean to insult you – I’m just describing you. Me, too, as a matter of fact.
     In the United States, we’ve come to interpret that word “attitude” in many contexts as meaning “BAD attitude.” And “bad” is not good.
     So we have an attitude about “attitude.” I have no doubt other cultures have theirs, too.

     The point of that little semantic jaunt is to encourage all of us to be aware of our attitudes. Let’s think about how they work and what they do for us and against us. And, of course, what we should do about all that. If indeed we can do anything about subsurface mechanisms such as these.
     When the slang dictionary says you have an attitude, it means you’re resentful and hostile. That’s the definition addressed in the opening lines above.

    We’re not running a slang dictionary here, so for us “attitude” is a neutral tool. A handy one. It refers to our basic working outlook regarding any particular concept, thing, person, etc.
     We have attitudes toward pretty much everything. Some of those attitudes are strong. They push the levers that produce our words and actions.
     We are conscious only infrequently of any particular attitude of ours. In fact, when someone tells us we have this or that attitude about this or that person, place or thing – we generally get a bit irritated. We might respond emotionally. We have an attitude about that.
     At the same time, we generally identify attitudes in others quite quickly. While this judgment often is superficial and usually not fully accurate, it tends to harden into a template for our exchanges with that person.

     None of this makes us bad people, really. It does, though, get seriously in the way of our ability to collaborate with others, and especially to lead them. In a project of even moderate complexity, say, inattention to attitudes can result in severe limitations on our relationships.
     When we don’t account for biases (positive as well as negative) we make mistakes of omission, commission, judgment, negotiation and leadership. Biases are attitudes -- our own attitudes and those of the people we work with and depend upon.
     We have attitudes toward ideas, too, and companies, countries, methodologies. Across the board. Our decisions and reactions are inescapably controlled by strategic judgments arising from our attitudes.
     And, of course, we must deal with the attitudes of everyone we contact. If we find ourselves repeatedly dealing with a recurrent behavior or situation, maybe we should be looking for the attitudinal underpinning that keeps feeding it.
     This is one of those situations requiring thoughtful consideration of root causes vs. symptoms in our own behavior as well as that of our associates.
     That idea suggests the specific relationship and leadership skills we should be tuning up for success in handling this attitude arc in the management of projects.

     It’s always a good idea to start with oneself.
     How about my team members and colleagues? Can I assure myself that my regular behavior toward each of them arises from a clear, current, comprehensive – and fair -- assessment of the person’s ability and potential?
     Am I perhaps acting on a judgment I made a long time ago? Should I clear out my mind and re-examine the person’s performance now?  
     How about the methods people are using? Have I dismissed some of them as newfangled fads without taking a real good look at them? Without trusting people to make judgments in their areas of expertise? Could it be a little timidity in my own management?
     The antidote in this regard is building a mental mechanism that keeps challenging my basis for judgment. I need to question whether I have facts and/or personal knowledge, whether I am acting on a proper level of trust for the person and the situation. I need to ask and listen . . . a lot. I need to pay attention.
     So I consciously construct a working philosophy that goes like this: I don’t say no, I don’t say yes, I don’t interfere or volunteer . . .  without making a fresh, mature, management-level decision based on sound and up-to-date information.

     Now there’s an attitude for you.






  1. I like your attitude, Jim! Maintaining an open mind and being self-aware are hallmarks of good leadership.

  2. . . . And it's a lot of work, right? We all have inclinations and beliefs, and we often had no control over where they came from or how we got them. Think of influences from childhood, school, influential adults, TV programs.

    True adulthood is developed by our efforts to examine our ingrained attitudes, and sorting out the ones that no longer pertain, or were faulty to begin with. This certainly is essential if we are to manage people, and especially so in project management.