Monthly Archives: June 2008


There ’s no success like failure

Anyone who knows the Bob Dylan song ‘Love minus zero, no limit’ will know that the following line is ‘and yet failure is no success at all’.

While the officials are handing out runner up medals to the German football team this evening, the Germans can take some solace in Dylan’s words. But what the words really mean to me is that in order to be successful you need to make mistakes and even fail along the way. In order to fail you have at least had to try, and it is mostly through failure that we learn and progress.

Last week I was coaching some company employees in the fine art of project management and people motivation, in the classroom things were going well but the real problem was that some of them were struggling with the fact that their managers were not giving them the space they needed to do their job. When talking to the managers in question I found a genuine desire not to expose the new PM’s to making mistakes in front of senior management.

Giving people just enough room to make mistakes but not so much that they hang themselves is tricky at the best of times. The tendency to step in too soon is difficult to resist, so much so that I found myself doing it on Monday when a colleague asked for my opinion and received the solution instead.

As the Spanish nation celebrates this evening, it is worthwhile for the Germans to contemplate upon the fact that the Spanish jubilation is born from the tears and disappointments they have suffered for the last decades, always coming so close but not achieving the expected result.

It’s a wise coach that can stay on the side line and watch their team fail, knowing all too well, that even if they could somehow step onto the pitch and win it for them, the team would not appreciate it.

2016-11-17T08:25:49+00:000 Comments

The downside of growing too fast

If your career is racing upwards, at a pace much faster than everyone you know, be happy, but only be happy for now. People, who only ever take the lift, never appreciate how high they have climbed until it is too late. There is something to be said for stepping back once in a while and standing still to take a look around, you might even enjoy it.

Taking the stairs instead of the lift, is not only good for your physical health and for the environment, it forces you to take notice of the small details. Ironically, people who are ‘fast tracked’, often come undone just at the point when they feel that their experience is matching the level to which their superiors have placed them.

When I look at careers spread over a period of twenty years or so, many of the high fliers who started out so strong, end up falling behind their slower running mates. And when they fall, then they tend to fall far and hard. An optimistic CEO who sees something special in a young recruit and brings them too soon into the board room, can only defend them from jealous board members for as long as the young executive comes up with brilliant ideas and the CEO is able to deflect the barrage of resistance thrown at him or her.

I write this because recently I have seen a few people very close to burn out and a letter from an old friend described the failures of a number of people that I knew to be once brilliant.

I knew someone who wanted to be a Vice President of his multi-national company within ten years of his joining the firm, something that no one else had ever achieved. And although his career went from strength to strength, the VP title only came after fifteen years and not ten, and probably not a day too soon.

In life, taking risks and learning new skills are the two things that keep ambitious people energized, but it is essential to always feel comfortable in your chair. It is not a good idea to have to deal with personal insecurity at a time when cool judgment is needed.

2016-11-17T08:25:49+00:000 Comments

Team, what team?

This week I was asked the question whether a team must have a common vision. My answer was clear. A team without a shared objective was merely a collection of individuals. For a team to really be considered a team it must have the following:

1. A common objective (clear in the mind of everyone)
2. A structure from which every team player knows their role and responsibilities
3. A method of measuring success, on both an individual and group level
4. A set of commonly accepted rules

If your team does not have this, then do not be surprised if individuals are not performing as team players.

In my book Making a Difference (Maak het Verschil) I suggest the use of a job description template for everyone in the team. (You can download it for free from the book's website). But this week while setting up a new project I noticed a gaping hole in it (the project's objective)and made the necessary changes. From now on all my function descriptions will include the following sections:

1. The Name of the Project (and/or department)
2. The Function Title
3. The objective of the project (short two line description)
4. The Function description (short three line summary)
5. The place of the function holder in the team (who they report to)
6. The authorities of the function holder (direct & indirect reports + other authorities)
7. The Responsibilities of the Function Holder
8. The measure by which they are to be assessed (Key Performance Indicators)
9. The required qualifications and experience
10. The required Personal characteristics
11. The signatures of the Functional holder, Project Manager and Program director

You might find this ‘over the top’ but I assure you that completing function descriptions is relatively quick and it forces you to think through what is required and why. By linking them together the PM can ensure that they have all the right resources for the project and that they eliminate function overlap and confusion in general. (So much time is wasted discussing who will do what and why and when and how). Making a clear structure allows the team members to do the creative work by focusing on the things that matter.

By ensuring you select the right people for each of the functions, you can ensure the success of your project, even before it begins. So, as long as you keep your teams focused and motivated - and also ensure that everyone understands the dependency that they have on each other - then you can be confident that you will have a real ‘Team’.

However you must regularly check to see if everyone still has the true Project Objective in their hearts and minds (that which is written in the job descriptions) and not some other mutation that they find more convenient!

Creating, building and managing a really focused and driven team is one of the most exhilarating privileges that a manager can ever experience in their professional career.

2008-06-14T16:00:00+00:001 Comment

Accepting Criticism

It is a strange but an understandable phenomenon that most of us find taking criticism so hard. Mankind progresses by means of open minded observation and learning from its mistakes, and yet, at a personal level, taking criticism is often such a painful experience that we do everything in our powers to avoid it.

When someone criticizes us, our first reaction is to see it as some kind of attack, a direct challenge on who we are, on our competence. And yet criticism gives us the chance to question and improve, and by improving we become better and therefore more valuable in both our business and private lives.

Look around you and check your own friends, family and colleagues. Which of them are actively seeking feedback and criticism and moving forward with their lives, and which of them are standing still unwilling to improve and move on?

Because constructive criticism is a gift we should always say ‘thank you’ to the person who gave it to us (even if it is a day or so later). We should do this for two reasons: One, because the giver is the one putting themselves out and is therefore taking all the risks, and two, we are the real benefactors at the end of the day.

2016-11-17T08:25:50+00:001 Comment