Episode 23 — Managing the Unexpected with Dr. Ruth Middleton House

Episode #23
Original Air Date: 12.06.2016

34 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Dr. Ruth Middle House

Dr. Ruth Middleton House is President and Lead Consultant of Middleton-House & Company and specializes in troubleshooting high risk, high visibility, high conflict projects from small business ventures to multi-billion dollar partnerships and joint ventures. Ruth has consulted to and trained project teams across the US and Canada, in the U.K., and in Germany. She is author of It’s Time to Change the Way You Change and The Human Side of Project Management, co-author of Supervising Technical and Professional People, and a frequent contributor to The Georgia Engineer magazine.

Ruth serves on the faculty of the School of Leadership Studies at Fielding Graduate University. She facilitates classes in Leadership, Strategies for Complex Change, Managing Organizational Change, Managing Resistance to Change, and Group Process.

Ruth joins Andy and the crew to discuss what you can do as a project manager when an unexpected change negatively impacts your project. You can't control the situation, but you can control how you respond to it.

Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"That’s a dangerous cycle because very often, when those people then get power, they become the oppressors. So to break that sort of dialectic, it’s healthy to picture an image of a third alternative. I call it the community. You may not get your way in the community. But you do openly express your opinion and give and get information in the community. And it’s wonderful how much power that gives you. You gain indirect control because you have some ability to anticipate what’s going to happen."

- Dr. Ruth Middle House

"One way to open up your line of sight is to start asking some different questions. Most of us were brought up and trained as project managers to do what’s right for this project, to do what’s right for the team, to do what’s right for the organization. But in reality, when people are under pressure, especially when they’re under overload, as most of us are going through a major organizational change, there are four questions that people are likely to ask themselves. And what’s right for the organization is only one of them. Listen to these other three. How can I minimize my personal effort? How can I minimize my personal risk? How can I minimize my personal discomfort?"

- Dr. Ruth Middle House

"And I guess this is my wish for all of us, and the project managers listening to this, that when they’re faced with a rapidly changing or unfamiliar situation, that they remain in charge of themselves; that they continue to audit themselves and bring their best selves to that situation; that they pay attention to all the variables around them, audit the external situation just like they audited themselves; that they take deliberate action, don’t get forced into something because it needs to be quick, or it feels urgent. And they make a habit of mindfulness."

- Dr. Ruth Middle House

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ANDY CROWE ● BILL YATES ● NICK WALKER ● DR. RUTH MIDDLETON HOUSE

NICK WALKER:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  This is our every-other-week visit to talk about what matters to you as a professional project manager.  We like to talk about doing the stuff of project management:  how to get certified; how to create success and sustain it.  We talk with leaders in the industry and see what they’ve been doing and draw on their experience.

I’m your host, Nick Walker.  And with me are the in-house experts, Andy Crowe and Bill Yates.  And Andy, there’s a theme that comes up in our conversations from time to time, and that seems to be managing the unexpected.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s a fun thing.  And you know what, Nick, there are so many examples of things not going to plan.  As Eisenhower said, “The plan is nothing, but planning is everything.”  You’ve got to be waiting for who-knows-what to come your way.  So we’re excited about our guest today.

NICK WALKER:  Yeah, let’s talk about our guest.  She is Dr. Ruth Middleton House.  She’s president and lead consultant of Middleton-House & Company.  She specializes in troubleshooting high-risk, high-visibility projects in multibillion-dollar partnerships and joint ventures, on down to small business ventures.  She’s an educator, an author; and, Ruth, we consider ourselves privileged to have you here.  Welcome to Manage This.

RUTH HOUSE:  Thank you.  I’m just delighted to be here.  You’re right, Andy, so often so much depends on how we manage that instantaneous thing that we did not see coming.  And as an example, I’d like to go back about 700 years.

ANDY CROWE:  You’ve been at this a while, but that’s a surprise.

RUTH HOUSE:  When he said “experienced,” he meant what he said.  It was at about that time that a fictional character emerged named Mullah Nasruddin.

NICK WALKER:  Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Mullah Nas…

RUTH HOUSE:  Mullah Nasruddin.  Mullah’s a title.  Like in the rural South he would be called Reverend Smith or Pastor Jones, probably.

NICK WALKER:  Can we call him “Moe”?

BILL YATES:  Moe, I like that.

RUTH HOUSE:  That’ll throw me off, so I’ll call him Mullah; but you can call him Moe if you want to.  And the story, this story, about Mullah illustrates some truths about culture which changes as circumstances change that are very important for us to remember today.  Now, Mullah was out working in his field when a messenger from a nearby town came and handed him a written invitation to come to the great hall and dine with the prince.

Well, Mullah was so excited, he dropped his tools right where he was, headed straight for the hall.  But when he arrived there with his threadbare turban and his dirty tunic on from working in the fields, the guards said, “No way.  Not only are you not going into the hall, I don’t even want you hanging around here on the outside.  You just go back home where you belong.”

Well, Mullah was insulted that he had not been treated like the very important person he knew himself to be.  But he went home.  He bathed in perfumed oil.  He wrapped his head in his finest silk turban.  He dressed in his finest tunic and went right back to the great hall.  This time he received a warm welcome and was even ushered inside and seated right next to the prince.  Well, in those days he would have been seated around a beautiful Persian rug, right next to the prince.  That rug was just covered with huge bowls of beautifully prepared food.

Mullah ate and ate and ate until he had had his fill.  Then he reached a hand into one bowl, grabbed some food, and rubbed it into his tunic.  He reached to another bowl, grabbed some food, and rubbed it into his tunic.  Reached for a third bowl, grabbed some food, and rubbed it in his tunic.  Everyone fell silent around him, and all eyes were on him.

Finally the prince couldn’t stand it anymore.  And he said, “Mullah Nasruddin, you must have strange eating habits where you come from.  Why are you rubbing your food into your clothes?”  Mullah looked straight into the prince’s eye and said, in good Dilbert form, “Well, actually, when you think about it, it’s my clothes that were allowed into the hall.  It only seems right to give them their fair share of the food.”

Now, and there’s some truth to that.  The measures that are placed on us may not be the ones we expect, may be something very different.  But there are three real truths about culture that this story illustrates.  First, there are rules for everything – what you know, what you do, how you feel.  That gets into what reports you get to read, who you get to talk to, who you make eye contact with, what you eat, how you eat.  There are ground rules for everything.

The second truth is many of these rules are not written or spoken.  And an even scarier corollary to that is that sometimes the rules that are written and spoken are in direct conflict with the ones that are actually practiced in the organization.

BILL YATES:  Right, right.

RUTH HOUSE:  Now, the third truth about culture is that, if you don’t follow the ground rules, you don’t get invited to the party.  And it doesn’t matter – ignorance is no excuse.  It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know the ground rules.  If you don’t follow them, you don’t get invited to the party.  Now, notice that, in this case, Mullah learned one ground rule, and that was the dress code.  So he got into the party.  But after he broke the dining ground rules, he was probably not going to be invited back.  I don’t think I would have invited him back.  But that’s not enough for you.  When you are in a situation where all of the old rules have changed, then it’s important that you get invited again and again unless you choose to turn the invitation down yourself.

ANDY CROWE:  I really liked his response when he got turned away, as he went back, and he put on everything just exactly the right way.  It kind of goes with my philosophy:  Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

RUTH HOUSE:  There you go.  And he did, yes, he did overdo that.

ANDY CROWE:  And it worked.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

RUTH HOUSE:  And it worked.  It got him, yeah, it got him in, yeah.

BILL YATES:  And I’m thinking of a company I worked for for a number of years was EDS.  And EDS was headquartered in Plano, Texas.  And the headquarters was quite elaborate.  It was like going to the prince’s quarters, if you will.

RUTH HOUSE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  And there was an executive suite called the “God Pod.”  And you had to be dressed a certain way if you were going to go to the God Pod.

ANDY CROWE:  Wow.

RUTH HOUSE:  That’s very interesting.  And the tricky thing is, when we’re going through a merger or an acquisition or a reorg, or if there’s new leadership above us, we may not know that this other space is now the God Pod and may inadvertently show disrespect for it or not be wearing the right clothes or the right attitude when we go into it.  And that was the case – let’s fast-forward 700 years.  And that was the case in an organization that I belonged to.  I was a project manager in a small but very, very financially successful organization.  And we actually bought out an organization that was in financial trouble.  But it had a huge number of people.  Probably they were three times as large as us, employee-wise.

Now, we project managers were in the acquiring company.  We were the ones that came to the table with money.  So we thought, this is all right.  They haven’t been successful, but we can show them how to be successful.  They’ll adopt our ground rules.  They’ll do as we do.  Everything will be great.  Well, we were mistaken.  We did not realize that, for our ownership, this acquisition was an exit strategy.  Eighteen months later, all of our old leadership sold out and either retired or resigned.  The leadership we were left with was the leadership of the company that was in financial trouble, and they did what they knew how to do.  They got us all into…

ANDY CROWE:  Into financial trouble.

RUTH HOUSE:  …financial trouble, yeah.  And it was very frustrating for those of us who had come from the acquiring company to be in this situation.  We kept doing what we knew how to do to provide good service to our clients.  But it got to be harder and harder and harder.  And finally it just seemed impossible.  So most of us either retired or resigned.  We got out somehow so we could live up to our own standards.

Now, that wasn’t the outcome we wanted.  But, you know, it actually wasn’t all bad for us because we did a couple of things right.  And these are things I want to call to your attention.  Number one, we couldn’t control that situation.  But we could control the way we responded to it.  And we did a good job of that.  We accepted responsibility for our own behavior.  You wouldn’t have heard any of us saying, “Well, they made me do that,” even though it was the wrong thing to do.  You wouldn’t have heard any of us saying, “Well, I had no choice.”  We knew we had a choice.  We were breathing.  We had choices.  And over and over again we chose to do what we believed to be the right thing.

In fact, in that situation, I kind of saw myself – my image of myself was an image of a lightning rod.  So rather than strike with the anger or the frustration that I felt towards other people, I saw my job as taking the heat and then grounding it so that I was not burned, and neither were the people around me.  Now, being straight meant we told the truth.  But we did that without being accusatory.  For example, I could say, “I’m confused.  I thought we agreed yesterday that this was going to happen.  But today it looks like this other thing’s happening instead.”  Or I might say, “I don’t understand why we’re approaching the problem in this way.”

BILL YATES:  Ruth, one of the things that I’m thinking of in this scenario, how did you interact with your customers?  How did you figure out the right amount of transparency to share with them as they say, you know, “Hey, Ruth, your behavior’s a little different,” or “It looks like we’ve been going down this path,” you know.  “In our past engagements we’ve done the projects these ways or in this type of engagement.  Now things seem to be changing.  Why is that?”  So how did you explain that or manage that?

RUTH HOUSE:  I will say that we pretty much followed our old ground rules in dealing with the customer.  And the things that were going on behind the scene, we did a good job of keeping behind the scene, until we saw that we could not do it anymore.  And at that point we did our very best to be sure that our clients were in good shape to take care of themselves because we knew they would not stay with the new organization.

BILL YATES:  Well, I applaud you in that.  I think probably everybody at the table has been in a similar situation where you’ve had something come down that you’ve had to adjust to.  And I think that level of professionalism is fantastic, especially for project managers that are engaged in external projects.  No matter what’s going on at home, so to speak, no matter what’s going on with the home office or with the support team and management, you want to be professional.  You want to put the best face forward and conduct your business as you should with the client.  So, well done.

RUTH HOUSE:  Absolutely.

ANDY CROWE:  One of the things that resonates with me on that, I think probably my favorite book of all time is “Man’s Search for Meaning.”  And it’s a wonderful book, and it really kind of gets into some of the unpacking of existential philosophy.  But one of the reasons I love this book, the author was a prisoner in Auschwitz.  And he kind of formulated this organizing principle that, look, we can’t control our situation.

In fact, he had almost zero control over his situation.  The only thing he had control of was his response.  And so, you know, he figured out – and I’m just tying this back to what you were saying, in a way.  He tied it back to this idea that they can take away everything I have, but they can’t take away my joy.  That’s mine to give.  So they can’t take away my happiness; they can’t take away my joy; that I am the only person in control of that at any given moment.

Well, that’s a powerful, powerful thing.  And so when you apply it over here and say, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen.  The unexpected’s going to happen.  Culturally, we may have an acquisition; people may leave.  However, the only thing we can do is control our response in that.  It kind of resonates.  I’m connecting it with that.

RUTH HOUSE:  That’s a good connection.  We are also absolutely in control of our own character.

BILL YATES:  Right.

RUTH HOUSE:  And that’s kind of a spinoff that applies very clearly here.  We told the truth, but we did it without accusation.  We also confronted, but did it without being adversarial.  And that’s doable.  You can say, look, when this happens, here’s how it affects me.  This is how it’s impacting the job.  Here’s what I’d like to do going forward.  You can say if/then:  If we invest our energy in people at this level, this is the result we’re going to get.  If we invest this much more, we’ll get this much better result.  So it’s still possible to confront.  But if what you do is just generate anger, you lose control of that anger once it’s out of you, and you don’t know what’s going to be done with it.

ANDY CROWE:  Or in my case anxiety, you know.

RUTH HOUSE:  Mm-hmm.  See, same with that.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah.  And so it’s an interesting idea in this case that we’re in control.  You think about the – and a lot of this is a cultural thing.  But you think about a lot of our culture’s approach that we define ourselves as victims.  And that’s become an important thing.  If you are in the role of a project manager, you can’t afford to let yourself – you can’t afford to look at yourself as a victim.  You have to basically step out and say, no, I’m going to maintain some control over this.  I’m still going to make the right decisions, do the right things in the right order.

RUTH HOUSE:  Exactly.  There’s kind of an old model many people have in their heads of being a victim.  And that means that there is a persecutor, and we look for a rescuer.  But we can change that model in our heads.  We can look at ourselves as creators, look at the people we disagree with as challengers, and look for coaches, not for rescuers.

ANDY CROWE:  Well, and even going back further.  You think about Karl Marx kind of defined – he said there’s only two classes.  Period.  End of sentence.  There are the oppressors, and there are the oppressed.  And so he defined the whole world in terms of that.  Think about what a failing model that is for project managers.  Because either you’re the oppressor, as the project manager…

BILL YATES:  You’re holding the whip.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  Or you’re the one being dumped on.

BILL YATES:  On the other end of it.

ANDY CROWE:  Yeah, on the other end of it.  And it’s a very failing model.  Now, I don’t think Karl Marx was known as a famous project manager.

RUTH HOUSE:  No, but it’s very interesting that you brought that up because that cycle of battleground and underground, where the people in the battleground are the people with position power, and they use that power to persecute and oppress.  The people in the underground who don’t have position power…

ANDY CROWE:  The passive-aggressive ones; right.

RUTH HOUSE:  …use innuendo, stabbing in the back, rumor mill.  But that’s a dangerous cycle because very often, when those people then get power, they become the oppressors.  So to break that sort of dialectic, it’s healthy to picture an image of a third alternative.  I call it the community.  You may not get your way in the community.  But you do openly express your opinion and give and get information in the community.  And it’s wonderful how much power that gives you.  You gain indirect control because you have some ability to anticipate what’s going to happen.

BILL YATES:  Ruth, one of the concepts that we’ve talked about is being change-ready.  And I think about the scenario that you laid out, this thing that happened to you.

RUTH HOUSE:  Right.

BILL YATES:  And I just am interested in your comments.  What does it mean for a project manager if something above me changes the environment that I’m performing my job in?  How can I be change-ready?

RUTH HOUSE:  I think it’s really important that you continually audit yourself and look at multiple facets in your life.  Take a look at yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially.  How healthy are you in those areas?  The healthier you are in those areas, the better you will be able to respond, staying true to yourself, when the pressure is to do something else.  So that, you know, it takes about 21 iterations to form a habit.

So if you are used to coaching a Little League, for example, and that’s both social and physical, you’re used to coaching the Little League.  Well, maybe you skip it this week because you need to work longer hours.  Well, then you skip it another week.  The more you skip, the more you are establishing that exceptional behavior as the new ground rule.  And once that’s established as a new ground rule, it becomes very difficult to break it, and you’ve replaced a habit of good health in each of these categories with a habit of not taking care of yourself.

ANDY CROWE:  So you feel like we need to audit ourselves.  Do you ever need help from somebody else externally to help with that?

RUTH HOUSE:  Oh, absolutely.  You know, we’ve gotten so electronic and digital, pardon my saying this in this setting, but there is still a need for human, face-to-face contact.  And some research is even saying that we need to have that at least three times a week.  We need to be face to face with some actual human that we care about in order to keep ourselves healthy, emotionally and socially.  Now, if we don’t make the audit ourselves, a crisis will make the audit.

ANDY CROWE:  I like that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.

RUTH HOUSE:  And when the crisis makes the audit, you’re probably not going to hold up as well as you would if you continually make that audit yourself and stay happy, healthy in all of those areas.

BILL YATES:  There’s another concept, Ruth, that you talk about, which is being watchful.  And I think of that in a number of ways.  I think the same way as I’m leading a team, I need to audit myself and my health in these different dimensions.  Also, as a team leader, I need to audit the health of my team and see, are there people that are dealing with, it could be a health issue, could be a family crisis.  It could be I put them in a really bad slot in this project.  Or maybe they’re reacting to this external change in a different manner than I am.  So I need to audit that health.  What else do you think of when you think of being watchful in your organization?

RUTH HOUSE:  I think it’s important to pay attention to everything.  Now, you may not have the mindshare, the energy, or the time to react to everything.  But it’s a good idea to notice everything.  I don’t think there are many accidents.  If an executive that normally makes eye contact with you in the hallway and greets you stops doing that.

BILL YATES:  Trouble.

RUTH HOUSE:  Maybe he’s having a bad day.  But the…

BILL YATES:  Hi, Nick.

RUTH HOUSE:  Yeah, the second or third time that happens, that’s not an accident.  So it’s important not only to notice that it happened, but to attend to the fact that it happened.  And that’s where we made a mistake with this newly acquired organization.  We saw some changes in behavior, but we did not attend to those.  We did not recognize that the new behaviors were so commonplace, and proceeded without comment, so that they were becoming the new ground rules.

That executive not making eye contact, not saying hello to you, that could signal a shift in ground rules, maybe that the power he once had, he no longer has.  So there’s a shift in the background.  You may, you know, the hallway’s not the time to confront that or to address that with the person.  But pay attention to it.  File it away mentally.  Over a period of time that file is going to get fatter and fatter.  And when it reaches a thickness where it makes you uncomfortable, that’s the time to say something to somebody about it.

BILL YATES:  Andy, this is an area, when I was talking with Ruth about this, this is an area for me that I struggled with early in my career.  I was so focused on trying to be the best that I could be on this project that I would ignore other projects.  I would ignore other, whatever communication was coming down from above, unless it impacted me in my job.  So I think, for me, a lot of times early in my career I had blinders on, and I was not watchful.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  I had a similar trajectory.  And at some point you need to be aware of the larger organizational context.  But it’s really easy to get hyperfocused on your project.  I think the Project Management Institute is starting to pay a little bit of attention to that, as well, in some of the ways some of the upcoming changes in the sixth edition PMBOK Guide hint at that.  So, yeah, it’s a common thing that you over-advocate for your project, that it becomes the only thing that’s important.  And in reality it’s one of many initiatives probably in your enterprise.

RUTH HOUSE:  One way to open up your line of sight is to start asking some different questions.  Most of us were brought up and trained as project managers to do what’s right for this project, to do what’s right for the team, to do what’s right for the organization.  But in reality, when people are under pressure, especially when they’re under overload, as most of us are going through a major organizational change, there are four questions that people are likely to ask themselves.  And what’s right for the organization is only one of them.  Listen to these other three.  How can I minimize my personal effort?  How can I minimize my personal risk?  How can I minimize my personal discomfort?

Now, when we’re under pressure, we’re likely to be asking all four of those questions.  And because of our disciplined training in project management, I think we have an advantage in focusing on what’s right for the organization.  But people under pressure are going to ask those other three.  And we don’t know which one is most important to them.  So if you’re in a situation where decisions are being made that you can’t make any sense out of, instead of asking the question you’re used to, “What’s right for the organization?” see if you understand that decision when you ask, “What would minimize my personal risk?”

ANDY CROWE:  Right.  I even like the question, “What would minimize my effort, my personal effort?”

RUTH HOUSE:  Right.

ANDY CROWE:  It’s a good question.  It goes back to sort of the seven forms of waste that Lean gets into, and you start looking at it.  And some of it is just the amount of work and the dehumanizing effort that you’re expending.

RUTH HOUSE:  The key is you don’t want those drivers to become – to be the ones that force you just to make a decision to get something off your plate.

ANDY CROWE:  Right.

RUTH HOUSE:  Just to get it done.  Just to get it checked off the list.  And that’s the risk many of us run into when we’re in the midst of a major organizational change.  It’s important to take deliberate action, with emphasis on the deliberate part.  And one thing you may need to do first is stop your own freefall.  And you can do that by – some people use different techniques to do that.  Sometimes I have to say to myself, what is the one next thing I know I need to do?

BILL YATES:  Okay. So by “freefall,” what do you mean by that, Ruth?

RUTH HOUSE:  Do you ever get so overwhelmed, you feel like you’re Alice falling down a rabbit hole?  Do you know what I’m talking about?

BILL YATES:  Yeah, there’s nothing to grab a hold of.  You don’t even know what action to take next.

RUTH HOUSE:  Yeah, but you don’t – yeah, nothing to grab hold of.  There are 99 things on your head.  You don’t know which one to reach for.  And sometimes you have to shut out those 99 things.  Just pick one and do that.  Then pick the next one and do that.  And by that time maybe you’re feeling your feet touching solid ground.

ANDY CROWE:  There are plenty of times, you know, just my own technique for that, there are times when I have 20 different fires burning at once.  And I have to stop, and I have to block out the 19 and focus on one and run it to ground, as we say here; just drive it to completion, get it finished, put it away, then start with the next.  And sometimes you just have to line them up because you can only, you know, your attention can only be divided so many ways at once.

RUTH HOUSE:  That’s right.  And your idea of, when you said “put that one up,” it brought to my mind the concept of an event boundary.  We need to remain mindful.  And if our heads are cluttered up with too many action items bumping up against each other, it’s hard to do that.  An event boundary is something that says to us, that other stuff is behind me now.  I’m going to start here.  I’m going to look forward, and I’m going to move forward.

For a moment, think of yourself as a lobster.  Here you are, you’re soft inside this very rigid, rigid shell.  And that shell serves a wonderful purpose.  It protects you from your predators.  But as you grow, that shell starts to feel tighter and tighter and tighter.  And now you’re at a point that you’re just really uncomfortable inside this thing that you have counted on for protection.

Now, sometimes we count on the status quo for protection.  But that status quo that has protected us in the past can keep us from growing right now.  And we can do what the lobster does.  The lobster finds a safe place, crawls under a rock, lets the rock protect him from the predators.  He sheds that outer rigid shell, grows some more, rebuilds a larger shell with room to grow built into it.  And sometimes that’s what we need to do.

ANDY CROWE:  I want to reflect on this.  That’s a pretty deep point that the very thing that has been protecting us starts to constrain us and hold us back.

RUTH HOUSE:  Exactly, right.

BILL YATES:  It is, yeah.  I think of, from “Wayne’s World,” I think of Garth saying, you know, “We fear change.”  And we do.  We fear change.  It’s human nature.  And there are things that we rely on that do protect us.  And it’s so hard to let go of that and be vulnerable for a while, while we transition to something that could be the next step for us.

ANDY CROWE:  When you said that, it reminded me.  Back in the ’90s I was working for an organization.  They decided to have a very large resource action.  And the CEO called everyone into the main gathering area and played the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”

[Clip “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult]

ANDY CROWE:  And it was one of the most shocking experiences in my professional career.

BILL YATES:  Were you working for Steve Jobs?

RUTH HOUSE:  Wow.

NICK WALKER:  You know we’re going to have that song running through our heads the rest of the day.  Thank you very much.  Right?  Right?

RUTH HOUSE:  That’s right, yeah.  Thank you for that.  I think the important thing in all of this is that you look for the opportunity in the change.  Now, the opportunity for you may be to leave and to go to something else.  But you want to do that in a way that’s consistent with your own values so that, to the extent that it’s humanly possible, you leave the organization behind you in better shape than when you found it, in the best possible shape that you can.  And you’re more likely to find that opportunity if you do the things we’ve talked about.

And I guess this is my wish for all of us, and the project managers listening to this, that when they’re faced with a rapidly changing or unfamiliar situation, that they remain in charge of themselves; that they continue to audit themselves and bring their best selves to that situation; that they pay attention to all the variables around them, audit the external situation just like they audited themselves; that they take deliberate action, don’t get forced into something because it needs to be quick, or it feels urgent.  And they make a habit of mindfulness.

ANDY CROWE:  And preferably do it when a crisis doesn’t force it.  Do it when you have the luxury of doing it.

RUTH HOUSE:  Exactly.

BILL YATES:  Good habit.

RUTH HOUSE:  Exactly.

NICK WALKER:  Ruth, before we wrap this up, let me just ask you this.

RUTH HOUSE:  Sure.

NICK WALKER:  Back to your experience.

RUTH HOUSE:  Uh-huh.

NICK WALKER:  You know, your story doesn’t really have a particularly happy ending.  Knowing what you know now, do you think the outcome might have been different?

RUTH HOUSE:  Knowing what I know now, if we had started paying attention to everything sooner, we may have been able to coach the new management and the new employees in time to make a difference.  And we certainly didn’t get the outcome we wanted.  But I will tell you there was life after that organization for us.  And so the good news is that we honored ourselves and others in that process; that we did what was doable, but we took care of ourselves, and we left there able to find other better opportunities.  But we left the place in the best shape we possibly could.

NICK WALKER:  Well, thank you so much, Dr. Middleton House, for sharing your experience, your insight.  It really is a gift to us and to our listeners for you to even be here.

RUTH HOUSE:  It’s just a pleasure for me to be here.  Thank you so much, Nick.

NICK WALKER:  We have a gift for you, by the way.  That coffee mug sitting right in front of you with the nice Manage This logo, that is yours to keep, to take home, and to use.

RUTH HOUSE:  Thank you.  I will show it off.  Thank you.

ANDY CROWE:  We do not want to see it on eBay next week.

RUTH HOUSE:  Oh, no, no, no.  It won’t be there.  I’ll be using it my next gathering.  Thank you very much.

NICK WALKER:  Ruth, it’s very probable that many of our listeners would like to get in touch with you.  How can we do that?

RUTH HOUSE:  You can contact me via email at ruth.house [@] middleton-house.com; or reach me by phone at 770‑425‑5244.

NICK WALKER:  Great.  Well, be prepared to be inundated with some questions; okay?

RUTH HOUSE:  I’ll look forward to it, Nick.  Thank you.

NICK WALKER:  Thanks again, Ruth.  Thank you, Andy and Bill, for your insight and for finding these amazing guests.  We appreciate that.  Before we go, we want to remind our listeners that, as a listener to this podcast, you earn professional development units to keep your credentials current.  To claim your PDUs for this podcast, go to Velociteach.com and select “Manage This Podcast” from the top of the page.  See that button that says “Claim PDUs”?  Click there, and it will walk you through the steps to get them.

Well, that’s it for us here on Manage This.  We hope you’ll tune back in on December 20th for our next podcast.  In the meantime, you can always visit us at Velociteach.com/managethis to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us.  And tweet us at @manage_this if you have a comment about the podcast or a question for our experts.  That’s all for this episode.  Talk to you again in a couple of weeks.  In the meantime, keep calm and Manage This.

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