Episode 191 – Mastering Power Skills for Exceptional Performance

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45 Minutes
Home Manage This Podcast Episode 191 – Mastering Power Skills for Exceptional Performance

About This Episode

Neal Whitten

Do you have the Power Skills needed to achieve the level of success you desire? Neal Whitten, author of Power Skills That Lead to Exceptional Performance, emphasizes the importance of foundational power skills that encompass soft skills, behavioral competencies, and personality traits essential for leaders, aspiring leaders, and team members alike. By embracing these power skills, individuals can elevate their capabilities, leading to enhanced organizational performance and fostering a collaborative, high-performance culture within organizations.

The Power Skills we discuss include those that are foundational for team building, and for interacting with your leaders. Neal includes advice on the primary reason projects encounter trouble, why treating all project members equally is pivotal, and why teaching power skills is the responsibility of every project member. These power skills not only nurture a positive rapport with leaders but also boost the value of the individual to the organization.

Neal Whitten, PMP, is a trainer, consultant, mentor, author, and speaker in the areas of power skills and leadership, project management, team building, and employee development. He is the author of eight books, has written over 150 articles for professional magazines, and was a contributing editor of PMI’s PM Network® magazine for over 15 years. He has developed 20 popular online leadership, project management, and personal development training products made available through Velociteach.

Earn more PDUs with Neal’s online course: 25 ACTIONS TO BUILD YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE(3.5 PDUs)

Favorite Quotes from Episode

"Power skills give you the real power to get your job done effectively and efficiently.  It places the accountability for your actions squarely on you.  I’m very big on accountability.  I think it’s something we’re missing in this world quite a bit.  And I find also that most people would rather have the authority and accountability that these power skills support.  So when you unleash this power in the non-management ranks, I assert your organization and company are going to prosper like never before."

Neal Whitten

"When you go to work every day, you should act as if you own the business, and the business is defined by your domain of responsibility."

Neal Whitten

The podcast by project managers for project managers. Foundational power skills encompass soft skills, behavioral competencies, and personality traits essential for leaders, aspiring leaders, and team members alike. By embracing these power skills, individuals can elevate their capabilities, leading to enhanced organizational performance and fostering a collaborative, high-performance culture within organizations.

Table of Contents

02:47 … Neal’s Motivation
03:54 … Targeting the Audience
05:31 … A Power Skill
08:21 … The 24 Power Skills
12:07 … Pick Your Top Three
13:25 … Manage Daily Your Top Three Priorities
18:11 … A Project Story
21:30 … Feedback on Focusing on Top Three
23:13 … Treat All Project Managers Equally
27:45 … Setting Expectations
29:33 … Kevin and Kyle
30:52 … Power Sills for the Team
32:29 … Who Teaches the Power Skills?
33:58 … Informing Your Leaders
37:09 … Make Your Leaders Look Good
42:37 … Contact Neal
44:22 … Closing

NEAL WHITTEN: Power skills give you the real power to get your job done effectively and efficiently.  It places the accountability for your actions squarely on you.  I’m very big on accountability.  I think it’s something we’re missing in this world quite a bit.  And I find also that most people would rather have the authority and accountability that these power skills support.  So when you unleash this power in the non-management ranks, I assert your organization and company are going to prosper like never before.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  I’m Wendy Grounds.  And here with me in the studio is Bill Yates, and our sound guy is Danny Brewer.

We’re excited to bring this episode to you.  We’re talking with someone who is well known and loved by all the Velociteach team.  This is Neal Whitten.  He’s a trainer, he’s a consultant, mentor, author, speaker in the areas of power skills and leadership, as well as project management, team building, and employee development.  He has authored eight books and has written over 150 articles for professional magazines and was a contributing editor of PMI’s PM Network Magazine for over 15 years.  He has developed 20 online products through Velociteach.  And Bill, you’re going to tell us a little bit more about Neal, too.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  You know, there are certain relationships that you have at work, partnerships like this, that just take your game to the next level.  We are so honored to partner with Neal.  And I think it’s been nearly 10 years that we’ve been working with Neal.  And yeah, we have a number of InSite courses that are in the voice of Neal Whitten.  It’s actually his voice, it’s his content, and it’s in our InSite self-paced platform.

We also are thrilled to offer, if somebody wants Neal to come onsite and present one of his workshops, he even has a two-day workshop on the content that we’re going to go through with this Power Skills book.  You can contact us.  We have that relationship with Neal, and we can set that up, as well.  One of my highlights in working here at Velociteach has been this partnership with Neal Whitten.  We’ve got so much respect for him.

WENDY GROUNDS:  And we are going to be talking about his book, “Power Skills That Lead to Exceptional Performance.”  It’s a new book that’s just come out this year.  And, hey, if you’re looking for a gift that you want to give to everybody on your team or to a project manager that you know and love, this is an excellent idea for a wonderful Christmas gift, and you’ve just got a few days to go out and get yours.  Hi, Neal.  Welcome to Manage This.  We’re excited to have you back again.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Thank you, I’m honored to be here.

Neal’s Motivation

WENDY GROUNDS:  So we’re going to jump right in and talk about your book, “Power Skills That Lead to Exceptional Performance.”  And Bill and I were very excited that we got to read it early.  It’s a very good book.  Can you tell us your motivation for writing this book?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, I’d be happy to.  I worked alongside, trained, or mentored thousands of project managers, team leaders, and managers at all levels over the years.  You can tell I’m an old guy.  But I’ve learned a lot from others by listening to them, observing them, and mentoring.  And throughout this period, I’ve commonly experienced many people who either purposely or inadvertently held themselves back from reaching their true potential.  And this situation is always frustrating to me because I often believe in others more than they believe in themselves.  But we’ve all been there.  And as a seasoned practitioner – again, read “old guy” there – I decided to write a book to reach out to this audience and encapsulate decades of lessons.  And it represents lessons that are acquired and time tested from a lifetime of application.

Targeting the Audience

BILL YATES:  That’s for sure.  Of course, I know and respect you deeply, and we’ve had many conversations.  So when I was reading it, I read it in your voice.  I felt like I was across the coffee table from Neal, and he was pouring truth into me.  This is such good stuff.  And as I’ve said to you, I feel like this should be mandatory training.  These are just basic skills that people need to understand.  They need to have them verified that it’s something they need to do or behavior they need to have.  And you’re validating that in the book.

To me, I’d love to give this book to someone who’s just starting their career in project management.  But for me, who I’ve got a whole bunch of gray hair, there’s stuff in here that resonates with me that reminds me or teaches me a different approach.  So to me the audience seems really broad.  Who’s your target audience when you were writing this book?

NEAL WHITTEN:  It is a broad audience, but I can be very specific.  There are three specific target areas that I went after.  First of all, it’s for leaders.  If you’re a leader today, I don’t care if you’re in management or a project manager or you’re a team leader, whatever you are, it’s for you.  And it’s also for those who aspire to be leaders so they understand what’s expected of them.  And the third audience is all employees who desire to take their performance to a higher level.  So I agree with you.  It is very, very broad.  Now, a lot of my examples in the book are related to project management.  Those are my roots.  But people who are not project managers, or BAs or whatever, I really think can relate very much to the book, and I want them to be able to do so.

Power Skills

WENDY GROUNDS:  In the book, you describe a number of power skills that we can implement to take our leadership performance to a higher level.  So just describe exactly what a power skill is.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, power skills, that term hasn’t been around much for very long, maybe a few years.  It’s actually been around a lot longer than that, but it just hasn’t been common.  I like the term.  Power skills include what we think of as soft skills, people skills, behavioral skills, personality traits.  And these are things that come into play every day.  And this book is about those power skills that all employees, leaders and non-leaders alike, need to embrace to perform at their best, thus causing their organizations to also perform at their best.  That was my goal, by the way.  Wasn’t just to have each individual be the best version of themselves, it was also train an organization so it can also now be a best version of itself.

Readers will likely recognize the power skills that I introduced.  They’re not like, oh, wow, Neal just created something I never thought of before.  Although there may be some of that in there.  People are not always acutely aware of these power skills, even though they’ve been out there.  And it’s either because no one made them aware of these power skills; or they were aware of them, but they were afraid to apply some of them.  For example, for some people, their palms are going to sweat and their heart’s going to race when they start reaching out to do some of these things because it’s going to require a backbone.  And if that scares people back, there are so many other things in the book that will encourage them to move forward in other areas.

And by the way, I’m not trying to change anybody because I want to change them.  I want people to be who they choose to be.  What I’m trying to do is I want people to recognize they can be almost anybody they choose to be.  And I want to give them the tools to get there if they choose to.  Even if, let’s say I talk about 50 different things in the book, and let’s say 10 of them make people a little nervous.  They’re not so sure they could do those things.  Well, even if they just did the 40, they’re going to be better off than where they were before they picked up the book.  But I will bet that most people will move towards those other 10, maybe inch towards it or maybe gallop towards it, depending on who the individual is.

But power skills give you the real power to get your job done effectively and efficiently.  It places the accountability for your actions squarely on you.  I’m very big on accountability.  I think it’s something we’re missing in this world quite a bit.  And I find also that most people would rather have the authority and accountability that these power skills support.  So when you unleash this power in the non-management ranks, I assert your organization and company are going to prosper like never before.

The 24 Power Skills

BILL YATES:  Hmm.  That’s so true.  Throughout the book, you build that premise of, okay, this is good for the individual.  But every individual is part of a team, and every team is part of an organization.  So I really appreciate the way you apply it, first to the individual, and then to teams and organizations.  It raises the value for everyone.  Okay, I’ve got to ask this question.  How did you settle on 24?  We’ve got 24 power skills.  How did you settle on these 24?

NEAL WHITTEN:  I just took out a coin and said, well, here’s a hundred of them, and let’s see what we got.  No, the 24 power skills represent to me the minimum list of the most important power skills based on my experience and my observations.  You could argue, hey, I’ve got a favorite power skill, Neal, you don’t have it in your 24.  That’s fine.  Then continue to practice that power skill.  But if you look at these 24, they’re very broad.  They cover a lot of territory, and they were intended to be that way.  I chose power skills that universally apply to everyone, no matter their vocation and job.  And these power skills include a range of actions that can substantially affect a person’s performance and effectiveness.

I find that it’s not enough to only focus on the so-called standard behaviors, as important as they are.  And by “standard behaviors,” I mean things like understanding and practicing empowerment, embracing integrity, treating others as you’d like to be treated.  I mean, those are power skills, but those are pretty standard.  There’s a lot of other power skills that play a critical role in determining a person’s performance.  And some of the other ones that I talk about are break the rules occasionally; never avoid necessary confrontation; routinely practice boldness and courage; behave as if you own the business; live in your present moments; and be a good actor.  Those are things that people don’t necessarily think about a lot.

One of them, for example, behave as if you own the business.  This is a huge one to me.  When I hooked onto this when I was much younger, it also made a difference in my career.  So what I’m saying is when you go to work every day, you should act as if you own the business, and the business is defined by your domain of responsibility.  So I’ll give you a story.

I was working at a big company for quite some time, and my ex was working there, as well.  And she was in the admin to an executive in marketing.  I was in management in a development organization.  She told me one day that this executive from headquarters was in town, and he noticed her last name, Whitten.  And he said, “Are you related to Neal?”  And she said, “I used to be.”  And she said, “Then he proceeded to tell me that you are an unusual guy in that, when you’re given an assignment in the company, you act as if we all work for you in the company.”

This particular company at the time had 400,000 employees.  And that was such a compliment to me because that’s exactly what I do.  Let’s say I have 100 people working for me.  But if I need anyone else in that company, I’m not going to hesitate to go get help.  I’m going to do whatever I need to do.  I act as if this is my company, and my well-being and the well-being of the people who work directly for me is up to me and my leadership to move this thing forward.  So I do believe in that.  And that is where I came up with this one item.  And that is behave as if you own the business, and it’s defined by your domain of responsibility.

BILL YATES:  I love that.  Pounding home the idea of ownership is so important to me.  And I think it’s so important for aspiring leaders to learn.

Pick Your Top Three

WENDY GROUNDS:  Neal, if I’m looking at these 24 power skills, and I need to apply them in my life, how do I approach this?  Do I have to do all 24 at once?  How many should I concentrate on?

NEAL WHITTEN:  You do need to do all 24, and there will be a test at the end of this.  No, that’s really overwhelming.  I believe that you ought to pick your top three and focus on those.  And I’ve had people over the years say, “Neal, what if I just pick one?”  And I say that’s fine.  You’re still making forward progress.  I don’t care if you pick two or three.  And by the way, if you want to pick five, some people have the capacity to work on five things at once.  I don’t.  And if they can stick with it, that’s good.  But I don’t want you to get overpowered.  I don’t want you to have the intent to do 10, and you wind up doing none.  So I would definitely focus on the top three.  I have an address to my website in the book.

So what it does is I have very handy takeaways on the website that you can post in your workplace to remind yourself of these things, as well as if you want to take some of those exercises, I actually have them posted on the website, and you can use those.

Manage Daily Your Top Three Priorities

WENDY GROUNDS:  We had asked you to pick one of the 24 power skills as an example and tell us how to apply that.  And the one that you had mentioned was Power Skill No. 6, manage daily your top three priorities.  Can you talk to us about that one?

NEAL WHITTEN:  I would love to talk about this one.  This is a fun one to me.  And I have so many stories on this, which we won’t have time.  But picture this for listeners.  They’re a project manager.  They could be a BA, as well, or any other leadership position.  But say they’re a project manager, and I’m their project sponsor.  When I pass them in the hallway, there would be times when I would say to that individual, what are your top three priorities right now?  I would put them on the spot.  And if they could not rattle out those top three within three snaps of the fingers, they’re not very good leaders.

And some people say to me, “But Neal, I don’t think you’re being fair.  Give me a few minutes to think about it, and I’ll think about it, and I’ll come up with what they are.”  And I say to them, “If you need a few minutes to know what your top priorities are, that tells me you’re not working on them, and you’re working on things that are lower priority.  And those aren’t the things that are important for you to be focusing on.”

So let me give you an example of what I have in the book about how to manage your top three priorities.  When you come to work every day, it’s important that you have a to-do list.  Almost everybody does that.  So that’s not an issue.  Let’s say your to-do list has 10 items on it.  Most of us will have more than 10; but for purposes of illustration, I’m going to keep it to just simple like 10.  You’ve got your top three priorities, and you have your bottom seven.  If when you go home at the end of that workday, and you haven’t touched your top three, but you’ve managed to cross off all of the bottom seven, you should not feel good about your accomplishments that day.

If instead when you go home, you haven’t touched your bottom seven, but you’ve made headway on just one of the top three, you should feel good about it because your career, your contribution to your organization and your company, is based on your ability to achieve your top three priorities on a daily basis, not your bottom seven.  The bottom seven has almost nothing to do with your career other than harm your career if you spend too much time there.

So let’s go back to this.  So you’ve got your top three.  I want your top three worked off within two to three days, whatever you have in your top three.  And you may say, “Well, Neal, I’ve got one of my top three items, it’s going to take me six weeks to work off.  How can I get it off there?”  Here’s how you do it.  You take that item, that issue, and you create a mini plan for it.  You identify all your activities, your dependencies, your durations.  And you get everybody to agree with this six-week plan, if that’s what it takes to fix this item. 

Then you seal it down, and then you move that six weeks into your overall project plan, track it like you do everything else, and take it off of your top three.  And you may say, “But Neal, I haven’t solved it.”  But you have a plan to solve it.  You’re okay.  It’s no longer one of your top three.  It’s being worked on.

Now, you may ask, “Well, what if I have more than one project?  Say I have three projects.  Are you expecting me to know my top three priorities on all three projects every morning?”  The answer is yes.  “Well, then do you expect me to work to my top nine priorities, then?”  No, it’s too overpowering.  I want you to reduce it down to your top three.  Some days are going to come from the same project.  Some days each will come from a different project or something in between.  I don’t care what they are, but it’s important that you come to work on purpose, purposefully look at where you need to go, and drive to that point.

Now, sometimes people say, what if I never work on a top three that day?  I tried, but I couldn’t because of all the firefights and so forth.  It’s okay.  Everybody listening works in very complex environments.  They have very complex days in front of them.  And there will be days when they will not work on their top three.  That’s okay.  That’s just life.  Don’t be consumed over that. 

However, if that’s common for you to have days that you don’t work your top three, the problem is you, there is a problem, and you need in all likelihood help.  You may need more people working with you so you can offload some of the things, or maybe you don’t manage your time very well.  You need to do something about that.  So I said again that your top three priorities define your value, your contributions, and ultimately your career.  That’s how important it is.

A Project Story

I want to give you a story.  So I’m going to be kind of long-winded here, probably.  But I’ll make it as short as I can.  So at the time I lived outside of Atlanta, and I get a phone call from a senior VP of a major U.S. corporation that was based in Atlanta.  And he got my name from some consulting firm that said I could probably help him out.  This vice president, they played musical chairs in his company all the time.  And he inherited a project six weeks ago.  The project was expected to have been 11 months long, but over three years have gone by.  The project was expected to peak at 60 people, and there are now over 500 people on the project.

So he said, “Neal, I’m told that you could turn this project around.  Will you do that for me?”  And I said, “Absolutely not.”  And he said, “Is that because you don’t know how?”  I said, “No, I’ve done it many times.  I don’t want to.”  I said, “I would rather, instead of having two or three clients a year, I’d rather have dozens of clients a year.  However, I would be happy to come in and do a review on the project and give you direction on where to go from here.”  He said, “That’d be great.  How much time do you need?”

And I said, “I need two days.  I usually like to do it in a day, but because your project is so large, I don’t know anything about it, right now I’m just going to say two days.”  And a lot of people spend many days or weeks reviewing a project.  I never do that.  Almost all my reviews are one day with projects in trouble because in one day I can figure out the top three problems in the project.  And that’s what I’m going after.  I’m not going after the bottom 75.

At any rate, I told this individual what to pass on to his team. I want detailed information in all these different areas about the project.  They put together hundreds of slides for me.  I asked hundreds of questions.  When I was done, I had a list of a whole bunch of problems.  I then proceeded in front of the team to organize it to where I got the top three.  Actually, in this case, it was the top five problems because it was such a complex project.  And I told this senior VP what the top five problems were. 

By the way, the first one, you might be interested to know, it was because they played musical chairs with executives all the time.  It’s executives that are running the project.  And every six months they change.  Executives do not typically have good project management skills.  And if they do, they don’t have the time to manage a project of this complexity.

So I told the senior VP, you need a project manager to own all this, not to work it on behalf of somebody else, but to actually own it.  And when you identify that person, then what I will do, I’ll tell you the other 75 problems that I found.  Because what you don’t know is he asked me, did I find any other problems?  And he wanted me to share them.  And I said, “I won’t, and I’m afraid you’ll start working them.”  He said, “Of course I will because someday they’ll become my top three to five.”  And I said, “That’s exactly why your project’s in trouble today.  And I don’t want you to continue along that path.”  So that is a story to show how important this top three is.

Feedback on Focusing on Top Three

BILL YATES:  I love it when you could actually say, look, I’ve got the full picture here, but it’s so important that you knock out the first one first, I can’t even show you that.  You’ve got to address this top issue first.  Now, Neal, I’d like for you to share some of the feedback you’ve gotten from some of your students, some of the cohorts you’ve taught in the past, or people who’ve read your books, just about the impact of adopting this approach of really focusing on the top three.  What kind of a difference has it made to some of the people you’ve touched?

NEAL WHITTEN:  It’s made a huge difference.  I mean, there’s a number of power snippets in the book that people have called back to me and said, “Neal, I am so glad to know about this.”  And by the way, when I first started implementing it, like never run from conflict, necessary conflict, as an example.  Once I know that, I dig my heels in, and I work it through to its completion.  It’s made all the difference in the world.

But the one that I hear from the most is the one we just talked about, and that’s manage to your top three priorities.  I have had over the years many, many people call me, typically email me and say, “Neal, this changed my career.  When you knew me, I was not an executive.  I am now.  I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this particular item or this item and a couple others.”  And the things that they’re talking about are all in the book.  Or if they’re not an executive, they still enjoy their job much more and they’re much more effective, and they’re a senior project manager type, that type of thing.

But obviously, it’s very gratifying to hear that these things are working.  But I tell them, and they need to understand this, it’s not me.  I can plant some seeds, but that’s all I do.  And I walk away, and I don’t own anything.  It’s all them, and they deserve tremendous credit.

Treat All Project Managers Equally

WENDY GROUNDS:  One of the power skills that stood out to me was Power Skill 15, which said treat all project managers equally.  Now, when you described this, you talked about a client team, a contractor, various people on the team, why it is so important that everybody is given the same treatment.  Can you talk to us more about that one?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yes, I will.  And I will tell you, depending on how much experience you have as a project manager type, you’ll probably recognize that many of the things that I talk about are not commonly practiced.  To me, they’re so obvious.  But then again, I’m an old guy and been around the block, made a few mistakes, got a lot of successes.  But if you really stop and focus on them, they just seem to make so much common sense.  And this is one of those.  Nearly every project out there today does not treat everybody on the project the same.  That’s terrible.  And I’m going to give you an example here.

Projects can often be made up of at least four diverse groups.  There’s company personnel, there’s client personnel, there are vendors, and there are contractors.  Those are four typical groups.  And by the way, we treat each of those groups differently.  Now, every company has their own way of treating these groups.  But typically what happens is, if the people on the team are from the client, whether it’s an internal or external client, they tend to be treated with kid gloves.  And they’re given extra compensation.  If they come in late and those sorts of things, they don’t feel a lot of the pain that everybody else might feel.

If they’re the company personnel, these are the people that tend to be pushed down the hardest because they’re accessible to the management of the organization so they suffer the most. And if they’re vendors, vendors have a way of coming across as a black box.  And you can’t mess with us.  You can’t get inside us to know what we’re really doing.  So when we tell you we’ll have that deliverable in two months, you’re just going to have to trust us.  And there’s no way you can verify that.

And then there’s contractors.  These are the poor people who are just the scum of the planet sometimes.  We don’t keep them informed of what’s going on.  They need to know.  In my book, I treat them all the same.  And they know that.  I have respect for every one of them.  And any one of them, and any one group, can torpedo my project.  Therefore, I’m going to be on top of every one of them.  And if I have to fly to the location of the vendor and review their plan in detail, I’m going to do that if it’s a critical part of my project.

So let me give you an example.  All my examples, by the way, are true.  So I had this situation with one of my clients.  The project consisted of all four of these groups.  The project was over a hundred people.  And the project was substantially late.  It was significantly over cost.  And frankly, it wasn’t very high quality, and the client was an external client.  And the executive that was the interface to the company that built this thing brought litigation to the company because he was so upset.

So the project manager of the company respectfully went over to the executive, the client executive, and said, “Why are you suing us?  The problem was really your team on the project.  And they kept coming in late.  They staffed late.  They didn’t do their testing on time.  And they didn’t have their act together and so forth.”  And the client executive said, “I didn’t know that.  Why didn’t you tell me that?”

And the project manager said, “Well, look, I know where my bread is buttered.  And so I gave this team extra compensation.  I gave them extra leeway.  I gave them extra schedules and so forth.”  He said, “No, you don’t know where your bread is buttered.  It is not that team.  That team is part of your project.  You should have been treating them like everybody else.  I am the one who butters your bread.  I’m the executive who signed the contract.  But they are not.”

So it emphasizes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  And when you’re a project manager, everybody matters.  Everybody counts.  And I don’t back off for any reason just because somebody might not be close by.

Setting Expectations

BILL YATES:  Neal, there were several places in the book when I was reading it where I felt like there was a big fat mirror turned right at me.  And this is one of those.  I’m like, man, how does Neal know that about me?  Because this was an area of weakness for me when I was managing projects for over a decade or so.  We would have external projects.  We’d have an external client.  And we would have team members that were from those clients.  And I had the hardest time setting the proper expectations with them and following through on it because they were my client.

hat was an area that I looked back on and said, okay, this was an area that I needed to improve in.  So I’m really glad you brought that up.  Everybody should be treated the same.  They should be equal.  And the expectations and the communication should be the same because we’re all trying to reach the same goal.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Something that I’m going to throw out is that I’ve always been amazed at this over the years.  Some of the people that I’ve mentored have been exceptionally bright, much brighter than I am.  And some of them had PhDs.  Not that a PhD is an indicator how bright somebody is, but I just want to show you the dedication of these people and the determination they have.  But I will tell you, they had terrible soft skills.  They ran from conflict, they did not push back when it was necessary to push back.  They did not insist on things.  And they did not act as if they owned the company and it was defined by their domain of responsibility.

And those things bothered me because these are people who were so bright.  In my thinking, it’s like, come on, can’t you see why this project is in trouble?  It’s not because you’re not smart.  It’s because you don’t demonstrate these power skills that are necessary in order to bring this team together.  So anyway, I just want to throw that out again.

Kevin and Kyle

KEVIN RONEY: Thanks Wendy. I have a question for our listeners. Do any of  you struggle with low self-confidence? Low self-confidence is a problem that can hold you back from achieving your potential. This can be in your personal or your professional life.

KYLE CROWE: You’re right!  When you’re confident in your abilities, it’s easier to be the project leader that inspires confidence in others. Your self-confidence goes a long way to boosting the confidence of your teams, sponsors, clients, or stakeholders.

KEVIN RONEY:: There can be a number of things that cause of a lack of self confidence. It could  originate in childhood – if we received negative messages. It could be stress or difficult life events, it could also be personality – some folk are just more prone to negative thoughts.

KYLE CROWE: If you are up against a crisis, your stakeholders need to be assured they can have confidence in you to manage the problem. If you have low self confidence, we can suggest some help to turn that around! The first step is just to be kind to your self! We’re most often our own worst critic.

KEVIN RONEY:: And the second step is – we recommend an excellent Velociteach Insite  course by Neal Whitten called: 25 ACTIONS TO BUILD YOUR SELF-CONFIDENCE.  This course identifies actions you can take to build and maintain your self-confidence. Check it out!

Power Sills for the Team

BILL YATES:  The first part of the book focuses on 24 power skills for the individual.  And then you have a section on power skills for a team.  There you have 15 power skills that you divide into two different categories:  take accountability for your responsibilities, and support the team by your personal behaviors.  Share with us a little bit about those.  How are these different, and what was your intent in this focus on the team with these power skills?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, the book has three sets of power skills.  One is what I call the foundational ones that you use everywhere at any time.  Another is power skills that are important for if you’re in a team.  What does a team leader expect of each team member, and what should each team member expect from each other?  So that’s another set.  And the third set that we’ll probably get to is what are the power skills necessary when you’re dealing with your leaders?  But at any rate, we’re talking right now on a team.

By the way, when you’re working with the power skills for a team, you’re still going to be using those 24 foundational power skills.  So they don’t go away suddenly.  But when I came up with the power skills for a team, I asked myself – it was a long time ago, by the way, so I’ve had a lot of years to refine this.  But I asked myself, if I could start from scratch with a team, what makes a team member valuable?  What do I look for in a team?  It’s just like if you’re hiring somebody, and you’re bringing them into your team, what are the key attributes you’re looking for?  And that’s really the foundation, if you will, of these particular power skills.

Who Teaches the Power Skills?

WENDY GROUNDS:  Who is responsible for teaching these behaviors and these power skills to the team members?

BILL YATES:  Ooh, that’s a tricky one.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Well, you know, I have opinions, Wendy, on a lot of things.  And I find the older I get, the more opinions I have.  I’ve thought through an awful lot of things.  But in my model, in my business model – and I’m all about business.  Everybody listening to this broadcast, you are not a project manager first or a BA first.  You are a businessperson first.  When you go to work every day, that is what your business is, the notion of business.  And I believe that very much so.

So my business model is this.  Managers are the first line of defense to ensure that their employees are being properly trained and developed so they can reach their potential in the organization or the company.  However, a project team can be made up of members that report to many different managers.  These members may never have been trained as a cohesive unit.  So if a project manager assembles a team that does not already know and practice these power skills, then the project manager is responsible for ensuring that his or her team is properly trained and then nurtured throughout the project’s duration.

So while the managers have the responsibility for their employees being sufficiently trained, once the project manager comes into the picture, the project manager is now accountable, in my model, for whatever needs to happen to help ensure the business success of the project.

Informing Your Leaders

WENDY GROUNDS:  So the last section of power skills you have is the list of power skills for interacting with your leaders.  I’m just going to mention the three categories you have.  The one is communicate with your leaders.  Then you say take ownership of your performance.  And the last one is build a reputation.  Bill, which one stood out to you?

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  In Communicate With Your Leaders, there’s a power skill that says keep your leaders informed.  I really want to get Neal’s advice on this.  You talk about the need to share information, but not overshare.  The leader of a team needs to figure out what’s the right balance, what’s the right information I should share with my manager, my leader, and when.  Talk to us a bit about finding that balance with our manager in terms of keeping them informed.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, I’d be glad to.  I find that most people, when they start out in the workforce, and probably for the first half a dozen years or more, they tell their boss too much.  Their boss doesn’t care, doesn’t want to know that.  It’s not relevant.  But they don’t know that.  And they want their boss to know that they’re a good employee and that they deserve to be here and so forth.

But the boss already knows that, or they wouldn’t still have their job.  You’re paid to solve problems.  And your boss gains no value in knowing all the problems that you face each day and how you solve each of those problems.  So you want to be selective and only share the problems that you feel your boss should know or the things you want your boss to know; what they should know or what you want them to know.

So I’ll give you an example.  Let’s say you’re a project manager, and you have a meeting with your boss at 8:00 o’clock tomorrow morning.  So you come in that morning at 7:30, and you’re looking over your project, and you discover a serious problem on your project.  I mean it’s a really, really big problem, and you’re shocked that you didn’t see it before.  At 8:00 o’clock you walk into your boss’s office, and who’s in your boss’s office is the boss’s boss.  Now the question is begged, what do you do?  Do you share this bad news with both your boss and your boss’s boss?

The answer is a resounding no, absolutely not, unless there’s an unusually great relationship between all three of you.  Do not share this news with both managers at the same time.  Instead, ask your boss if you could see him for a moment outside the office.  Then share the bad news.  Your boss isn’t going to like the bad news no matter how you share it.  But later your boss will appreciate the discreet way that you did this.

Now it’s up to the boss to decide if she wants to tell her boss about what just happened.  If you share the bad news with both managers, your manager could look bad to his boss.  For example, the boss may be wondering how could such a bad situation on this project occur without the boss being aware of it.  You don’t want to ever make your boss look bad.  You want to avoid that at any price.

Make Your Leaders Look Good

WENDY GROUNDS:  So that leads into another one, your Power Skill 14, which is make your leaders look good.  Can you tell us a bit about that?  Why is it so important to make our leaders look good?

NEAL WHITTEN:  Yeah, you know when I’ve taught this over the years I’ve had a few people come up to me and say, “Neal, I don’t want to do that.  If I make my boss look good, my boss is going to take all the credit, and I wind up with nothing.  Let my boss go work on it his own damn self.”  You know, that kind of thing.

And by the way, I never gave this any real thought until something happened to me early in my career.  It’s a personal story, but I was working for a company.  We’re building a new operating system with new hardware, and there were a hundred of us in this organization.  And we were spread across six departments.  The department I was in had 20 people in it, and none of the hundred of us were doing very good on this.  And my boss, particularly his department, wasn’t doing very good.  And so he was taken out of the job as punishment.

He was replaced by a more experienced manager, and that manager’s name was Dennis.  And I’m going to go out on a limb and say Dennis’s last name.  I didn’t put it in the book.  It’s Andrews.  In real life it’s Andrews.  He was such a great boss.  He was so impressive.  And when he left this company, he became a troubleshooter in other companies.  He’d actually be hired on as a CEO to turn companies around.  That’s how good he was.

At any rate, here’s what he did.  As soon as he arrived, he sat down with each of the 20 employees he had, one at a time, and wanted to get to know them.  And with me, I was the first one he sat down with.  I wasn’t sure why at the time.  He said, “Neal, your job is to make me look good.”  And he said, “That ain’t going to be easy to do.  And I don’t want to work a lot of overtime. I want you to keep problems out of my office. 

And if there’s any problems, I want you to deal with them before they get to the office.  If we have deliverables to another department, I don’t want them late, and I want them to be quality.  And if there’s deliverables from other departments to us, the same thing.  And I hold you accountable for that.  If we’re doing design reviews, I want to make sure that we’re logging all those issues, and we’re following up, making sure.”

And he went on and on and on. My head’s spinning.  And he said, “We made it very clear.  Your job is to make me look good.”  And I walked out of his office, and I thought, what an arrogant egotist.  But I can read an org chart.  He’s my boss.  I’m going to do the best that I can.  So I did.  So for the next six weeks, I just got involved in everything.  And there was one time I was walking down the hallway, and I heard somebody say something disparaging about Dennis.  And I stopped, and I said, “Hey, guys.  What can we do?  How can we fix this?”  So I was always being very positive about it all.

Anyway, what happened was this.  After six weeks, my boss left the department.  And he now became the boss over all hundred people.  I now was the manager of that department.  I didn’t know he was grooming me for that. And I didn’t realize that.  I was glad for that because I wanted to get into management, but it was a surprise to me.

Now, fast-forward 18 months.  I’m in a different organization in this company.  I’m not around Dennis at all.  And there’s 800 managers in an auditorium.  We meet once a year for a full day and talk about things managers talk about.  One of the things they were doing this day, they were giving out a dozen what was called Management Excellence Awards.  It was the highest award you could get as a manager.  And I was receiving one.  I didn’t know it.  Nobody knew if they were receiving one.

So when I walked up to the stage and took the award, the lab director described to everybody what I did to deserve it.  But my boss, not Dennis, new boss, he got on the stage, and he said, “You know why Neal got this, but there’s another reason.  Neal makes me look so good, far better than I otherwise deserve to look.  And I am thoroughly grateful for that.”

As soon as he said that, it was voila.  I thought about Dennis, and I thought about how important it is to focus on the leaders around you and trying to get them to look good.  I have found that I’m the type of person who’s more people-oriented rather than object-oriented.  So I find it more rewarding when I have a project plan to help it be successful because I’m trying to make some sponsor look good or the client look good, rather than just because it’s my job to execute the plan.  So when I associate the plan with a person or persons, I actually do a better job.

BILL YATES:  That’s great advice.  I think I’m wired that way, too, where sometimes the project and the output of the project can be, you know, it’s this tangible thing we’re going to produce, or this new service or whatever, improvement, which is great.  But what’s more important is who’s my customer who’s so excited to get it, or who are my fellow team members that are pushing hard to get it done.  So that motivates me.  It’s almost like team sports.  It’s, yeah, I want to win this game; but the main reason I want to win it is because of the people that I’m doing this with.  I really want to push forward with them.  That’s kind of what’s motivating me, so I can relate to that.  That’s a great story.

Contact Neal

WENDY GROUNDS:  So Neal, if our audience wants to get in touch with you, if they’d like to find out how to get hold of the book, or they have some questions for you, which is the best place for them to go?

NEAL WHITTEN:  They could type “Neal Whitten” in the Internet, and they’re going to see more of me than they wish they would.  That would be one way.  But my email address is neal@nealwhittengroup.com, neal@nealwhittengroup.com.  And Neal is N-E-A-L.  But I’d like to add something that I didn’t ask you ahead of time if I could do this, but I’m sure you’ll be okay with it.  I have a two-day workshop based on this book, and Velociteach offers that workshop.  So I just want to throw that out.  And that two-day workshop covers the entire book.  It’s a great way to go into an organization and help shape the culture in that organization so people now know when they go to work what’s expected of them, and what they can expect from each other.

BILL YATES:  Well, Neal, I think it’s been 100 podcasts since we’ve had a conversation with you.  It was overdue, and you created a reason because you created a fantastic new book.  Thank you for this contribution, and I encourage people to go out and get it, read it, and then gift it.  This is the perfect gift for the people in your life who are maybe early in their career, trying to figure out what kind of person they want to be in the workplace; or somebody who’s like me, who’s, you know, had a few decades at work and needs a tune-up.  So, you know, buy it for that person.  Say, “Hey, I think there’s something in here for you,” because there certainly is.

NEAL WHITTEN:  Bill, you’re always too humble.

BILL YATES:  Great talking with you, Neal.

NEAL WHITTEN:  And thank you guys for the opportunity.


WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  You have just earned your PDUs, your Professional Development Units toward recertifications by listening to this podcast.  To claim them, go to Velociteach.com.  Choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs and click through the steps.  Thank you for joining us.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.


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