5 Very Important Things a Leader Must Know Before Starting a Project

(This article is first published on linkedin.com)

I spent the last few weeks reading The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems. Although originally, this book was intended to help individuals and organizations solve many forms of conflicts, one of the greatest points I have learned from this book is the true definition of the word “understand”.

Although I would love to right a review about this book, I want this article to focus on the important things that I have learned from this book and actually make an integration of those lessons to leadership in the hope of establishing an important paradigm for every leader before starting a project in order to maximize the full potential of its members and help the team or organization arrive on its ultimate goal.

I have been a part of multiple engineering projects and got the chance to work with people with different origins and paradigms. Those experiences helped me give value for what I will be telling you in the next paragraphs.

The points that I will be stating may not be found directly on the book but are my “Hybrid” versions of the points written in the book in order to, just like I said, create a paradigm that will help build a foundation for success of every project a leader has to lead.

1. Understand that the team/organization is compose of multiple individuals.

This point I believe, is one of the most important and most overlooked points in starting a project. Although it seems obvious, it’s the very reason why collaboration and communication fail — and succeed. You can’t have a team that are best friends since high school do well in the project, in-fact even if 50% of your members are friends outside office, you cannot expect a smooth collaboration.

A leader should understand that diversity is both helpful and not-helpful. Different individuals have different views, and when I say views, it’s not just their individual views of the world outside them but actually, these views are their own reality. These views are so powerful that it is the reference of every decisions that they will be making in the future. Here is simple example.

Member A thinks that quality is top priority, therefore, member A may have the tendency to miss deadlines and also has the tendency to produce quality results.

On the other hand,

Member B, thinks that handling deliverable on time is top priority in order to eliminate discomfort from the clients, then member B may have the tendency to deliver results on-time, but don’t have the same quality as member A has.

Now, Imagine, Member A & B, works on the same area of the project, it is understandable that both members wants the best for the team, but both have different ways which are conflicting. That is why, for me, before starting a project, a leader should establish a set of principles which should be agreed by the entire team.

A leader is expected to be firm and flexible, but having an established principle eliminates future conflicts. These principles may not give a perfect result, but what is important is that the team stick to its agreed principle. It may not be helpful in the short run, but it will be helpful in the long run. The members are being taught to follow the principles no matter what happen, therefore, firm leadership is also being taught.

By understanding that the team is composed of multiple individuals with different views and reality, a leader should create a common principle that will governed the entire team/organization throughout the project.

2. Understand that your goals & excitement is not always contiguous.

So you are given this new and exciting project. You know how important it is for you, for the department and for the company. But often times, a leader overlooked the fact that not all members of the project share the same vision — the vision of “For the Company”.

I think, the reality that not all member shares the same vision is not necessarily the reason for the downfall of the organization but has a powerful potential in transforming a company from a good one to a great one.

Even if you have 80 to 90% of the members who don’t share the vision of the company, as long as sales is coming, production is cost effective, then the company will survive. But imagine, if this 90% shares the same vision, how would it affect the company’s performance?

Obviously, sharing excitement and vision is one of the prerequisite of a great leader, but the problem is, it’s not easy. The goal of sharing the same vision and excitement is to summon the potential of every member to perform at the highest level.

That is why, it is important to recognize this point in order for the project to survive during hard times.

Anyone can say,

“Guys! this project is huge!” — but not all members understand why its huge right?

“Hey, this client is one the biggest in the industry!”- but some members are more happy to hear that “Hey, we have an increase in salary!” than hearing the news of another client for the company.

So, why is it important to know that not all share your excitement and vision as a leader?

If everyone is excited or shares the vision you have, then everyone will understand why you are doing this and that. Everyone will understand why they have to work additional hours every day, everyone will understand why they have to get this result fast. This will eliminate any future conflicts that will arise if you request for the extra effort.

Example, the project’s goal is to impress the client by sending construction drawing one week ahead of the deadline and with less than 0.5% errors. In this way, they themselves know that they have to exert additional effort to achieve the goal.

Tell also your members, what will achieving the goal has to do with them. Humans, by default, think of themselves. When we are infants, we cry for milk in the midnight without considering that our mothers have to rest!

So how will you share your goals and excitement for the project? First is, ask the members what will they hope to achieve after the project, and after knowing what they want, then as a leader, you should find ways to make their goals aligned with the project’s goal. If the project is heading north, then all members should be heading north.

3. Understand that 1 or 2 members are more excited than you do.

My last project was for me, is a game changer for the power industry, unfortunately, I was not able to finish it and was not a part of the core team for the project. The project is so promising that I decided to do everything and learn all the things I need to learn in order for the project to succeed. For me, if the project manager would have given me more and bigger responsibility, I would have taken the project to the next level of success. I was so excited that I’ve spent a lot of time doing research and almost become an instant expert for the project. There are even times that I was thinking to create my own team and finish the project myself.

A leader should leverage those members who are passionate and excited about the project. The possibility is endless if you put a dedicated person for a position who is willing to do everything to get things done. I think it’s a failure of intelligence if you as a leader would not able to identify those people.

Give them responsibilities, ask them about their opinions and really listen, don’t ask just because you want them to realize that they are being valued, ask them to understand and really listen what plans they have in their mind for the project.

4. Understand that 1 or more people don’t care about the project goals.

I believe that people come for work don’t necessarily love the work they are into. People work for multiple reasons like, paying for their bills, a family to feed or a business to start. Often times, the truth is, only a small % of the population of your group care about your project goals and visions.

What separates a good company to a great company is the ability of its leadership to influence and really put an effort to promote the company’s goals and visions to its employees.

I’m really amazed during the Falcon 9’s successful landing as I saw the Space X’s employees cheer and cry after seeing their rocket successfully land on a drone ship. Those people pour their hard work for the success of the project. This is what is meant by bringing the people on the same boat. They share the same vision with their CEO Elon Musk.

It is important that leaders must not overlook those members that don’t share the same vision and don’t even care about the project’s ultimate goal. Although the execution will still be possible even if 90% of your members don’t really care about the project’s goal, you should not expect an effective collaboration and expect a great result from the team.

One way to make these people share your vision is to make them feel they are valued and that they are an important piece. Leaders should tell them that they are a part of a larger system. People want to be sincerely recognize. Before the start of a project, leaders should tell every member as long as possible, how will they affect the overall outcome of the project. It gives them the sense of responsibility, and when a people are given a sense of responsibility, their inner strength to execute and do things is summoned.

5. Understand that emotion plays a great part.

There was an old saying in tagalog saying “Trabaho lang, walang personalan” or in English “Don’t mix emotion and work”. I think this is a flawed paradigm that is handed down from generation to generation. The very reason why a person goes to work are by nature — personal.

“I want to find a job to earn money to feed my family.”

“I want to work in order to be successful.”

“I want a work to have a comfortable life in the future.”

These sentences are created in a person’s mind because of emotion, and emotions are deeply personal. That is why I think, disregarding emotions in the office is one of the pitfalls of many organizations.

The very reason why a person goes to work is its emotion. He may want to have the emotion of being happy because he now have enough money for his family, or he may want to avoid the emotion of being unhappy because he does not have enough money to feed his family, both are reasons for going to work and both are personal. No one wants to work because he/she wants company A to be successful. “Oh! I want to apply for a job in Tesla so that Tesla would be a successful car company in the future!”

Understanding emotions should be one of the foundation of leadership. And it is important to cultivate positive emotions of every members of the project. One effective way is to make your members excited about the upcoming project. Let them realize that they are chosen as part of the team because you think that they have what it takes to do the job.

It is easy to make the entire team happy and excited during the start of the project, the challenge is how a leader would maintain these positive emotions. It takes everyday effort to maintain these emotions and some time, the leader will fail.

The core value that I have learned from the book The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems is the importance of understanding other people. In the book, it tells how sincerely listening can lead to the ultimate understanding of a person’s mind and ultimately lead to a positive outcome of a certain conflict. A leader can use the principle of understanding other people’s idea by addressing it before the start of a project.