Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: Zero Tolerance for “Brilliant Jerks”

Catch Christa Kirby’s presentation “Cultivating an Agile Mindset: Creativity, Trust, and a Plastic Toothbrush Case” at this year’s Agile & Scrum Conference! 

By Christa Kirby, MA, LCAT, PMP, CSM, CSPO  |  Vice President, Global Learning Innovation and Global Practice Director, Leadership – International Institute for Learning (IIL) 

As we move into 2018, it feels as though change is afoot here in the United States.  In the wake of a tremendous scandal, a new reckoning is occurring in the workplace, and in many organizations, unethical conduct that had been previously swept under the carpet is now being acknowledged and held up to the light.  Harassment, bigotry, and bullying are just a few behaviors that are falling under more scrutiny… and are no longer tolerated.

In 2016, Arianna Huffington – author and founder of HuffPost and Thrive Global agreed to join the board of Uber in order to help transform the company’s culture, as well as its brand image.  The “new Uber,” she says, will include “no more brilliant jerks.”  The replacement of former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick with Dara Khosrowshahi is a definite step in the right direction.

The list of resignations and firings due to misconduct is growing every day.  Are we ushering in an era where people are accountable for their actions and where bad behavior is no longer tolerated in the workplace?  I’m hopeful that we are at least making progress.

The good news is that there is hope for “brilliant jerks.”  There is a set of skills that can be learned and refined, and you’ve probably heard of it before: Emotional Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is a concept that author Daniel Goleman brought into popular awareness with 1995 publication of his book Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ.  As you probably know, Emotional Intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we:

  • Perceive and express ourselves;
  • Develop and maintain social relationships;
  • Cope with challenges; and
  • Use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.

A work environment that values Emotional Intelligence is one in which respect and trust exist amongst colleagues.  Creativity and innovation can flourish because people are encouraged to share ideas, and “failures” are reframed as opportunities for growth and learning.  This creates a climate of engagement, where people want to “show up” and are intrinsically motivated to do their work.

An organization with this kind of work culture reaps many benefits.  Number one: retention. People want to work there.  Given the fact that many of us will spend upwards of 90,000 hours of our lifetimes “on the job,” it is important to feel valued and appreciated for the unique talents one has to offer.

The second benefit of this kind of work culture is huge: high performance and results.  That’s right – a culture that promotes Emotional Intelligence is built on a foundation of what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson dubbed “psychological safety.”

What this means is that people feel empathy amongst their colleagues, mutual respect, and trust.  They feel listened to and genuinely cared about as a person.

The results of Google’s 2012 Project Aristotle study reinforced the critical importance of psychological safety to team performance.  When their People Analytics team examined data on the company’s top-performing global teams, they found that the most important factor contributing to the teams’ performance was this concept of psychological safety.  Being able to take risks on the team without feeling insecure or embarrassed, having conversational equity, and treating one another with respect emerged as more than just nice-to-have qualities – they were central and fundamental to the teams’ success.

And guess what?  They are also foundational concepts of Emotional Intelligence, a skill set that each and every one of us can continuously build and improve.

So as 2018 unfolds, my hope is that we will collectively begin to embrace more and more behavioral accountability in our work and personal lives and that Emotional Intelligence will be elevated to the level of importance it deserves.

Want to build your team or organization’s skills in Emotional Intelligence?  IIL’s Emotional Intelligence training includes a globally validated, actionable assessment for each participant, integrated into a highly interactive workshop experience.  To learn more, contact us at learning@iil.com.

About the Author
With a BA from Duke University and an MA from New York University, Christa Kirby is an experienced Communications professional as well as a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist and trainer. For the past decade, Christa has conducted workshops and led trainings for corporations, non-governmental organizations and foundations in countries including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece and the US. Her specialty areas of focus are team-building, leadership, conflict resolution, effective communication, cross-cultural communication and peace-building.


Capturing Project Knowledge

By: Greg Bailey

As the saying goes, “failure teaches us more than success”. But when we consider the number of projects that fail, and project managers’ struggles to capture learning as they implement projects, it seems project management may be an exception.

A 2013 survey found that 50 percent of businesses had an IT project fail during the previous year. What’s more worrying, however, is that not much changed in the following three years. A 2016 survey by the same company found that the statistics have in fact gotten worse: with 55 percent of businesses reporting they had worked on a project that had failed. While project managers are clearly working hard, there appear to be systemic problems in how common issues are being resolved across the industry.

The key differentiator is that learning from failure implies learning from our mistakes. To do that, we must identify and acknowledge challenges, obstacles and human mistakes during the project lifecycle. And to do that, we must consistently capture project knowledge. Without capturing the mistakes (as well as everything else) we encounter along the way, how can we as project management professionals learn from them?

Failure is a result of mistakes 

It is highly valuable to understand how mistakes arise, so you can then do something about them. Common issues that arise include:

  • Adding more people to a late project. When a project is behind, it’s tempting to add more people to the project to speed up completion. But filling new additions in on the situation will likely take more productivity away from existing team members than will be added by new ones.
  • Overestimating savings from new tools or methods. Productivity is rarely improved in giant leaps, no matter how many new tools or methods are adopted. It is a gradual process, yet the project aims do not reflect this.
  • Insufficient risk management. Failure to proactively assess and control the things that might go wrong with a project can cause projects to fall behind and go over budget.
  • ‘Silver-bullet syndrome’. After finding initial success, project teams latch onto a single practice or new technology and expect it to solve all their problems from there on out.
  • Switching tools mid-project. Often a result of making snap decisions, the learning curve and inevitable mistakes that accompany implementation of a new tool can void any benefits when in the middle of a project.

The power of hindsight is a wonderful thing. For many project managers, they will address any problems they encountered after the project’s completion—usually by way of a project summary. The following are the most common activities and approaches Project Management organizations use to capturing project knowledge, per the Project Management Institute (PMI)® study on Capturing the Value of Project Management through Knowledge Transfer:

  • Lessons learned/post-mortem debriefings (81%)
  • Subject matter experts (77%)
  • Copying documents to a centralized repository (72%)
  • Company Intranet (68%)

Post-project debriefings are the most common form of capturing knowledge. But the reality is, by waiting until after the dust has settled to address these problems, you risk forgetting the problems themselves or how you solved them. If project knowledge is not captured or shared, you risk ‘reinventing the wheel’ and failing to learn from (and therefore repeating) your mistakes.

Capturing project knowledge through developing a culture of continuous improvement should be the ideal goal for a project manager—where your team members will proactively decide to immediately record the lessons they’ve learned or directly mention them to you. But it will take a lot of time and dedication before this becomes a reality. So how do you get started?

Capture project knowledge at all times

  • Constant improvement

In other words don’t wait until your next project to do things differently, but act immediately and plan ahead. It requires learning lessons as you encounter them. This is difficult, especially when your focus is on the project at hand. But it can be done.

  • Documenting both the positives and negatives you and your team members experience

It is the individual responsibility of every project team member to take the opportunity to learn—documenting this as soon as possible. Project Managers and team members should participate together in sessions—both during and after projects—where these experiences are reviewed to make decisions on how to improve on future and current projects.

  • Reporting and analyzing the lessons you have learned

From your failures and your successes, are the next steps you should take to implement a culture of continuous improvement. By analyzing lessons in full, you can develop practices to improve on future projects and ensure you don’t become another failed project statistic.

Greg Bailey is Vice President WorldWide Sales at ProSymmetry, the company behind the state-of-the-art resource management tool, Tempus Resource

The Common Traits of Exceptional Leaders — A Live Case Study

by Sofia Zafeiri

For a significant period of my student life and as a Communications Professional, I’ve been wondering which personality traits are the ones that I need to work on to make myself not only stand out from the crowd but to thrive. On a recent Friday night, I had the opportunity to meet with a Global Executive from one of the world’s largest financial organizations.

Not long after we sat down, Stephan (the Executive) and I started discussing my experiences while job hunting and getting into more detail about the Executive’s approach to hiring new and young professionals.

He said, “I want to hire great people. Those who are better than me. And then, I want to give them tasks and the freedom to learn and do their own thing. I need to know they succeed in their personal lives as well as their professional ones. Only then am I a proud leader.”

That rang a bell. A few months back, I was desperately looking for inspiration and some answers to my endless questions. So I asked one of my professors (also a CCO of a global conglomerate) to be my mentor. An invitation that weirdly enough, he happily accepted. I remembered in our first meeting; he said the exact same thing as Stephan.

In fact, I distinctly remember him admitting, “I am not good at everything. But I know what my weaknesses are, and I know how to hire great people. We work as a team, and there are members of my staff that are much smarter and more current than I am.”

In an ocean of good and bad business leaders, hearing an amazing professor and well-respected business person saying what he did, astounded me, to say the least.

For the rest of the night on that rooftop, my wired brain was going back and forth comparing the two leaders. The similarities were plenty. By the end of the evening and on my way back home, I tried to summarize the new data. I realized that:

In other words,

  • They make people feel great about themselves
  • They know their weaknesses and are open to them
  • They know how to hire people who are better than them at particular things
  • They measure the strengths of their employees, give them tasks, and let them “swim” while they provide help and support when needed
  • They acknowledge the inner balance that a family life has to offer

Although their careers are imperative to them, they both valued their time with their families.

  • They are genuinely interested in people

It doesn’t matter if the new acquaintances are younger or entry-level professionals. A good leader knows that the future is in the eye of the beholder.

At the end of the day, great leaders create an army of loyal employees and friends around them who will be more than willing to help them in a time of need.

What type of leader do you aspire to be?

About the Author

Sofia Zafeiri is the Social Media Coordinator at IIL. She graduated from NYU with a Ms in Public Relations and Corporate Communications. Before moving to New York City, she worked for a variety of organizations in Europe.

Senior Executives are from Somewhere; PMO Directors are from Somewhere Else!

By J. LeRoy Ward,  PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL 

The recently released 2017 Pulse of the Profession®, Success Rates Rise: Transforming the high cost of low performance, from the Project Management Institute (PMI)® brings us promising news:

Project success rates are rising.

As the report states: “For the first time in five years, more projects are meeting original goals and business intent and being completed within budget.” It goes on to say that the amount of “wasted” dollars per billion spent on projects has declined twenty percent from a year ago. This is certainly good news for all those organizations who have made the significant investment in improving overall project management maturity, and should serve as an inspiration for others that progress can be made with serious commitment to excellence.

But buried in the appendix, where PMI® breaks out the responses by various categories of respondents, there’s another story that’s of great interest—and that is the different perceptions held by Senior Executives and PMO Directors on their organization’s success in performing certain critical activities.

Following is the survey question and the responses from the two groups. (Note: I’ve combined the Excellent and Good scores for the Senior Executives and PMO Directors for their responses to each question.)

How would you rate your organization’s success in performing the following activities over the last three years?

Senior Execs
PMO Directors
Formulating strategy appropriate for changing market conditions



Prioritizing and funding the appropriate initiatives/projects



Feeding lessons from successful strategy implementation back into strategy formulation



Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results



Feeding lessons from failed strategy implementation back into strategy formulation



Clearly, the view from the top (that is, from the Senior Executive’s “perch”) is that the organization is a lot more successful at these activities than viewed from the PMO Director’s level. While there are significant differences of opinion in each area, I’d like to focus on the issue of Successfully executing initiatives/projects in order to deliver strategic results (82% vs 34%).

It’s as if these groups don’t even work in the same organization! Or, maybe even on the same planet.

Certainly, there are objective measures, when used, that can definitely confirm whether a project has been successfully executed and value has been delivered. To be sure, organizations are going far beyond the triple constraint of time, cost, and scope to measure success, but surely we should be able to tell whether a project has been successful or not. But there’s a 48-point difference in opinion on that score. I don’t know about you but that’s a “head scratcher” to me.

But, the differences in perception in the other answers are also a bit hard to decipher.

The key question is why? Why do we have such a marked difference in perception between Senior Executives and PMO Directors?

Are PMO Directors congenitally negative? Are Senior Executives hopelessly optimistic?

Do PMO Directors, who are close to where the “rubber meets the road,” see things that Executives just don’t, don’t want to, or just can’t see?

Do Senior Executives, by virtue of the fact they are accountable for darn near everything in the organization, give such high scores because it’s a direct reflection on their management capability?

To be sure, there is no single answer that can explain the stark differences between these two groups, and I bet each person who reads this blog will have their own, very valid, ideas about why this is the case.

What I do know, is that such disparate views indicate the yawning gap, the huge disconnect, between Senior Executives and PMO Directors. And the only way I know of to close this gap is relentless communication between the two. At the very least, PMO Directors and their Senior Executive counterparts should—in fact, must—agree on project success criteria.

After all, PMI’s Pulse says project success rates are climbing, but how can they climb in any organization where there is such a disagreement over what success really means?

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J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.


Pulse of the Profession, Project Management Institute, and PMI are marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

They're Developing Project Leadership Skills One Boat at a Time

Image by Stephanie Aaronson

By J. LeRoy Ward, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, CSM, GWCPM, SCPM   |   Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

Susan Crown is a philanthropist. A member of the billionaire Crown family, she has been donating impressive sums to various social and other causes for years. As she admits, her donations went to organizations with very broad social objectives where it was difficult to discern if her money was really making any difference, and that bothered her. That’s all changed.

Recently, she started a more targeted approach to philanthropy. Rather than trying to address “boil the ocean” big objectives, she decided to donate to organizations “that seek to foster character traits like grit, empathy and perseverance,” traits that some studies have shown are determinants of future success. I read about her efforts in “A Philanthropist Drills Down to Discover Why Programs Work” by Paul Sullivan, the “Wealth Matters” columnist of The New York Times.

She identified eight organizations that target their work on character building and donated $100,000 to each one. The only stipulation was that over a two-year period they had to report three times on what they were doing and how it was working.

One of those organizations is the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory where 36 participants a year from poor sections of the city work in teams to build wooden boats. Brett Hart, executive director, comments that as a result of the glaring educational inequality in the U.S., organizations have responded with programs such as Common Core. Yet, he maintains that skills like “the ability to be adaptive, collaborative, resourceful, are the tools we need to thrive.”  And through his program, young men and women are learning, and practicing, these critical skills as part of their boat-building projects, skills that he knows will carry them through life.

Let me stop here for a minute and ask: Aren’t these the skills every project manager needs to be successful? You bet. But wait, there’s more.

Ms. Crown wanted to apply the lessons learned at the Boat Factory to other organizations engaged in this important, and successful, effort. In short, she wanted to create a how-to-guide, and that’s exactly what she and her colleagues did. Titled “Preparing Youth to Thrive: Promising Practices in Social and Emotional Learning,” the guide was produced with the help of the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, which has developed methods for assessing the efficacy of youth programs.

Ms. Crown and her colleagues discovered that the major skills that needed to be developed were emotion management, empathy, teamwork, responsibility, initiative and problem solving. But there was also one super-skill, as she put it: namely, “agency,” or drive. This list sounds almost identical to the responses I receive when I ask audiences “what are the key skills or personality characteristics of successful project managers?”

So, whether you’re a teen from a disadvantaged background, or a highly educated professional with a university degree, each of us can learn to be better at what we do by developing, practicing and refining a set of personality characteristics just like the ones they’re teaching at the Boat Factory that will help us navigate the vagaries of the world and be successful in life (and, on our projects).

In reviewing Ms. Crown’s list there’s one trait that, based on my experience as a manager–and father–is the most difficult of all to “teach” or even help people practice, and that’s “drive.” The only way I know how to do that is to provide my own personal example to those around me.  If you know a better way, let me know.

How successful are they at the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory? Next fall Jackson Adens will enter Colorado State University hoping to become a veterinarian. I’d be he’d make a pretty good project manager too.

That should make Ms. Crown feel that her efforts are paying dividends and not the kind she sees in her personal financial statements.

LeRoy Ward

J. LeRoy Ward
is a highly respected consultant and adviser to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Debrief? "Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!”

By Joel “Thor” Neeb    |    President – Afterburner

Catch Thor’s presentation, “Bridging the Gap with Agile,” at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference on May 4th.

We conducted a Debrief after every one of the more than 2500 Missions I flew as a fighter pilot and trainer pilot. We would discuss what went well, what didn’t, and more importantly, how we would improve our team execution next time.

These Debriefs were critical to developing the skills of our younger pilots and creating a high performing team that could fly in coordinated formation faster than the speed of sound.

Mustang MayhemBut Debriefs are just for fighter pilots and battlefield soldiers, right? After all, your corporate team doesn’t Debrief and they’re doing just fine.

Well, leading academic research shows that you can’t afford not to Debrief.

In their article for Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society titled “Do Team and Individual Debriefs Enhance Performance?” Dr. Scott Tannenbaum and Dr. Chris Cerasoli analyzed more than 40 different independent research projects on the power of conducting Debriefs.

In their giant meta-analysis they arrived at the following conclusions:

  • Rudimentary Debriefs increased team effectiveness by up to 25% on the next project
  • Structured Debriefs increased team effectiveness by up to 38% on the next project
  • Having a third-party facilitate the Debrief increased team effectiveness by an additional 27%

So, what could Debriefs do for an organization? Let’s do the math.

There’s an eye-opening study that’s appeared in Harvard Business Review articles that states that only 33% of corporate America’s projects are completed on time, in scope, and in budget. I know, I know – that doesn’t apply to your company, you’re pulling up the average. So let’s start off by saying that you’re completing a whopping 60% of your corporate Missions. And let’s say that even though you’re not Debriefing, your teams still learn from the school of hard knocks and improve by an incredible 5% each time they tackle a project together. Here’s how their Mission effectiveness would improve over time:

Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
Probability of Mission Success

So, 5% more efficiency each time means you’ll have a 64% chance of success after three iterations of performing together as a team (note that we don’t increase effectiveness by 5% each time – we have 5% less chance of failure). Not too shabby, right? You’ve gelled together a bit as a team, new team members have gained a little experience, and you’ve increased your efficiency a bit.

But what would our team effectiveness look like if we had conducted a structured Debrief that was facilitated by a third party?

Project 1
Project 2
Project 3
Probability of Mission Success

The team that conducts structured, 3rd party-facilitated Debriefs is 25% more effective after three project iterations together and enjoys an 85% success rate on their third Mission.

Stop and look at those numbers again – what would that level of improvement mean for your team performance, your organizational culture, or your company in general?

“But,” you say, “Are those study statistics really repeatable in practice?”

They are. With our last client, a tech giant based out of Silicon Valley, our team at Afterburner supported more than 50 Missions through iterations of Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief, and 91% of them were successful.

“But,” you say, “Debriefing takes time.” And that’s the one resource you’re running short on.

In his groundbreaking book 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey relayed an oft-repeated story. In it he described two lumberjacks that were feverishly sawing away at a tree with a two-man saw. They were making little progress because their saw was dull and ineffective. When asked by a passerby why they didn’t stop to sharpen their saw, the lumberjacks replied “We can’t stop to sharpen the saw! We’re too busy sawing!”

When’s the last time your team sharpened their saw?

In the two decades that Afterburner Inc. has been in existence we’ve asked more than 3 million people at over 5,000 of our client companies to rate their own organization’s commitment to Debriefing. Unsurprisingly, the data for the past 20 years shows that corporate America rates itself about a 3 out of 10 on Debriefing. In other words, few companies Debrief, and even fewer do it well. We believe that’s because few companies know just how impactful Debriefing would be for their team or organization.

But, you don’t have the time to Debrief, right? Hopefully your competition doesn’t either!

More insights await at the virtual Agile and Scrum conference, going live on May 4th. 5 keynotes and 20 sessions to choose from, plus networking and PDUs/SEU®s.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”inherit”]joel-neeb

About the Author

Joel “Thor” Neeb is the President of Afterburner, a group of fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other SpecOps members that leverages the leadership development principles of elite military teams to help corporations achieve their Strategic Objectives. Contact Afterburner for a free consult on how to conduct a structured Debrief with one of their Debriefing experts.[/trx_infobox]

Why You Should Give Your Organization the Option to Fail

By Joel “Thor” Neeb    |    President – Afterburner

I spent 17 years in the U.S. Air Force as a trainer pilot and fighter pilot. As I gained more experience as an instructor I would find myself frequently paired up with the weaker students in our training program to ensure they received the best instruction. There would be times that these students were performing so poorly that one more unsatisfactory flight with me might be the last time they fly in the Air Force.

I want to give you an idea how devastating it would be for the student to fail out of the flying training program. These young men and women had spent their entire lives dreaming of flying supersonic aircraft. They’ve had posters of F-15s and F-16s on their walls since they were 4-years-old, and today those dreams may come to an end. Too many mistakes in the air would mean their flying career was over as quickly as it started.

Before a students’ flight briefing, I would stare at them across the table and start off the conversation the same way each time:

“You will not fly a perfect mission today.”

I would pause for effect and then continue. “I will not fly a perfect mission today. As a matter of fact, in more than 2500 missions I have never had a perfect flight. I am not assessing you on your ability to fly perfectly – I am assessing you on your ability to adapt and react when the inevitable mistake occurs. You see, I don’t expect you to be perfect, but I do expect you to be impeccable. There is a difference.”

As leaders, we must give our teams permission to fail. In his landmark book “The Lean Startup”, Eric Ries advocates for empowering your team to fail in small ways often so that they can learn how to find the right path to big success. Afterburner’s Flawless Execution methodology teaches the same thing. It is all about making as many trips around the Plan-Brief-Execute-Debrief cycle as possible, each time learning how to pivot and adapt to avoid repeating mistakes or to leverage best practices.

High performing teams don’t always win. They just never fail the same way twice. While in pursuit of inventing the light bulb, Thomas Edison said “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Today, no one talks about those 10,000 failures, and your team’s failures will be a distant memory if they improve after each mistake.

  1. Give your teams permission to fail, but never the same way twice.
  2. Identify and capture lessons learned through a thorough debrief after each project.
  3. Align your team to a common strategic goal so they can clearly see what they’re working towards.

By giving the student pilots under my authority the option to fail, I would give them their greatest chance at success. Sometimes the mistakes still piled up and the student would subsequently be removed from flight training. That’s fine – enduring high G-forces miles above the ground moving faster than the speed of sound is not for everybody. You need to know in flight and in business when to throw in the towel and make a massive shift to your strategic direction. However, my students always understood that if they could recover from their mistakes there would be a good chance they would pass the mission and go on to see their dreams come true.

Give your organization the option to fail. Empower your teams to fail early and fail often when the stakes are small so that they can win big when it matters.



Thor is the President of Afterburner, a group of fighter pilots, Navy SEALs and other SpecOps members that leverages the leadership development principles of elite military teams to help corporations achieve their Strategic Objectives.

How to Get Your Project Team to Speak Up in Meetings

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

I’ve never been a “big meeting” kind of guy. While many people find it hard to believe, I’m an introvert (INTJ on the Myers Briggs scale) and I tend to sit there and let the extroverts “think out loud” and the self-promoters hog the conversation. I was once pulled aside by my boss who rightly chastised me for not participating enough.

He told me he not only wanted to hear my opinions, he needed to hear them given my substantial expertise and background in the issues at hand. He was right. After that I tried hard to participate more, but to be honest, it wasn’t easy. Over time and with a lot of practice, I’ve gotten more comfortable in big meetings, but I’d still rather avoid them if I could!

You see, I’m at my best (or at least most comfortable) one-on-one or in very small group meetings. And, I’m not alone.

There are thousands of people just like me, and chances are you have a few on your project team. But like my old boss, you not only want to hear their thoughts and opinions, you need to hear them. That introvert sitting at the end of the conference table, off to the left (which is the best place to “hide” in a meeting) could probably save you from an embarrassing situation with a key stakeholder, or might have the best idea to solve a thorny problem.

So, how do you get that person to speak up?

Writing for Harvard Business Review, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene offer the following suggestions for ferreting out that important information from your team.

Take anonymous polls.

Ask people to write down questions or concerns on index cards, put them into a bowl and read them aloud without using names. Better yet, use a polling app or device to query meeting participants and see their answers in real time.

Heat map the topic.

Put poster-size charts of the components of an idea or plan on the wall.  Ask participants to place yellow dots on the charts where they have a question, and red dots where they have a significant concern. Use the dots to guide the conversation.

Break up a big group.

People are more likely to participate in small group discussions. So divide people into teams with specific instructions to discuss any challenges to the proposal at hand. Appoint a representative from each group to summarize their and their colleagues’ thoughts.

Ask them to empathize.

People are often more willing to speak on others’ behalf than their own. So when you solicit opinions with a question like “What objections or concerns might your direct reports have?” it can open the floodgates of reaction. That’s because it allows those in the room to externalize criticism.  It’s not what they don’t like. It’s what they think their people won’t like.

I’d like to suggest two more ideas:

Meet with your team members individually.

Sure, it takes more time but you’ll avoid all those weird meeting dynamics inherent in large gatherings.

Use the old school technique of calling on the person who’s not speaking.

While you don’t want to embarrass someone into participating in the discussion, projects are important and soliciting your team members’ thoughtful advice trumps worrying about whether they feel as if they’re being picked on.

And one last piece of advice: the next time someone doesn’t speak up but approaches you later with concerns about what was said or decided in the meeting, remind them that it’s important for them to participate in the group setting.  It shifts the burden of action from them to you, and we both know you have better things to do.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s Leadership training at www.iil.com. [/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs. 

Acknowledging the “Unseen” for their Contributions!

By Judith W. Umlas 
Sr. Vice President, Author, and Trainer – IIL

Before the holidays, I asked IIL VP of Worldwide Distribution Steve Osborn for the home address of someone in our company who had truly gone above and beyond for the Grateful Leadership initiative, and to whom I was extremely grateful. I thought that a gift would be the best way to express my gratitude. Instead, Steve then suggested that I consider all of the “unseen” people who worked tirelessly to make the Grateful Leadership courses, eLearning programs, materials, the gift packages available for people in order to help make the difference it has been our intention to make. These people, he said, are unseen, but their work is absolutely necessary to the success of this effort! And what was I going to do about this “condition”?

Hmmm…I wondered.  What would I do about it in the context of “walking the walk” and not just talking the talk? This was becoming a familiar theme for me by now, but one I hadn’t recognized as taking place in our own company. In a wonderful book called The Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo wrote this in one of the passages: “I See You! …I Am Here!” was the title of it.  “For centuries,” he wrote, people “have greeted each other in this way. When one becomes aware of his brother or sister coming out of the bush, he exclaims, ‘I See You!’ and then the one approaching rejoices, ‘I Am Here!’ This timeless bearing witness is both simple and profound… for with this simple and direct affirmation, it is possible to claim our own presence to say, ‘I Am Here.’” When I read this beautiful passage, it spoke of the critical nature of seeing people – of acknowledging their value, their gifts and their talents. But how was I to acknowledge those I could not see?

Another example of this had occurred when I led a Grateful Leadership webinar for a Scandinavian company recently, and a participant named Knut shared that there is a Norwegian expression: “Det er viktig å bli sett” eller “Viktigheten av å bli sett,” which means “the importance of being seen.” Knut said, “Everyone needs to see and be seen…recognition, appreciation and feedback are important for each and every one to maintain a sense of humanity, personal worth and the feeling of being part of the surrounding social groups.” I thought this was totally correct, but I had missed it where it truly mattered – at “home,” in my own company!

But how was I going to be able to see…and acknowledge the unseen supporters of this important work in a place that I don’t work on a day-to-day basis? At the suggestion of the VP, I spoke with Melina Africa, Production and Administrative Support Manager at IIL Worldwide Distribution there. “Who are the unseen supporters of Grateful Leadership?” I asked. I now wanted to acknowledge each and every one of them, even though I hadn’t really thought about them (shame on me) a lot previously. Here’s what Melina had to say:

“I think I am a Grateful Leader,” she said a bit tentatively at first. “I know absolutely I couldn’t get the major projects we do at a moment’s notice for IIL companies and customers around the world, without our whole team. Just this week we got an order for IIL Printing on Friday afternoon that had to be completed and shipped and delivered by Monday morning, and everyone worked until the job got done. I know they would do anything for this company!” I started getting a guilt attack, but encouraged her to say more. “If even one of them were gone, I would be dead in the water. The team starts answering my emails and fielding phone calls when they know I can’t come up for air. The administrative group drops everything to come help out on IIL Printing jobs whenever needed. The virtual team was here all weekend to help support a pilot for a new client. The sales team tirelessly makes phone calls and helps our customers with their educational needs. The FedEx driver, Eddy, waits as long as he possibly can for our packages so that we don’t have to drive them hours away to St. Louis. They are all just amazing people, and almost no one ever sees or knows of their existence.”

I was shocked by my own lack of appreciation of all of these tireless, committed, loyal and happy workers. So I decided to express it tangibly, and sent a whole bunch of chocolate covered strawberries, which, I am told, were gobbled up in about 60 seconds! I included a heartfelt note that expressed my gratitude and appreciation to the IIL Monett team for all their hard work that goes essentially unnoticed.

So here are some of the wonderful people who work night and day to support all of us who benefit from IIL’s transformational Grateful Leadership initiative, and all the other wonderful courses and products that IIL offers.


Join me, please, in thanking and appreciating and expressing our gratitude to all of these wonderful people.  And learn from my mistakes and do seek the unseen in your organization, family or community…and acknowledge them for what they contribute to your life and work!


Judith W. Umlas is Sr. Vice President and trainer at International Institute for Learning, Inc. She is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Power of Acknowledgment  and two other books which have been credited with changing workplaces and lives.

Judith delivers inspiring, motivational and transformational keynote addresses, course and webinars on Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment all over the world. Grateful Leadership and The Power of Acknowledgment are Judith’s passion, mission and her purpose!

Want to Be a Better Project Leader? Start Asking for Feedback

Executive Vice President – Enterprise Solutions, IIL

You probably haven’t heard of Barbara Mistick, but she did what I should have done many years ago. She asked everyone who worked for her – and with her – for feedback on her leadership skills.

After all, do you know a better way to get feedback than to ask people?

If you’re only relying on the annual performance review from your boss, you’ll be missing many opportunities to improve on a regular basis. But, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at how Barbara did it as she describes her experience in a recent article in The New York Times.

The first piece of information you should know is that more than ten years ago Barbara was named president and director of the public library system in Pittsburgh, established by the industrialist-turned -philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Interestingly enough, she was only the second “non-librarian” to hold the post. Lacking credentials in the field, she realized she would have to rely on her interpersonal and diplomatic skills to gain the respect of her staff.

[trx_quote cite=”http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/31/jobs/leadership-means-learning-to-look-behind-the-mask.html” title=”Barbara Mistick” style=”1″]We each have more control of our future than we recognize. One of the most powerful ways we can take charge of developing new skills is to ask for feedback. [/trx_quote]

She also knew that because she was the head of the organization, her staff would want to please her by providing her with generally positive information rather than the critical insights and guidance she needed to make the best decisions. As she remarks, the higher you go, the less likely you are to receive honest assessments on all aspects of your work, especially your leadership style.

Barbara took on the role when it was in the midst of a multi-decade fiscal crisis. Accordingly, everyone was nervous that their jobs were on the line. In such an unstable environment, many people keep their opinions to themselves, try to stay under the radar, and hope it’s the person in the next cube who’s going to get the pink slip.

She was putting out fires day in and day out and never had enough time to make sense of the diffuse and guarded information she was receiving.  Once she had been there for a while, she felt more comfortable asking for feedback and she started with a 360-degree management assessment.

Barbara learned that the 360-degree assessment provided plenty of data about her specific competencies, but little overall direction in terms of the big picture. She’s convinced that when you want input on specific skills the 360 is a great place to start, but if you really want insight on the most important priorities for personal change, “it takes honest conversation with those who know you best.”

Over the years she made a valiant effort to have those conversations. But, let’s face it, it’s not easy for our colleagues, especially those who report directly to you to provide the kind of unvarnished information you really need to improve. But that shouldn’t deter you: identify those folks who will “tell it like it is” and encourage them to be honest.

After six years as the head of the library system, Barbara accepted a position as president of a university. Before she left, however, she asked her direct reports, librarians, branch managers, and employers one and two levels down what could she have done to improve performance. The request caught a lot of people by surprise. But their answers were illuminating and helpful. While it was too late to use that information in her current job, it proved invaluable for her next position.

Barbara’s experience is a lessons learned for all of us as project and program managers. If you want to be a better leader you’ve got to ask for feedback in a variety of ways. The best place to start is with a 360-degree assessment. It’s quick, easy, and yields pivotal information to help you be a better leader. But don’t stop there, ask those who know you best and really want to see you improve. Had I done what Barbara did, I know I’d be a better leader today, and it’ll make you a better leader too.

[trx_infobox style=”regular” closeable=”no” icon=”icon-desktop”]Learn more about IIL’s 360-degree Competency Assessments at www.iil.com.[/trx_infobox]

LeRoy WardJ. LeRoy Ward is a highly respected consultant and advisor to Global Fortune 500 Corporations and government agencies in the areas of project, program and portfolio management. With more than 38 years of government and private sector experience, LeRoy specializes in working with senior executives to understand their role in project and program sponsorship, governance, portfolio management and the strategic execution of projects and programs.