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What does authentic adaptability mean? How can we, as project managers (PMs), ensure that we can be as authentic as possible to as many people as possible? Authenticity has become a buzzword in recent years, so I want to really dig into what it means to be true to yourself, while also being accommodating to others.
As leaders and PMs, we’re required to wear a lot of hats and juggle ever-changing project demands and challenges. We’re responsible for keeping track of tasks and deadlines, overarching client goals and project objectives, and even potential upsell opportunities. The work is never ending and it can even prove to be overwhelming at times if you want to be a successful PM.
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Another, albeit implicit, aspect of being a successful PM is knowing how to be the leader your team members need. I say this as a reformed people-pleaser, but I do believe that it’s valuable to be able to know what people need and accommodate that (to a point). On any given project, you’ll encounter different personalities and each will thrive under different parameters. People are going to have their own preferences and I think where we’re able, it is in the best interest of the team and the company (and ourselves) to adapt while keeping in mind future growth and scalability.
Defining a Project Manager
Finding common ground with your team members and meeting them where they are is an essential part of being a good leader and PM, but you can’t solely rely on emotional intelligence to do a good job. A great PM will marry both EQ and IQ, both relationships and tactics. And when I think about what it means to be a great, ride-or-die project manager and leader, a few traits come to mind. (Remember these words because I’ll circle back to them in a bit.):
Alright, I’ve talked at length now about what makes up an adaptable and authentic project manager, but I’ve really only given you food for thought rather than actionable takeaways. So how do we adopt a flexible, adaptable approach to our projects and our team, without inadvertently hampering our own efforts? Here’s my short list of Don’ts that will hopefully help you answer that question.
1. Don’t fake it til you make it.
I’ve found that people can generally tell when you’re just going through the motions and not truly shifting to the demands of a new role, project, or challenge. If they think that you don’t know what you’re doing, it will be hard for them to trust your direction and judgment. My advice is to not only double down on research collection and dig into challenges but to also observe others. How do colleagues communicate with you, their coworkers, and their clients? How does your leadership interact with those same groups? While you’re finding those observations, look for a variety of industry role models and learn from their successes and shortcomings, and improve on them.
Armed with this data, you’ll be able to test different approaches and develop your leadership style without having to wing it. An added bonus to this is that you’ll be gathering data on yourself in the process, which quickly negates the need to “fake it.”
2. Don’t become unbalanced.
There are scores of personality profile tests out there, and most will offer the disclaimer that people generally don’t fit nicely into one box. Your true personality lies somewhere on a scale between two extremes. Similarly, think of your leadership approach on a scale that is completely closed off on one end with unfiltered openness at the other. You are naturally going to fit somewhere on that scale, but the goal is to nudge yourself in one direction or the other, depending on the circumstances. Now consider another, separate scale that goes from floundering and unfamiliar to knowledgeable and experienced. Again, depending on the topic or situation, you’ll naturally sit somewhere on this scale.
Now for some geometry. Imagine both scales intersecting where you effortlessly fit. It’s great to be confident in your role and clear in a project’s direction, but that’s not always going to happen. At some point in everyone’s careers, we’re going to encounter uncharted territory, whether it’s a new role, a different project type, or a difficult personality. During those times, both or your scales are sure to shift dramatically. But, if you’re simultaneously closed off and withholding information from your team or the client, the project is at risk of failing. So, when uncertainty does come your way, it’s important to find a balance between transparency and confidence and prepare to re-calibrate often. If you’re struggling with where to start, see item #1 above.
3. Don’t try to be perfect.
There’s an old saying attributed to Voltaire, “perfect is the enemy of good.” And you may have heard of the Pareto principle (or 80–20 rule) which states that usually 20% of the time is devoted to completing 80% of a task, and to complete the last 20% of a task requires 80% of the effort. As an aside, we use this principle a lot in our SEO efforts for client websites – it’s better to push live a handful of meaningful optimizations more quickly, and then spend additional time and energy developing a more in-depth optimization strategy.
This is applicable in leadership roles and adaptability, too. It’s far better to incrementally change your approach than to try to radically change your entire personality in one go. At the end of the day, we’re never going to be faultless. There will always be some small improvement or modification we could make, a situation we could have handled better, or a blindside we should have seen coming. Rather than let perfection paralyze you, do something, anything, to inch toward becoming the embodiment of a great project manager.
Channeling Authentic Adaptability In Your Life
Ultimately, true authentic adaptability all boils down to finding the specific intersectionality between who you are and who you want to be. Remaining true to where your abilities are right now, but being receptive to change so that you can become an improved version of your authentic self. Make a list of cornerstones you currently possess or aspire to, then work through the tips above to hone or craft them. Here’s mine:
Above, I listed the traits a strong PM should have. But, they are just that – arbitrary traits. Anyone can be organized and informed, but when those traits are combined with authenticity and adaptability, they become meaningful to your life and work. Skills coupled with authenticity make up the cornerstones for leadership.
Remember, make small changes modeled after respected individuals and research, while simultaneously striving to maintain an ever-shifting balance. Above all, it’s important to remain true to yourself to find your authenticity. It’s a lot to juggle, but project managers and leaders have a lot of practice.
What’s on your list? Who do you want to be? Tell me in the comments – I’d love to hear your take!
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