Do you sometimes feel that if you missed just one meeting with your team the entire project would derail? It may feel good that the team can’t get along without you, but that’s not healthy for the project. The following are some ways you can influence your team even if you’re not there in person.
Dirk was larger than life. He was a helicopter pilot in Kuwait during Desert Storm and helped evacuate a number of troops from life and death situations. He was 6 feet 4 inches tall and built like a rock. When you sat with him in his office, he would pull a set of weights out from under his desk and work out his biceps. His hair was slicked back, he dressed immaculately, and you felt the need to salute him when you passed him in the hall.
As President of the company, his presence was felt everywhere. When he walked into a room, the volume of conversation would go down a notch or two.
Did I mention that he was everywhere? The company held a customer appreciation soiree a number of years ago. Where was Dirk? He was at the end of the buffet table, serving up helpings of asparagus that he nestled right next to the chicken and rice. This ensured he had the opportunity to meet and greet everyone at the dinner.
Do you know what was even more noticeable about Dirk? It was even more evident when he was NOT there. As much as his presence was felt when he was in the room, it was missed even more when he wasn’t.
Are You Missed When You’re Gone?
How about you in your role as a project manager; are you missed when you’re not there? Here’s a simple test to take: arrive late to a standing weekly meeting. It could be a weekly executive debrief, a weekly sales meeting, or even a status update. How many phone calls, texts, or emails do you receive that ask, “Are you coming?” “Where r u?” or “r u joining?” Two or three? Good, then you’re missed. None? You may have a problem.
It’s important to be missed when you’re gone, because people will remember to bring up your biases, opinions, and viewpoints about a matter. For example, someone may interject that they know you wouldn’t like something if it was done a certain way, or, that you would consider it important to finish a particular project in a certain manner. You will be represented even if you’re not present.
It’s the before-you-die equivalent of “he would have wanted it this way.”
How to Be Present When You’re Not There?
In order to ensure you are missed, you need to be OVER-present when you are there! Sure, you can have just enough presence to last that particular meeting you are attending. But, that’s not enough. That presence will be used up the second you walk out the door. You need to have an extra amount of presence that can be stored up for those times that you may not be able to attend. Below are four ways to store up some extra presence.
#1 Stand for Something
Your name must become synonymous with standing for something. Maybe the thing you stand for is impeccable quality. Or, you may have a strong desire to make sure processes are followed. Or, your reputation may be to take care of the customer at any cost. You never deviate from your position when it comes to one of these circumstances.
For example, let’s say you couldn’t make it to one of the weekly meetings where a decision was being made on how to complete a project faster. One idea thrown on the table is to leave out a particular step that everyone (except you) doesn’t consider to be that important. Someone pipes up and says, “Yeah, we can try that. But you know how [insert YOUR name here] is about following the process we’ve all agreed to. I think we should look for a different solution.”
See how that works? People know what you stand for and respect you for that position. So much so that they’ll even serve as a proxy in your behalf when you’re not able to attend.
#2 Fix What’s Not Right
Another way to make your presence known when you’re not there is to fix things when you are there.
What does this mean? Let’s say somebody came in with a deliverable that missed the mark. Yes, they worked on it long and hard, but it missed some key components. You may reason that it’s OK to let a few things slide every now and then. But, that’s a slippery slope. Rather, you need to go back to the person and make sure it’s done right.
Is this easy to do? No. You know they worked hard on it and spent some long days putting it together. You know they have plans with their family over the weekend. You also know that the deliverable is not right and it’s due on Monday. You need to make the tough call and have the work done right.
It’s a painful decision in the short-term. However, it will pay huge dividends in the future when people ask themselves what they think will be acceptable to you. They’ll answer the question the right way without you even being there!
#3 Adhere to Your Own Standards
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t set high standards for other people and then not follow them yourself. That type of behavior is hypocritical. “Do as I say, not as I do” has far reaching consequences that will haunt you throughout your career as a project manager.
Your team and resources watch what you do. They notice if you arrive early and stay a bit later than everyone else. They also notice if you try and sneak in quietly an hour late and hit the road early.
True, most professionals are monitored by performance rather than time served. However, your team needs to be aware of your presence and how seriously you take your job when you are there. The residual effect of your presence will still be evident when you’re not there.
#4 Speak Up and Have an Opinion
We’ve all sat through plenty of meetings where someone is laying out a new idea or concept to the team. You know for a fact that Phil, the marketing guy, doesn’t agree with the concept, as you and he just talked about it the day before. He thinks it’s a bad idea and that it won’t fly. The presenter then gives everyone an opportunity to ask questions or raise any issues.
You look over in Phil’s direction for him to say something. Phil is looking down at his digital device pretending as if he didn’t hear the question.
Oh, he heard the question. You know he did. The problem is that he doesn’t like conflict or to take a contrarian position.
The meeting wraps up with an acknowledgement from the presenter that since there are no questions or issues, the plan will move forward. Meeting adjourned.
Phil takes you aside the second you get into the hall and says, “You know that’ll never work, don’t you?” Why didn’t he say something about that just 60 seconds earlier? Because he was too mousey to speak up and have an opinion.
Do you want your presence to be felt even when you’re not there? Say something when you are! Ask questions, get clarification, agree, disagree, append, amend, expound and pontificate. Do something! Get involved! Let people know you’re present and accounted for, and you’ll be present and accounted for even when you’re gone.
All of us can’t be like Dirk. He was one of a kind and larger than life. But, the next time you find yourself working out your biceps while you offer people asparagus, think about what Dirk was able to accomplish. People would consider him in all their decisions, even if he wasn’t there in person. Apply the suggestions above and you can do the same!