Do You Really Care About Your People?

Do you really care about your people? I mean really.

I have to admit there have been times in my project management career when I cared more about the project than the people. After all, I was under a lot of pressure to deliver the project come hell or high water. And my reputation and career were on the line.

When I think back, I’m not proud of how I handled some situations. I said and did some things that caused others harm. Nothing unethical; just ungracious, unkind, and uncaring.

Can you relate?

Care For Your People First

The Story of William Osler

In his book—The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader— John Maxwell shared a story about William Osler, a doctor, university professor, and author who practiced medicine. Osler once wrote:

There is a strong feeling abroad among people—you see it in the newspaper—that we doctors are given over nowadays to science; that we care much more for the disease and its scientific aspects than for the individual . . . I would urge you in your own practice, to care more particularly of the individual patient . . . Dealing as we do with poor suffering humanity, we see the man unmasked, exposed to all the frailties and weaknesses, and you have to keep your heart soft and tender lest you have too great a contempt for your fellow creatures.

Osler’s comments apply to our world of project management. I fear that we have “given over nowadays to science.” That is to say, we think more about our systematic body of knowledge and the diseases of our projects than the people. Furthermore, some project managers believe their education, training, and certifications put them above others.

This attitude is a lose-lose proposition. Why? Theodore Roosevelt put it best, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

What About Getting the Work Done?

My wife and I had the privilege of raising a son and a daughter. By the grace of God, they have become wonderful young adults. I remember times when I would get angry with each child for not doing what I asked them to do. When I laid down the law, I would make a withdrawal from their emotional bank accounts.

My wife— a counselor—would gently say to me, “Relationship before responsibility.” What was she saying? Focus on your relationship with the child first—love and care for them. When I would get this right, I often found the child completed their responsibilities with less prompting.

I believe this principle is true in our team member relationships. As we truly care for individuals, it opens the door for richer, more functional relationships. And people are much more likely to do their project work.

Sounds Too Soft?

As we care for others, I’m not talking about being a doormat. Yes, we must ensure that individuals complete their project activities. But, I believe we can lead and manage in a manner that shows respect and care. Along the way, we can build healthy, productive relationships.

Are there times when project managers must lead with a strong hand? Yes. For example, urgent mission-critical situations require direct commands (similar to a crisis). There’s little time for building relationships. Even here, I would encourage project managers to show respect and care for their team members.

How to Lead with Care

Effective leaders understand the value of care. Project managers have many ways to show care and concern for their team members. Here are a few:

  • Say thanks. Caring leaders show appreciation when team members complete their work, especially for significant activities. Consider writing a thank you note or simply taking a moment to visit the team member to say thanks.
  • Celebrate. Has your team reached a major milestone? It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but take time to celebrate. 
  • Ask questions. Seek to understand other’s perspectives.
  • Show concern. Through the years, I’ve seen team members who are dealing with challenging personal issues such as a sick family member. Use good judgment and discretion, but let the individual know that you are thinking of them.
  • Walk humbly. The best leaders are humble leaders. Showcase your mistakes as an opportunity for teaching and discussion. Guard against “winning” arguments (and even having arguments). Admit that you don’t have all the answers and ask for help.
  • Forgive others. Someone hurt you on a project…really bad…three years ago. It may have been intentional or maybe not. Either way, that past grievance is keeping you from reaching your greatest potential. The unforgiveness is only hurting you. Forgive the individual. Release it. Put it in the past.
  • Look for ways to serve others. Max de Pree said, “The first job of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” I appreciate the example of Jesus who came not to be served but to serve. In what ways are you humbling yourself and serving others?

10 Simple Ways to Thank Your Project Team

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