International Project Management Day




PROJECT PARENTHOOD

Agile Parenting: Compassionate Courage

by Geof Lory, PMP


In the previous articles in this series on the Agile Parenting Manifesto I have presented tenets that focus on a choice: a choice between emphasizing Goals and Purpose over rules and processes or Releasing Human Potential over conforming to preconceived outcomes. Both of these articles illustrated how a preference of the less tangible and more uncertain possibilities can develop children and build project teams that are better prepared for extreme project environments.

This month we'll continue with exploring the soft-skill side of project management and parenting and talk about exercising Courage, which is less a preference and more a binary choice. You do it or you don't. The only variance is how often you make which choice.

The first two values of Agile Parenting set a solid foundation for execution. Leadership and parenting that emphasize goals, purpose, curiosity and adventure will properly position children and teams for success. However, without courage there can be no execution, and in the end, we are all looking for results.

The reason courage is so important as a basic value is that projects—like life—extend into the future, which is by definition uncertain. This uncertainty, and the inability to control it, creates fear if the outcome is potentially negative. Sometimes it doesn't matter whether the potential outcome is perceived as positive or negative; the mere fact that it is uncertain and different creates a doubt. Put all of this together and you have the biggest productivity drain to a project team – FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Courage is acting on your convictions in the face of your own fears. My fellow author Doug DeCarlo calls it "doing it scared." Courage is the ability to move forward toward a goal into the unknown with a sense of purpose. It isn't foolishly charging ahead ignoring the consequences; it is a mindful act to not allow the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt to poison or impede your progress.

The FUD factor on a team is a measurable quality. High FUD factors build up and clog open communications, cloud the project vision and jeopardize project success. Fortunately, project managers can combat FUD with Compassionate Courage. So, here is the third value of the Agile Parent Manifesto:

Compassionate Courage is almost an oxymoron. They are two words you don't typically hear in the same breath. Courage has a forceful and almost machismo tone to it, while compassion sounds yielding and soft. Put them together and you can create a velvet hammer that breaks down project FUD.

I believe that these two words complement each other like individuals on any good team do. Neither is as good alone as they are together. Courage creates the forward motion into the unknown, but compassion engages the spirit in a way that provides meaning and purpose, passion and emotion to the action.

We rarely hear people talk about passion when they are in the work place, but there is no lack of it away from the job. If you don't believe me, stop by at any grade school sporting event and watch the parents. You'll see passion. Growing up playing hockey, my mother watched almost all my games;I know because I could hear her from the stands. Sometimes I think she cared more than I did. Looking back, she was mostly just afraid I would get hurt. But I was a goalie, so I guess that's understandable. I had created an environment of high FUD that she overcame with compassionate courage and lots of hot chocolate.

Children recognize compassionate courage because it exudes safety, something that reduces their personal FUD factor. As parents we have an obligation to minimize the FUD factor for our children while they are developing the requisite skills to do it themselves.

Compassion understands and accepts, even if it doesn't approve or condone. It believes there is a better way and is willing to work to find it, even if it requires an element of vulnerability. Courage is the conviction and belief that the potential outcome exceeds the risk of the vulnerability. I think one without the other suffers greatly in its potential.

The alternative to Compassionate Courage is convenient complacency, which is really a path of self-serving least resistance. It's the unconscious way out. Face it, we all want to be loved by our children (and liked by our co-workers) and doing anything that would jeopardize that relationship, especially in an irreparable way, brings with it an amount of FUD.

Doing the difficult and often painful thing, risking undesirable outcomes, but doing it because you hold true feelings for the betterment of a person or future state, shows compassion and courage. In parenting it is called tough love, at work it is a quality of a leader. Without Compassionate Courage, our other values are merely academic.

Unfortunately, we all too often take the easy route of complacency or social compliance with phrases like, "I didn't want to hurt his/her feelings," and "I'm running a project, not a therapy session." Or my personal self-justification when I wimp out, "It wouldn't make any difference because he/she is not willing to listen anyway." In my part of the country we call it "Minnesota nice." It is neither exclusive to Minnesota nor truly nice. It's a cop-out.

So, to practice Compassionate Courage and develop it in our children and project teams, as Agile Parents we follow these principles:

Ever since my daughters were old enough to have a FUD factor, I have tried to create a world for them that was safe and certain. I monitored it through a divorce, new schools, sports, boyfriends, learning to drive and numerous other transitional life events. I would be lying if I said they all turned out perfectly and there were never any negative outcomes. I can't control the future for my children any more than I can for my projects. But I can take courageous and compassionate steps to reduce the FUD factor and increase the chance of success, and that is good enough for me, as a project manager and a parent.






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