Julia Strain is the CIO of Standard Bank. I know her from the time I worked at Standard Bank as a Program Manager. The interview with Julia Strain was really inspiring. I hadn't come across anyone else who spoke with such clarity and conviction on the importance of using our gut instinct in leadership.
Good leaders have good instincts which they listen to
One of the things that distinguishes a project leader from a project manager is their ability to interpret and challenge data presented to them. A manager can take detail and add things up, but a leader will step back from the detail, listen to their gut feeling and then marry up the two. There’s a huge difference. If you don’t have the ability to stand back and use your instinct you’ll be a manager because you’re relying on the detail. When you look at an estimate for instance you’ve got to stand back from the detail and ask yourself if it feels wrong or if it feels right. The same is true when you have to learn to trust people in your team. You have to take into account what they are saying and weigh it up with your gut instinct.
Good leaders have good instincts that they listen to. They follow what they believe in which makes them much more likely to succeed. Choosing one option and bringing everyone along with you sounds so basic, but it works. One of the major differences between a manager and a leader is that a leader can formulate a clear strategy and can bring people into that strategy. That’s very hard to do unless you’ve honed your instinct and unless you’re prepared to take risks. It all adds up to an inner belief, risk taking, confidence, out of comfort zone, and not being afraid to make a mistake. Instinct is somewhere alongside that. It’s a very powerful thing which drives a lot of our behavior. Most of the time your instinct is absolutely right.
I’m a great believer that people need to hone and listen to their instinct more. Project managers at all levels can do that by observing things that work out well and not so well on a day-to-day basis, and tying that to their gut feeling. They can start off gently by asking themselves what they thought was wrong and what was right. How did they feel when they first did something? 9 times out of 10 people will find that they had a funny feeling and that’s what they need to capitalise on. – Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
Be ready to stop the project
If your users don’t make it clear what they want, or if decisions aren’t being made by the right people, you should be prepared to stop the project! It’s hard to stop something, but it forces people to think. – Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
Understand how the end result will help the business
Let everyone know the bigger picture and why they are doing something. It’s important they understand what the end result is and how it will help the business. It’s also a good idea to get someone from the business or key stakeholders to talk to team members every now and again so that they can relate their tasks to something that people are going to use. It makes a big difference when people know that the piece they are working on actually is going to have an impact in the real world. - Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
As a project leader your role is not necessarily to come up with new ways of doing things but to give people the means and the environment in which they can do it. It’s an enabling function. If someone from your team has a great idea, get them to assess how it links to cost savings, impacts delivery and improves what you are doing. It’s not enough to just come up with a random idea; they must be able to apply it to the project’s drivers in a practical way. – Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
Don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions
You can’t bury yourself in the detail and in the tasks. If you don’t understand the team dynamics you’ll end up with a task-driven project which can never be as successful as having a team work together. And don’t be afraid to make that hard decision if someone is not pulling their weight. Do something about it as otherwise it festers in the team. The way to do it is to test people and to give them one or two chances. You make it fairly open with the individual. Then you give them a choice. - Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
Stepping up requires risk taking and being prepared to make mistakes
Getting to the next level isn’t going to be easy, because people have to be prepared to take risks and get out of their comfort zone. It is going to be uncomfortable and people will stuff up and make wrong decisions along the way. But what’s important is how they handle those mistakes. Handling a mistake well is much more important than never making a mistake. Good leaders understand that if they fail there is an impact and they manage that. They are prepared to take risks and to take responsibility. For those who do want to make the leap, there are great rewards, but it does mean that they have to start trusting their instinct, as that’s the only thing they can really rely on. The way to do that is to just try it and to not be afraid to fail. Failing isn’t the worst think in the world. The more you get used to operating outside of your comfort zone the easier it is going to be. The first time you do something new it’s always going to be scary, but it becomes easier the more you do it. I have actually found that many people operate very well when they are slightly outside of their comfort zone. It gives them a bit of an edge. – Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank
Poor project managers get too bogged down in process
“Poor project manages get too bogged down in process and allows that to give them confidence that everything is going great. Everyone is working hard and the status reports are being completed. All the boxes have been ticked, but suddenly they get to delivery day and nothing is there. It’s a paper-based project and the first delivery check-point was too far into the distance. The other big issue is that inexperienced project managers get too bogged down in detail and don’t stand back enough. They re-plan and re-plan but actually don’t deliver anything. The biggest failure however, is not necessarily when someone misses a delivery date; but when they don’t understand why they didn’t deliver.” - Julia Strain, CIO, Standard Bank