Sam Fleming is the Head of Project Delivery at British Gas Plc. I first met Sam at a project event at British Gas in 2013. Her passion for coaching project managers and bringing the best out in them shone through from the very beginning. She was one of the very first I interviewed for the book and I just love her comments about emotional intelligence.
How to spot a Project Leader
Soft skills are critical in defining project leaders and high performing individuals. Key elements are always around people skills, emotional intelligence, calm non-aggressive ways of handling conflict and negotiations – and ultimately, having the confidence to challenge the status quo and look for the most effective and efficient ways of delivery. The other critical ability is the propensity to learn and the desire to coach others. Every great leader has this inherent trait which allows constant progress and higher patterns of thinking. Finally, they must be able to effectively address the human impacts of change (far beyond systems and process) and put themselves in the shoes of customers, employees, executives and ultimately, the shareholders to embed change and make it a success at every level. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc
The best way to grow into a leader is to listen
We often plan what we want to say (and how we want to be perceived) in our heads, rather than actually listening to the person talking. This promptly truncates your propensity to learn as well as shuts down that Emotional Intelligence aspect of observing the ‘Awareness of Others’. In addition, actively analyze leaders that inspire you... and don’t be afraid to experiment using similar techniques with your own team. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc
Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence
My first inkling was about 5 years ago when I worked for a company that executed a huge outsourcing of their IT department. As Senior Managers we spent over a week with Occupational Physiologist’s who taught us a number of techniques for handling our own emotions through this huge business change. More recently I took those learning’s further through a Senior Management training programme and actually sat in a room and wept as I realized how our background and life events create the person we are today in a professional environment. I realized that I had been behaving and communicating with certain people, based on old mind traps (one example was that I’d swapped from proving myself to my father to proving myself to my manager. No wonder my manager was confused as to my behaviors; he wasn't my dad, and he had already accepted me!). The Monday after the programme, I walked to the office doors and stopped. I smiled. In my head I mimed putting a package down by the front door. That package contained all the behavioral history of my past that had leached into my professional ‘being’ but it no longer had a place. I felt weightless, at peace and most of all... set free. That package is still metaphorically there by those doors today.
I believe the key to great leadership (be it of a project or an operation) is the ability to be adept at the awareness of ourselves and the awareness of others. This is a higher level of awareness where we can interpret the emotional state we are in and the emotional state of the individual or audience we are engaging with. Words themselves only make up a tiny percentage of what we take from a ‘conversation’. Tone of voice, body language and intent are what we really ‘take away’ from an encounter. When we get it right, we have a connection that spans the boundaries of stress and short term asks. If project managers can embrace some emotional intelligence and direct that into their teams it unlocks a human behavior that is positively beautiful to behold; it drives an entire culture of consideration, respect, honest conversation, personal power, negotiation (without over assertion), recognition and awareness of how we use ourselves and others for ultimate outcomes.
As a first step, people should learn to recognize their feelings at any moment in time. If we are feeling tired, low, de-energized, irritated, angry, stressed, then our mind and mouth are likely to start operating from a less ‘Emotionally Intelligent’ place. Then we interpret others incorrectly, often layering on our own mind-talk over the top. This impairs our responses and is often very apparent to the other person. Learning to recognize our mood and how to get out of it is key. We’re unlikely to be able to stand in front of our team and motivate them on a Monday morning, if we have just had someone directing a good dollop of road rage at us. Being able to understand ourselves and use varying techniques to get the best out of others and challenging situations is essential if people want to climb the career ladder. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc
It’s ok to be you and it’s ok to be honest
It is very important that you learn to understand who you are and when you are at your best. Leadership excellence is all about knowing that it is ok to be you and that it is ok to be honest. Outstanding leadership is just you on a very good day! The major affliction, however, is that vast swathes of us suffer from a fear of failure, meaning that we either never try to apply ourselves to great leadership or only shoot for goals that are easily within reach. I see this frequently in my team which frankly stuns me; these folks hold millions of pounds in budgets and yet are too nervous of failure to really attempt to try anything different from the standard pattern of project management. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc
Everything is wanted ‘faster, cheaper, better’
Everything is wanted ‘faster, cheaper, better’ which is the mantra of most executive leadership teams. Companies are now fully bought into the ‘Single Customer View’ within their technology estates, and only invest in expensive solutions if they lead to cheaper projects of the future and a better all round view of their customers so that communication is tailored and opportunities are gained. So the challenge for project managers seems increasingly to encourage the business to ask for the right level of requirements and foster them into adopting standard functionality moving away from costly customizations. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc
Project managers are not the ultimate decision makers!
Project managers offer a unique skill set; they are the master facilitators, the linguists that translate between diverse organizations, they dissect vast change into baby steps of successful delivery, and they stand up in the face of adversity and negotiate the best outcome for a win:win. But when they start to behave as if they are the ultimate decision makers, credibility is lost, confidence and authority is diluted and teams members start to feel devalued and disengage. It is vital that project managers go to the correct subject matter experts for the appropriate knowledge and that they engage, coach and mentor more inexperienced members of their project teams. – Sam Fleming, Head of Project Delivery, British Gas Plc