One of my parents’ sayings which used to irritate me when I was much younger was “Act your age!”. In those days, it was usually a critique of some immature behavior or action on my part.
As project managers, we usually are “acting our age” but might there be some benefits in channeling the child within us?
See the forest from the trees
Professional magicians sometimes have difficulty in fooling younger children with their magic tricks. While an adult can be easily misled by sleight of hand, small children haven’t learned to focus their attention on a single thing for long and are more likely to witness the magician’s misdirection.
On our projects, it can be easy to get tunnel vision.
A critical issue or a variance in a key constraint might command all of our attention but we could end up missing something else going on which could cause us bigger problems down the road.
Ask “Why?” (or “Why Not?”)
For parents, one of the less endearing traits of many small children is their incessant questioning of each and every decision. Through a combination of ignorance and a belief that anything is possible, kids are seldom content with the response “Because I said so”.
As we get older, we are conditioned to accept what we hear, especially when it comes from a respected source.
Asking “Why?” or “Why not?” is a great way to surface invalid assumptions and to challenge long standing practices that have ceased to be valuable.
Most of us have heard the saying “Curiosity killed the cat”. But not everyone is aware that the full saying is “Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back”.
Kids are curious about absolutely everything and will go out of their way to experiment and explore. As we mature, we create boundaries for ourselves. John Cleese’s line from Silverado “Today my jurisdiction ends here” could be the mantra for many of the project managers I have met.
But such behavior, while safe for us, might reduce the creativity of our team and, like not asking “Why?”, might prevent us from improving project outcomes.
If there’s one thing which small children will prioritize, it is having fun. As we get older and our responsibilities increase, we lose sight of the importance of having fun in the work we do. While there are always going to be challenges with projects, seeking opportunities to make our work enjoyable will reduce our stress and increase the engagement of our team members.
So when managing projects, its okay to NOT act your age!
(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)