When we think of the characteristics of a good team player, we tend to come up with attributes such as demonstrating selflessness, possessing empathy, or being a good communicator. While these are all critical to creating a high performing team, one trait of effective project managers and team members is the ability to do things which take them outside of their comfort zone. In other words, courage.
Why do I consider courage to be so critical?
Courage won’t guarantee that right decisions will get made, but it might prevent some bad ones.
Presented with an unrealistic deadline to deliver fixed scope with fixed resources and budget, if no one demonstrates courage by raising concerns or by negotiating for a feasible commitment, the team might have just signed up for their very own real-life Kobayashi Maru scenario.
Perhaps a sponsor or other senior stakeholder is pushing for the use of a particular delivery approach for political reasons. If it is not the best fit for the needs of the project, it’s rare that the accountability for this bad decision would fall on that stakeholder but it’s more likely that the team will bear the brunt of the issues.
Maybe the business case for your project is no longer attractive. It might be safer to keep your head down and continue to deliver according to approved baselines, but wouldn’t it be better for your company, your team and your own career if you were to bring this concern to the sponsor or other appropriate governance body?
Maybe your organization’s project management methodology requires the completion of a particular artifact. No one on your team believes it adds any delivery or risk control value. If you don’t have the courage to ask “Why?” or to seek an exemption, you’ve likely lost some credibility with your team members.
Courage preserves integrity by enabling us to operate with transparency
It’s hard to tell your customer that there is a unrecoverable variance or other critical issue with their project. But if we candy-coat this message, or worse, avoid telling the customer entirely, the truth will out, and the fall out is likely to be much worse than if we’d summoned the courage to break the bad news in a timely manner.
Maybe one of your fellow team members is behaving in a manner which is irritating others. If we don’t have the courage to provide coaching or constructive feedback sensitively but directly to that team member and give them an opportunity to respond, we aren’t demonstrating respect for that team member or our team.
Courage enables us to grow
Whether your project is being delivered using an adaptive or a deterministic life-cycle, team members and your company as a whole will benefit if they occasionally work on activities which fall outside of their core specialization, if doing so benefits the team. Developing generalizing specialists will take support from both functional managers and from one’s peers, but it also requires a healthy dose of courage for us to try something for the first time, knowing that we might fail. This applies not only to the activities performed by team members, but also the types of projects or work assignments we ourselves take on.
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou