When I was a teenager, I walked into our family room one evening and found my father on his hands and knees in the middle of the floor.  Around him were four flip charts and he was drawing with crayon freehand on each of the four flip charts.

“What are you doing?” I exclaimed.

“You remember last week when I was in Detroit for four days on that Service Training trip?”

“Yes.  I wasn’t sure which topics you were covering, but does this have any relation to that?”

“Yes.  I am preparing some charts to explain the new transmissions we are introducing in our tractors to our Service Managers and our Field organization.  This is really exciting stuff, but it takes a picture to make it come alive.”

“Didn’t the company give you any material to train your service people with; pictures and descriptions of the new transmission?”

“Well, of course they did.  But I did not think that those handouts really conveyed the ease of operation, and the full leverage that exists with the new transmission.  That is what impressed me the most.”

As he proceeded to fill the four flip charts with diagrams and words, I began to see what a “trainer” my father really was.  I never associated his job as Service Manager in the southeastern District of Ford Tractor as a training job, but he clearly did.

I was amazed that, by the end of the drawing that evening, when he explained the new transmission and its features to me, I actually understood what he was saying.  His pictures and words combined the right thoughts and pictures in my mind to make sense of this new engineering feature.

Now, I have to reflect on this situation today.  Is this why I am a good “trainer?”  Is this why I use words and pictures and diagrams and flow charts to express my ideas and concepts to my audience?  Did I see someone else in action who I copied in my later life as I developed into an excellent trainer?

Yes.  Decidedly, I believe that role models are the most effective means of experiential learning that we can have.  The lasting outcome of having role models in our lives is to provide living, responsive models for our development and our maturity.

I had never really considered my father to be a “trainer” before.  He was a “manager” of a number of other individuals who reported to him in the organization.

There are several principles at work here.  Lou Tice provided these principles in his teachings on developing potential and reaching for your own heights of success.

First, people move toward and become like that which they think about.  Having role models to view and interact with brings us closer to action that resembles the role model’s actions and outcomes.  That is not a literal statement, of course.  It really means that we “imitate” much more than we would think we might in our lives.

Second, people act in accordance with the “truth” as they perceive it to be.  When a role model presents a “truth” to us that matches our own value systems and beliefs, we adopt the mannerisms and processes that the role model exhibits.

What do good role models do that sets them apart from ordinary people?  

I believe that “role models” set the standard for the way a discipline or a field of endeavor is carried out.

First, role models are passionate about the field of their discipline.

Second, role models do more than the minimum required to get the job done.  They have a passion for conveying to other people more than exists on the surface.  Role models are often “risk takers,” but “calculated risk takers.”  They often rise to leadership positions in groups.

Third, role models are not pretentious.  They don’t try to show how much more they know or how much more they can convey.  They are “genuine” in their approach and that “genuineness” shows through to others clearly.

Fourth, role models view “teaching” as part of their job, part of their mission in their field.

Fifth, role models can provide extremely effective experiential learning for project managers.  Because role models can provide feedback and answer questions about their actions and resulting outcomes, they can provide the perfect “simulation” for view.

With the exception of mentoring–a one to one relationship between two persons–more than any other type of learning–classroom, team experience, case studies–role models are the most desirable of all leadership training routes. 

Let me provide a few examples of good project manager role models from my experience. 

There was a project manager with whom I worked at ConocoPhillips whose assignment was to merge three companies occupying the same geographic region into one company that used SAP as the financial and management reporting system for the company.  Before he assembled a project team or talked to the other principal stakeholders in the merger, he traveled around to all the company locations and talked to each employee individually getting feedback and comments on what had worked well in the past, what processes should be maintained, what processes should be abandoned, and how each person felt about their role in the new company to be formed.  At the time, some IT Shared Services Management questioned whether he should not have taken the trip, but rather, whether he should have gotten on with the task at hand of organizing his project team since a deadline loomed in the not-too-distant future for the merged company to be active.  What he did, however, was to successfully gain commitment from everyone at all levels of the organization, while reassuring them of their place in the new organization.  A real WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) example, so to speak.  When he formed his project team, he included many people from each of the three companies who advised and commented quickly on actions of the project team.  Everyone saw this as a great example of a role model at work solidifying the success of his project and the company going forward.

Another example is my introduction of Project Lessons Learned Breakfast Forums to the IT Shared Services PMO organization.  We had not had a formal project lessons learned process in place to that point in time.  I knew that commitment to such a program would only be solidified if I gained the confidence of a few “risk taking” project managers to make it happen.  One project manager stepped forward and volunteered to be the first project manager to address the Breakfast Forum with her project lessons learned.  We videotaped the sessions and they became a hit on our intranet. The project managers who stepped forward and participated in the program became instant role models for other project personnel.

What has your experience been with role models?  Perhaps someone has influenced your actions and behaviors without you really realizing the effect they have had on your thinking and your actions.

Look for role models in every discipline you are involved in.  They are worth the time and effort.  They are the essence of the new project leadership.


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