I tell new leaders this story all the time. When I was a young Project Manager for a Fortune 500 Company I was given a very important Project that had visibility all the way up to the CEO of the company. I was so excited. This was my big chance to show what a skilled Project Manager I was. I spent weeks assembling the best and brightest minds in the company. Three months into the Project we were on time, on budget, and meeting every key deliverable.
One day my boss asked me to report on how we were doing on the Project at the next senior leadership meeting. I couldn’t wait. I was so proud of our progress. I put together a beautiful presentation and reviewed our timelines, budget, and key accomplishments to date.
Then, it hit me like a Mack truck, the senior leadership team started asking a lot of questions. Questions like “why this was going to take six months longer than they thought?” and “cost more money than was planned?” They wanted to know why they weren’t told sooner? What’s worse is that these questions were directed at my boss, who in turn said “this is the first I have heard of this.”
What? First he heard of this? What was he talking about? I quickly realized that I had not been keeping him informed of our progress, and he clearly had been promising a much quicker timeline than what I was reporting.
Needless to say, my boss spent the rest of the afternoon badgering me about why he hadn’t been advised sooner. I left that day wondering if I should ever come back, or if they even wanted me back. The next morning, I decided to review the Project plan with my boss in detail. That’s when he gave me some of the best advice I have ever received.
He said “Mark, this is really good work, excellent in fact. But you have to remember something. When you have a high profile project you have two paths that can be followed: manage expectations or manage emotions. If you don’t manage expectations, you better be damn good at managing emotions.”
The key lesson is that you can have the right team. You can have a great plan. You can be moving faster than any other team, but if the key stakeholders are expecting something else, then you are in trouble.
I have never forgot that lesson. As a leader, you must manage expectations or be damn good at managing emotions. I have learned over the years that managing expectations will get you much further and you will build credibility as someone who is able to deliver on what they promised.
My name is Mark Behl. My passion is leadership. I share ideas, not lectures. If you would like to share an idea with me, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you come back for future posts.