#Toastmasters—The Benefits and Pitfalls of a Dual Membership


1. Benefits of Regular Membership

I’m sure if you talk to anyone who is a member of Toastmasters, they will tell you about the benefits of membership in the group. Being a better speaker, being a better leader, developing self-confidence—all those reasons are valid. They certainly have rung true for me.

When I ask new members what brought them to Toastmasters, the answer usually includes the fact that knew someone in the organization that told them about the benefits of being a member. However, when a person decides to take the next step and visit a Toastmasters club, what do they do? They go to the Toastmasters International website at http://www.toastmasters.org/and go to the left-hand side where it says “Meeting Locations” right above a red button which says “FIND a location near you”. But what happens if, especially in a crowded metropolitan area like Los Angeles where I live, you find a list of 10 or more clubs near where you live? THEN how do you choose?

2. Pitfalls of a Dual Membership—too much confusion for a newbie
My best advice would be to go to someone’s club whom you know as a Toastmaster—they will be able to give you the “inside scoop” on how the club runs. Although Toastmasters International gives general guidelines on how to conduct meetings, it is surprising to learn that not every club runs in exactly the same way. Just like individual people, individual clubs have their own personalities.

We had one member who liked the location of our club, which we shared with another club that meets on the other alternate Tuesdays of the month. She decided to join both clubs and was totally confused by the fact that the two clubs’ meetings were run differently. In the end, she chose to be in our club because it “fit” better with her personality.

So joining two clubs at first, and then deciding later on the one you like best is NOT recommended. When WOULD I recommend such a thing?

3. Benefits of a Dual Membership

Some clubs are general membership clubs, that is, they are open to all members. Some clubs are corporate clubs that are closed membership clubs, that is, you can only belong to the club if you are a member of that corporation. This is mainly because the club usually meets at that corporation’s office or related facility.

However, there are some clubs which are “special purpose” or “themed” clubs. When I decided to become a project manager, I found out there was a special club devoted just to those who were project managers or who aspired to become one. I wanted to join that club, but I was quite happily “married” to another club where I had been a member for a year and a half. Besides, I was a club officer in the original club and so I didn’t rightly feel like “abandoning my post”. So I decided to join the 2nd club as a “dual member”.

Once I joined the second club, which I was able to do because it met on a different night of the week; I realized that it gave me certain benefits or advantages. These seemed to outweigh the disadvantages.

Let me expand on these advantages and disadvantages. The fact that you are in two clubs gives you twice as many chances to speak. When you are working an advanced level of communication award, each level requires you to do 5 speeches each from 2 different manuals. In my regular club, I have decided to do the “Entertaining Speeches” manual. However I will do speeches more geared towards professional presentations from a manual called “Speaking To Inform” in the club that is geared towards project managers. That way I can pursue both types of speech, each in a venue that will be more receptive to it.

However, I would wait until one is at least halfway through the Competent Communicator (CC) or Competent Leader (CL) manual before trying a dual membership That is because you need to understand really well how your club functions before you go to a different club and try to participate in an environment where the rules are somewhat different.

Finally, the last disadvantage is one that I heard about through talking to one of the officers in our division, namely, a case where someone who was in clubs A and B, let’s say, promised the educational award he would earn to club A. Then halfway through the manual, he changed his mind and decided to give that award to club B without telling the Vice President Education of club A. Club A only found out about this months before the end of the year, and had been counting on that award as one of the points the club wins towards becoming a Distinguished Toastmaster Club. That caused the club to have to scramble and find someone else to complete that award within an accelerated time frame because it was towards the end of the year. It turned out well for that Club, but it caused a bit of friction there for a while.

So the lesson is, if you decide to become a dual member, find out if your award is going to be needed by your club for its Distinguished Toastmaster Club award. Talk to the Vice President Education or VPE and find out. It could very well be that your club already has somebody else getting that award and so doesn’t need to claim credit for your achievement. Then you can feel free to give it to the other club.

But if your VPE in your first club says “we need it for our club”, then let the VPE of the other club know. He or she may be disappointed, but it is better to know this at the BEGINNING of the year rather than right before the end.

4. CONCLUSION

So I think having a dual membership does have its advantages, and for me they outweigh the disadvantages. I am fortunate to have the financial and time resources necessary to attend both clubs. Therefore I recommend it as an option for those who want to take one step deeper into the pool of experience that Toastmasters International has to offer.

7 Helpful Tips for Successfully Passing the #PMP Exam (Updated)


Last Saturday I completed a 7-week course put on by the Orange County chapter of the Project Management Institute that helps prepare those taking the course to pass the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification exam. The course went over the material in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (or PMBOK® Guide for short), and was supplemented by PowerPoint presentations on each of the knowledge areas covered by the various instructors, additional supplemental materials on some areas, and a PMP Exam Prep book called Achieve PMP Exam Success by Margaret Chu, Diane Altwies, and Janice Preston.

There were several study groups arranged by various members of the class that met during the class, and I organized one of them myself. Based on my observations of our study group, my conversations with those who led other study groups, and my experience of the exam prep class, I have come up with 7 tips to help those who are studying for the PMP exam or those who are contemplating taking the exam sometime in the future. Some of them may seem obvious, so I hope no one’s intelligence is too insulted as the list is read through. Other items may seem controversial, but remember this is based on my own observation as a student and not a seasoned veteran (i.e., someone who has passed the exam) or instructor.

Here goes:

1. Join a class

You can purchase a PMP Exam prep guide and study on your own, but joining a class will give you three important elements to help you pass the exam: 1) access to instructors to whom you can direct questions, 2) fellow students whom you can interact with during class and in study groups, and 3) a regular schedule so that you force yourself to take time out of your busy schedule to focus on the material in the PMBOK® Guide.

2. Form a study/accountability group

In the same way that a truly well-integrated team can come up with solutions that the individuals may not have come up with by themselves, studying in a group can help when you get stuck with understanding a certain concept because there will be times when others are stuck and you just happen to know the answer. It will also act as an accountability group that forces you to prepare the material ahead of time in order to contribute to the group. This, like joining a class, is a way of disciplining yourself to go through the material systematically.

3. Supplement your class textbook with one another Exam Prep Guide

Your class will most likely use the PMBOK® guide as a centerpiece of the instruction, but will have either its own textbook or collection of presentations that the different knowledge areas covered by the Guide.  Our group got a supplemental guide in addition to the Achieve PMP Exam Success  guide we used in class for the end-of-chapter review questions.   That book was the

PMP Exam Prep, Seventh Edition: Rita’s Course in a Book for Passing the PMP Exam by Rita Mulcahy

 Others I have heard used in other study groups are:

PMP Project Management Professional Exam Study Guide by Kim Heldman 

and

The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try, Fourth Edition by Andy Crowe

Your study group may decide on a different text, but the important thing is that you ALL USE THE SAME GUIDE.

The reason why these exam guides are helpful are because they a) review the same material you receive in class in a unique way, b) give exercises to practice these concepts, and c) have review questions which test whether you’ve really understood the material relating to each knowledge area.

However, a word of caution: don’t try to use more than 2 guides or to have everyone use a different guide in your group. There is so much material to cover that having to go through yet another guide’s explanations, exercises, and questions may give you diminishing returns, or as I like to term it, “increasing marginal futility”.

4. Data dump

You are not allowed to carry ANYTHING with you to the actual exam, so in the first 15 minutes you get at your testing station before the exam starts, you are given a few sheets of paper and a writing instrument for you to scribble some notes. USE THIS TIME to put down the 42 project management processes that are divided into 5 process groups and 9 knowledge areas by

a) drawing a 5 x 9 grid,

b) putting labels on top of the 5 vertical columns for the process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing,

c) putting labels on the left of the 9 horizontal rows for the knowledge areas: Integration, Scope, Time, Cost, Quality, Human Resources, Communications, Risk, Procurement, and d) filling in the 42 process groups in the correct “cells” of the grid based on the scheme shown on p. 43 of the PMBOK® Guide (4th edition).

On the flip side of that same sheet of paper, put the formulas that you need to remember.

The purpose of this is so that you will not forget the formulas during the “heat of battle” of taking the exam. If you study the process groups by constantly referring to the grid on p. 43, you will find that re-creating such a grid on your own before the exam starts will not only give you quick reference to the groups, but will help you recall the other elements associated with those groups, such as the inputs, tools & techniques, and outputs.

You need to practice this beforehand until you get it down to 10 minutes.

5. Flip charts and drawing boards

If you are able to study in a library that has a chalkboard or whiteboard, use it to work out various practice exercises or to make notes on concepts. Sometimes a concept that is fuzzy on paper can be made much clearer if you try to draw a diagram, a table, chart, or some other form of visually representing the information.

If you are at someone’s home, as our study group often was, you can bring a flip chart for the same effect. If you meet a coffeehouse or restaurant, just a simple pad of paper will do. But having everybody visually be able to refer to the same drawing, no matter where it is drawn or on how big a surface, helps tremendously in the brainstorming sessions you have in your study group.

6. Create a Study Plan

Planning is essential to any project, and your success in studying for the PMP exam may similarly hinge on you treating it as a project in and of itself. You need to figure out the end date, or the date you plan on taking the exam, and work out how much material you need to review in X number of weeks. Our class for example took the 12 chapters of the PMBOK® Guide (9 knowledge areas and the 3 introductory chapters on the Overview, Framework, and Processes) and studied it in 7 weeks. If the material is new to you, you may take as much as 7 weeks for your review after the class is done. If the material is familiar to you, you may review concurrently and cumulatively so that you are ready to take the exam right after the class is done. In fact, we just heard from one enterprising class member who took the exam on the Monday after our Saturday class was done—and passed!

Once you have how much material you need to study within a certain number of weeks, for example, 2 chapters of the PMBOK ® guide per week, then you need to do the following for each chapter:

1. Read PMBOK® guide thoroughly

2. Make flashcards for glossary terms used in chapter

3. Review flashcards (between 3 and 5 times)

4. Review PMP Exam Prep guide material

5. Do PMP Exam Prep guide exercises

6. Read PMBOK® guide AGAIN (skimming this time is OK)

7. Do PMP Exam Prep guide practice exam questions (either those printed in the guide at end of chapter or those that come from CD-ROM which accompanies the guide)

8. Go over practice exam questions—note WHY you got them wrong and review sections of PMBOK® guide for clarification

9. If practice exam score for chapter > 80%, go on to next chapter

10. If practice exam score for chapter < 80%, redo review (steps 1-9) until you get 80% or over.

Make an Excel spreadsheet or grid of each of these 10 steps times each of the PMBOK ®

Guide chapters PLUS the Professional Responsibility material which is not in the PMBOK ® Guide but can be obtained from the Project Management Institute. Creating this grid and realistically figuring out how much time you can devote to studying for the PMP exam (your own personal resource allocation) will give you a realistic study schedule.

Once you have the knowledge areas reviewed, you will want to take the full practice exams that contain 200 questions like the real exam will. One place that was recommended for this full practice exam review was Exam Central, which you can register for and join for free at www.examcentral.net.

If you get 80% or over on one full practice exam, you need to schedule your test as soon as possible. Once your registration for the exam is accepted, and you have paid the fee for the exam, you are then directed to make an appointment at Prometric or some other testing facility. Please be aware that it may take up to a few weeks to get an open appointment date.

However, you do it, make sure that the time from the point where you are prepared (80% on practice exams) and the time you take the test is as short as possible.

Don’t be pressured by others who are taking it more quickly than you do, but on the other hand don’t put it off indefinitely into the future. Picking an end date and actually registering for the exam are two different things.

7.  Study by candlelight (UPDATED)

“WHAT?”, you may be asking.  This is a quirky exam tip but I am including it because I have used it to pass other certification exams than the PMP.   It was given to me by a female instructor and she said that if you are studying at home, try studying while you have a scented candle lit.  Obviously you should not ruin your eyes and try to study ONLY by candlelight, but the candle you should have lit next to your study area should be a scented one.  I was EXTREMELY skeptical of this at first, but she said that many people who are studying at home are studying after a long day at work and are physically exhausted. Studying at home before sleeping is good, but how to motivate oneself can be a problem when you are fitting it into your already hectic schedule.

A scented candle does the following:

a) it associates a pleasant, stimulating smell with studying so your brain is more likely to pay attention and absorb the material,

b) through olfactory memory, whenever you light a scented candle in the future, your mind knows that it is time to study, and you spend less time “settling down” to study,

c) you can take some sort of object with the scent on it (a cinnamon stick, for example, if you have been using a cinnamon-scented candle) and put it in your belongings that you must put in your locker. If your mind gets stuck on a problem, take a physical break (however, remember that the exam clock is always ticking) every half-hour or so, go to your locker and take a smell of the scent. You will be amazed at how much of your memories that were imprinted while you smelled that scent during your studies will come back to you.

UPDATE:   I just heard from someone who passed the test at the end of June (the Monday after our prep class ended) that you are NOT ALLOWED to return to your locker during the breaks.   So unless you have some sort of cologne that smells like the scented candle, you can only use your olfactory memory BEFORE the exam starts.   But hey, if it got you in the mood to study for the exam, it will put you in the same frame of mind before you actually enter the exam room.

I can tell you from personal experience that I actually tried this and it worked—not for the PMP exam, but for the CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) certification. It was a difficult exam, several hours long and an essay exam rather than multiple-choice. I went through the exam, and was going to review those questions that stumped me the first time around. I went to the washroom, splashed water on my face, and went to the locker where I had my little cinnamon stick stashed.

By the time I got back to the testing area, I went through the unanswered questions and got all but 2 of them in the second pass.  Now I don’t know how much of that memory refreshment came from the cold water on my face and how much came from the cinnamon stick I held in my locker, but I can tell you that the scented candles made studying so much more pleasant that it helped me study for longer than I could have otherwise.

And, if you study before you go to sleep, your unconscious works on the material while you are sleeping, so sometimes you can look at problems the next day and suddenly understand the solution based on the processing that went on “under the radar”, so to speak.

Well, those are my 7 tips for success. Most are probably common sense (except for #7), but I wanted to tell you these come from empirical observation of several study groups that have met during the course of our exam prep class. Let me know in the comment section if you find anything else helpful for those studying for the PMP Exam!

And to those of you who are either going to taking the exam or are contemplating taking it, YOU CAN DO IT TOO!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw



1. Introduction to Habit 7:  Sharpen the Saw

Now we come to the 7th habit, the one that strengthens all the others.  What is it the 7th habit and how does it do that?

Fig. 1. The Seven Habits in all their Glory

Habits 1 through 3, the ones below the center of Fig. 1, take one from being dependent to being independent, which is another way of saying being responsible. Once you have a group of responsible people who work as individuals, a project manager must form them Figure 1, and these habits allow the once individual members to become interdependent. What is Habit 7 and why is it in the center of Fig. 1? In Stephen Covey’s diagram, it surrounds the other six habits and encompasses them. For some reason, I like representing Habit 7 as being in the CENTER of the other six. Why? Because it nourishes them and replenishes them.

You see, Habit 7 is where you make time into your schedule for those activities which may not seem productive at first glance but do increase one’s production capacity, one’s future ability to produce. They are not urgent but important, so they are Quadrant II activities, using the time management system developed in Habit 3. They are, in other words, an investment in yourself. They give you the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength you need to improve all of the other six habits.

2. Four Dimensions of Personal Growth

Fig. 2. The Four Dimensions of Personal Growth

Here are examples of activities that help you grow in the four dimensions that Stephen Covey outlines in his book: the physical, mental, emotional/social, and spiritual.

1. Physical

Strength and Endurance—from muscular resistance training and aerobic training, respectively, particularly with focused intensity

Flexibility—before and after exercise

2. Spiritual

Meditation—reading from spiritual texts and contemplating them

Art and music—immersion in great literature or great music

3. Mental

Reading—quality literature

Writing—journals, blog posts (gee, you mean like this one?)

4. Emotional/Social

Volunteer—service opportunities to help others

Networking—be a positive scripter, or affirmer, of others

Following these habits will make you a stronger, better person and therefore a more charismatic leader whom people WANT to do better work for rather than doing it out of fear of some punishment that might receive if they don’t.

3. Habit 7 and Integral Life Practice

Let me again use Habit 6 and synergize by pointing out the underlying similarities between the philosophy of Habit 7 and the philosophy behind Integral Life Practice, pioneered by the philosopher Ken Wilber, who created this system of balanced growth. It too recommends one to choose what Ken Wilber calls a practice rather than a habit. However, the same dimensions of body, mind, psyche (emotions/social interactions) and spirit are covered as well. I make an ILP matrix or list of practices from each of the four areas that I will perform that week.

Sometimes I get into the old habit of saying, for example, “I’m too busy to exercise.” But I’ve been down that route before and I know where it leads, namely, to less energy. And then everything takes longer to do and I have even LESS time than before. Now I know that making time for intensive exercise, even just 15 or 20 minutes a day, reaps such good benefits that, if you could receive those same benefits from a pill, it would outsell even Viagra, I think.

4. Habit 7 and Transformation

Speaking of exercise, one of my favorite fitness gurus, Bill Phillips, who wrote the bestseller Body for Life, came up with a new version of his fitness program called Transformation. It takes 18 weeks, and the reason why it takes this long is because it goes through the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual barriers people have to succeeding in their fitness program. Hmm, do these 4 factors sound familiar? I think if you take any endeavor and make sure you include time to work on all 4 dimensions of the 7th habit, you will find yourself more successful at it.

CONCLUSION: For those who are interested, you can of course buy Stephen Covey’s book, but I also recommend that you get the audio CD of his book and listen to it during your commute. There are many pearls of wisdom that I have simply hinted at, like giving you a quick tour by skateboard of the Louvre Museum. But don’t just read it or listen to it. Success literature is not a spectator sport: invest in getting the Personal Workbook and go through the exercises which help you discover these 7 Habits for yourself.

You, your project team, and your organization will be better for it!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 6: Synergize



1. Introduction to Habit 6: Synergize—Sometimes 1 +1 = 3 is a better answer

Habit 6 flows very directly out of Habit 4 (Think Win-Win—on negotiating) and Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood—on empathic listening).

Here’s how. If you may recall the matrix of possibilities that may occur in human interaction, you have Win/Win being the desirable or actively desirable outcome, with Lose/Lose (compromise) being an acceptable or passively desirable outcome, and Lose/Win (capitulation) and Win/Lose (domination) being unacceptable outcomes for the parties involved.

Fig. 1 Human Interaction Matrix (four possibilities)

What is the level of trust and cooperation for FUTURE negotiations that are engendered in each of these four possibilities?   See the matrix below:

Fig 2. Human Interaction Matrix—Trust and Cooperation Levels

So the interesting thing about the Win-Win interaction in the present is that it lays the groundwork of trust and cooperation in future interactions, and allows creative syntheses of viewpoints or synergisms to occur. And that’s the true wellspring of group or team creativity.

2. Synergy and the “open mode”

As an example of a creative synthesis, I was reading this passage about Habit 6 and all of the wonderful things about team creativity sounded very familiar to me. Then I realized where I heard something similar, and realized that I had done a series of blog posts on an idea that was very similar to that of Stephen Covey’s. This is itself an example of “synergy” or two ideas sparking a third connection (in my mind).

John Cleese did a talk on “creativity and the open mode” in which the “open mode” is precisely this trusting and cooperative atmosphere engendered in a group that allows for creative solutions to take place.

Here are the links to the three blog posts which contain the substance of his talk on “creativity and the open mode”.

https://4squareviews.com/2012/05/27/john-cleese-on-creativity-part-1/

https://4squareviews.com/2012/05/28/john-cleese-on-creativity-part-2/

https://4squareviews.com/2012/05/29/john-cleese-on-creativity-part-3/

The closed mode is the opposite of this, and is what you get if you don’t have that level of trust and cooperation you need for the open mode. The research on the open mode was introduced to John Cleese by Brian Bates, who runs the psychology department at the University of Sussex, and it had been done in the 1970s at Berkeley University by Donald MacKinnon.

Fig. 3. The Synergistic or “Open Mode” contrasted with the Closed Mode

OPEN MODE

CLOSED MODE

Relaxed Anxious
Expansive (inclusive of other’s viewpoint) Focused (on one’s own viewpoint)
Playful Purposeful
Humorous Not much humor

Here’s how it fits into Stephen Covey’s Habits 4, 5, and 6. If you enter a Win-Win relationship (Habit 4), this engenders an atmosphere of trust and cooperation, which together with empathic listening (Habit 5) creates this open or synergistic mode.

Notice that the “closed mode” is purposeful
as opposed to playful, which seems to go against the principle of Habit 2 (Begin with the End in Mind). However, this is anticipated by Stephen Covey, who says that “purposeful” in this sense when you are dealing with another person means “the predetermined purpose you had in mind” at the beginning of negotiations. A playful spirit engendered by the open mode will create a solution that NEITHER party may have anticipated.

3. Ways of Entering the Open Mode

What are some of the ways of entering the open mode? Remember that, although the idea of “synergy” is the one from Stephen Covey’s book, I am positing that it is closely akin to the “open mode” described by John Cleese in his talk on creativity. John Cleese suggests the following elements are essential for entering this creative state.

Fig. 4 How to Enter the Open Mode

Element

Explanation

1. Space Create space for yourself away from demands that accompany the closed mode. Seal yourself off where you will be undisturbed.
2. Time (endpoints) You need to create your space at a specific beginning time and a specific ending time in order to create an atmosphere which is closed off from the closed mode in which we normally operate.
3. Time (duration) You need to create sufficient time within which to allow truly creative solutions to emerge.
4. Confidence Allow yourself to play and suppress the fear of making a mistake.
5. Humor Use humor to become more spontaneous and creative.

If you want further elucidation of this process, I suggest you go straight to John Cleese himself and listen to his entertaining and informative talk which is laced with a series of “light-bulb” jokes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShmtsLhkQg.

Now this was an attempt to reach the open mode by one’s self, but you could see that it could also apply to negotiations or creative interactions with others. John Cleese in fact includes prescriptions for ways to TALK to the other side that encourage synergy or the open mode:

  • “Would it be even better if …”
  • “I don’t quite understand that—can you just explain it again?”
  • “Go on …”
  • “What if …”
  • “Let’s pretend …”

This will allow you to brainstorm together with your team. Now sometimes as a project manager you have to have communication that is one-way, and the closed mode is okay in those situations when time is pressing and you don’t have time to listen to the other team members. Hopefully those situations will be a rarity during your project. But if you as a leader make the closed mode your MAIN form of communication, you toll the death knell for any hope of creative collaboration in your group. Listen to John Cleese as he gives the following negative lesson in this tongue-in-cheek presentation at the end of his speech on creativity:

JOHN CLEESE: So here’s how to stamp out creativity in the rest of the organization and get a bit of respect going:

A. Allow subordinates no humor

It threatens your self-importance, and especially your omniscience. Treat all humor as frivolous or subversive, because subversive is of course what humor will be in your setup as it’s the only way that people can express their opposition. This is because if they expressed their opposition openly you’d come down on them like a ton of bricks.

So let’s get this clear: blame humor for the resistance that your way of working creates; then you don’t have to blame your way of working. Solemnity is no laughing matter!

B. Criticize everything

Keeping ourselves feeling irreplaceable involves cutting everybody else down to size. So don’t miss an opportunity to undermine your employees’ confidence. A perfect opportunity comes when you’re reviewing work that they’ve done. Use your authority to zero in immediately on all the things you can find wrong. Never ever balance the negatives with positives: only criticize, just as your schoolteachers did. Always remember that praise makes people uppity.

C. Constantly press the accelerator

Demand that people always be actively doing things. If you catch anybody pondering, accuse them of laziness and/or indecision. This is to starve employees of thinking time, because that leads to creativity and insurrection. Demand urgency at all time, use lots of fighting talk and war analogies, and establish a permanent atmosphere of stress, of breathless anxiety, and crisis. In a phrase: keep that mode closed! In this way, we no-nonsense types can be sure that the tiniest, microscopic quantity of creativity in our organization can all be ours. But let your vigilance slip for one moment, and you could find yourself surrounded by happy, enthusiastic and creative people whom you might not be able to control ever again.

So in the spirit of George Costanza on Seinfeld, do the OPPOSITE of what was stated by John Cleese and you will be on the way to a better, more creative team.

In my last post, I will present the last and final habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then Be Understood



1. Introduction to Habit 5: Empathic Listening and How it Saved Millions of Lives

The key to understanding others is empathic listening. It is an imaginative recreation of the state of mind behind the utterance you hear. One of the corollaries of empathic listening is the principle of understanding a person’s needs and motivations before offering a solution.

The importance of empathic understanding of your adversary can be illustrated through the example of how President Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear war could have broken out during the crisis which would have cost many millions of American and other lives. The basic breakthrough in the negotiations with the Soviet Union came from Tommy Thompson, a member of the State Department who happened to have been a previous Ambassador to the Soviet Union. A message came in that seemed to be asking for a diplomatic solution to the problem. Tommy Thompson could tell that it was from Khrushchev, the Premier of the Soviet Union.

Just as they were discussing the first message, however, a second message came through, this one a message that threatened military retaliation if the blockade around Cuba were maintained by the United States. The crucial question now became: which message should they respond to, the “soft” message or the “hard message”. Presumably one could make a case for answering the “hard” message since it was the one that most recently arrived and was therefore the “freshest”—maybe it superseded the first message.

Tommy Thompson urged President Kennedy to listen to the “soft” message. He empathized with Khrushchev whom he had known personally when he was an Ambassador. He argued that Khrushchev was trying to find a way out of the situation that would allow him to say that he saved Cuba from an invasion of the United States, and which would be acceptable to those in Russia who didn’t want to appear to back down without getting something in return.

President Kennedy listened to Tommy Thompson on the force of his argument and his convictions. Kennedy could very well empathize with Khrushchev because, although they were on the opposites of the Cold War, they were in a parallel situation with regards to their military. The military on each side were both pushing towards a military confrontation because they both had optimistic assessments of what the outcome would be. In the case of the U.S. military, they opted for a full-scale invasion of Cuba because they were told by the CIA that a) the warheads to the nuclear missiles spotted on Cuba had not yet been delivered to Cuba (hence the blockade of the island) and b) Soviet troop strength was insufficient to counter an American invasion if they acted now.

The Kremlin was also pushing Khrushchev towards a confrontation because they knew what the CIA did not: that the warheads WERE already on the island and the Soviet troop strength WAS sufficient to counter an American invasion. You see, the CIA got those two assumptions wrong, and the U.S. military strategy was primarily based on those two mistaken assumptions.

Kennedy decided to respond and offered to take our nuclear missiles out of Turkey that were pointed to the Soviet Union if Khrushchev would take the missiles out of Cuba that were pointed to the United States. A deal was reached, and a crisis was averted. If it hadn’t been averted, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post today, because I was a young boy staying with my grandfather in Miami, one of the most obvious first targets of the nuclear missiles from Cuba if there had been a nuclear war.

For more details, see my blog post on the Cuban Missile Crisis:

https://4squareviews.com/2012/04/15/two-weeks-to-eternity-the-cuban-missile-crisis/

2. The Way of Persuasion

Once you have gone the extra mile and tried to understand others, how do you make yourself understood?

Stephen Covey uses the three-fold system or principles of rhetoric or the art of persuasion that the Greeks used:

These three principles are all part of a persuasive presentation. Most people focus on logos or logic but if you tap into the other side’s emotions, you will be much more successful. But you will never be successful if you haven’t built a relationship of trust so your ethos or character does matter.

Your technical skill as a project manager should give you logos; your interpersonal skill should give you the power of pathos, but it is your quality as a leader, not just a manager, that will give you the ethos to persuade those around you, and ultimately expand your Circle of Influence in your organization.

The next post will be on Habit 6: Synergize

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 4: Think Win-Win



1. Introduction to Habit 4:   How to create a team that is teeming with ideas

Habits 1 through 3 are below the center of the diagram and are those habits leading one from being dependent to being independent, to being both an effective and efficient project manager. Habit 4 is above the center of the diagram and it starts you on the road towards being interdependent and creating a great project team.

To do this you will have to deal with stakeholders—customers, suppliers, project sponsors, other functional managers, and your team members. What spirit you use in negotiating will them determine how successful your team will be.

2. The Human Interaction Quadrant

Everybody going into a negotiation WANTS to win. But what happens when you interact with someone ELSE who wants to win? Then the psychological approach you take matters in deciding the outcome. Here are the four possibilities:

Figure 1. Human Interaction Quadrants

i. Win/Win (green)

This is a cooperative frame of mind, which goes beyond competition to reach a mutually satisfying outcome. This is the best interaction, both in the short run and it is also the most stable in the long run.

ii. Win/Lose (orange)

This is an authoritarian, “my way or the highway” approach which is used in situations of high competition or low trust. This may get its way temporarily, but it will build up a counterforce of resentment from the other party in the long run.

iii. Lose/Win (yellow)

This is capitulation, when you allow the other side to win. This may keep the peace temporarily, but the resentment it builds up leads to it being an unstable interaction in the long run.

iv. Lose/Lose (red)

This is “mutual assured destruction”, or when both parties are so willing to see the other side lose, that they are willing to forgo winning themselves. This is also unstable in the long-run because will engender resentment on both sides of the interaction.

Those committed to the process of win/win, but who cannot reach an agreement will often prefer to disagree agreeably, which is described by Stephen Covey as a “win-win or no deal” paradigm, an even higher expression of the “win-win” mentality.

3. Creating a Win-Win Culture

How does one create a win-win culture on the project and in the organization?

By creating

Fig. 2 Five elements of a win-win culture

The five elements of a win-win culture are the CHARACTER of its members, their RELATIONSHIPS, and the AGREEMENTS they make with one another. These elements are supported by SYSTEMS and PROCESSES which encourage the win-win culture. Let’s take a look at these five elements in turn.

3-1. CHARACTER

Let’s expand the CHARACTER triangle to see the elements it contains.

Fig. 3. Elements of the win-win character

  • INTEGRITY is the character you get when you have a sense of self-awareness and self-worth. These are cultivated through habits 1 through 3.
  • MATURITY is the balance between personal courage of your own convictions and the consideration of the needs of others.
  • ABUNDANCE MENTALITY is the creative vision that sees one’s success coming out of one’s own efforts rather than at the expense of someone else.

3-2. RELATIONSHIP

Stephen Covey uses the metaphor of an Emotional Bank Account to emphasize the importance of trust. If you keep making deposits of trust and acknowledgement of the other side’s viewpoints, you will be able to withdraw on that bank account in case of need. This is the essence of networking, in effect, with a “pay it forward” mentality taking priority over “what’s in it for me?”

3-3. AGREEMENTS

Fig. 4. 5 elements of the win-win agreement

How does one reach an agreement that allows BOTH parties to win? Stephen Covey says the following five elements need to be included:

Desired results—what is to be done and when

Guidelines—principles and policies within which results are to be accomplished

Resources—support available to help accomplish the results

Accountability—standards of performance and evaluation

Consequences—what will happen as a result (good or bad) of the evaluation.

This achieves a clear understanding which allows the members to be responsible for bringing the results with a minimum of supervision or coercion.

3.4. Systems

One can support win-win culture through

  • training that emphasizes cooperation and brainstorming
  • performance agreements, where the team members create some of the evaluation criteria themselves
  • supporting cooperation in the workplace that bring rewards to groups rather than competition and contests that pit one individual against one another

3.5. Processes

Taking a principled approach to bargaining helps you get to a win-win result easier than a positional approach, because a positional approach is based more on what the other person does and makes you more reactive. A principled approach, on the other hand, helps you get to recognizing a common interest with the other side.

Here’s how to get to that principled approach according to Stephen Covey:

Fig. 5. Principled negotiation process (as opposed to positional approach)

These five elements will create a win-win culture. Everyone likes to think of business being like the wild, wild west. But just think of those gunslinger movies you watched when you were younger. All of those wild west towns that the movies took place in only existed because of the cooperation of all the settlers that came out there to establish it.

If there were ONLY competition in society, there would be no society. Cooperation is as important, if not more important, a principle in keeping a company culture one in which everyone has a chance to share in the victories, because they all are responsible for creating those victories in the first place.

The next post is on Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 3: Put First Things First


The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do.  They don’t like doing them either necessarily, but their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.   E. M. Gray in “The Common Denominator of Success”

1. Introduction to Habit 3:   A Journey from Determinism to Determination

Habit 1 was the habit of being proactive, of being the creator of a circle of influence around yourself to help make the project and one’s organization successful. Those who don’t have Habit 1 live in a reactive world, one of determinism and fatalism, where you feel like you have no control.

After having established the first habit, you then go to Habit 2 which is the first creation or mental creation of a vision. Then in Habit 3 you go to the second creation, which is the physical creation in terms of results of what had been merely planned mentally before.

So whereas Habit 2 dealt with being an effective leader, Habit 3 deals with being an efficient manager in order to carry out the project. In terms of project management processes, Habit 2 would cover the initiating and planning phase, whereas Habit 3 would take you from the planning phase into the executing and monitoring & controlling phase of the project right through to the closing phase.   It shows you how to use your determination and will in order to carry out the mission statement developed with Habit 2.

2. Time—the ultimate constraint

Time is a constraint that is probably the most difficult to control on a project, and in one’s life as well. If you consider your work and your personal life as a series of projects, how does one prioritize the projects to make the best use of one’s time? To discuss this, Stephen Covey uses a four-quadrant model, which given the title of my blog I knew I was going to like the moment I saw it.

Figure 1: Time Management Matrix

The top two quadrants deal with issues that are important in terms of results that contributes to your mission, and your project. The left two quadrants are matters that are urgent in that they demand our immediate attention.

So if you give all permutations of the above two dimensions of urgency and importance, you get the following four quadrants.

  1. Quadrant I activities are urgent and important, such as crises or pressing deadlines.
  2. Quadrant II activities are activities that do not have to be done right now, but which if done would make a positive contribution to your project, such as planning, increasing your production capacity through training, building relationships with stakeholders, and brainstorming (recognizing and looking for new opportunities).
  3. Quadrant III activities are urgent, but not important, such as some e-mails, meetings, reports that are external to or peripheral to your project.
  4. Quadrant IV activities are not urgent, and not important, and these include e-mails external to your organization, and time wasters of any sort.

These are the different quadrants as they exist conceptually. If you could plot the amount of time you spend each day on these activities, what would the above four-quadrant diagram look like? For those whose quadrants I and III seem to take over, here are some suggestions that Stephen Covey makes to get back to a more balanced schedule.

3. Time management pathologies: Quadrant takeover

For those who are always fighting fires, Quadrant I takes up most of their time. If you don’t have a clear idea of what is important, you may end up taking care of urgent matters more often than you need to.

Figure 2. Quadrant I Takeover—Constantly “Putting Out Fires”

Quadrant I

Quadrant II

Quadrant III

Quadrant IV

Solution: Focus on Quadrant II, and try to spend more time on activities that prevent those urgent problems before they occur. This is the reason why there is focus on risk management.

For those who spend a great deal on dealing with problems that are based on the expectations of others outside the project. The tasks may be important to them, but not necessarily to you as the project manager because they are external to the project.

Figure 3. Quadrant III Takeover—I’m Just a Boy who Can’t Say No

Quadrant I

Quadrant II

Quadrant III

Quadrant IV

Solution: As in paragraph 3 above, try to take control of your time by scheduling time for your own project first, and learn the power of when to diplomatically say “no” to requests that are outside of your project. Alternatively, learn to delegate those tasks to others in your team who are capable of handling them.

If you have non-urgent, non-important tasks taking over most of your schedule, as in Quadrant IV, you should definitely delegate them to members of your staff.

3. Time-Management Tools

Okay, so you want to manage your time more effectively using the solutions mentioned above. How do you go about doing it?

Here is a diagram showing the different “generations” of time-management tools, from those which make you merely efficient to those which make you more effective as well.

Figure 4. The Four Generations of Time-Management Tools

The first generation consists of to-do lists. These help you remember tasks you have to do in the present.

The second generation consists of schedules. They help you remember tasks you have to do in the future as well as the present.

The third generation of tools consists of daily planners. These can help you to prioritize those tasks. The key factor here is that these priorities are based on external circumstances, which ends you getting trapped in Quadrant III at the mercy of circumstances beyond your control.

The fourth generation of tools consists of long-term planning, especially that which makes some time for Quadrant II activities that make you more effective as well as efficient.

The following represents Stephen Covey’s scheme for planning which incorporates Quadrant II activities into one’s schedule.

Figure 4. Organizing Effectively AND Efficiently

First stage is creating a mission statement. People say they need discipline to stick to their goals, but that discipline is made easier if you have a mission statement that you can refer to when you feel that you are starting to go adrift. This is something that can be read but must be VISUALIZED when it is created.

With that mission statement in mind, the second stage is to think of the roles you play as a project manager. What are your relationships to your stakeholders, which can include your project sponsors in the organization, your project management organization, your customers, those doing work on the project (subject matter experts), etc. Also, include those roles you play outside of work if you are doing a schedule that combines your work and personal life.

The third stage is to write down those goals which fit into those roles. And finally, create a long-term schedule with those goals in mind. Then you make a weekly schedule based on the long-term schedule, so your short-term focus is always aligned to your long-term horizon.

The best advice I have for you is to look at the examples in Stephen Covey’s book and especially his Personal Workbook that goes together with his text. I can say that I am incorporating his principles and am increasingly amazed not at how much I get done, but how much quality I’ve built into my life since I have tried it.

The next post takes us from the world of the first three habits which take you from dependence to independence, and into the world of the next three habits which help you take a group of independent individuals and turn them into a close-knit team.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind



It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Stephen Covey

1. Introduction to Habit 2: A Call to Leadership rather than Management

Habit 1 was the habit of being proactive, of creating a circle of influence around oneself to help make the project and one’s organization successful. Now that you’ve got this influence, how are you going to use it? Now that you’ve given yourself room to maneuver in, in which direction are you going to go?

Habit 2 deals with creating a mission statement or vision, which is an integral part of leadership of a project or organization. It is using the team’s resources in an effective manner. Once the direction has been established, then it is part of management of the project to go there in an efficient manner.

2. Efficiency vs. effectiveness—the tale of the Helawi tribe

I can explain the difference between being effective and being efficient by means of an old joke told on a comedy series from the 1960s called F-Troop, a humorous take on the Wild West. A young Native American asks his father what the name of the tribe was. The father answered that they are the Helawi tribe. He said to his son that it was funny that he asked that question, because he asked the same question of the chief while they were moving their hunting grounds a while back. The chief was overlooking the landscape, and he looked up distractly from his map and in said “where the hell are we?” The father misheard and thought the chief had said, “we’re the Helawi” and mistook that as the identity of the tribe.

In a similar way, members of your team may identify with their tasks and try to do them efficiently, be as the project manager you must try to be effective and to be like that chief who stops and asks “where the hell are we?” from time to time, and to do that, he needs not a map, but a project charter.

3. The mission statement

An organization should have a mission statement or philosophy that focuses on what the organization wants to be or its character and what it wants to achieve. I like the description in the book by Stephen Covey of our country’s Constitution as being equivalent to its mission statement.

The mission statement or project charter should be centered in the following principles:

Security is your sense of your team or organizations strengths, and the guidance is what you supply as a leader to give direction to the team. Power is derived from the circle of influence described in habit 1 which gives you the capacity to be proactive. It takes the core strengths of the organization and uses them to achieve the project goals you set using your wisdom as a project manager, which is gained from lessons learned on past projects.

In this way, your mission statement will align all of the team members’ activities towards the same direction, and the project itself will align with the strategic goals of the organization.

In the next post on Habit 3, I discuss how to manage the team once you have given them direction as a leader.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Habit 1: Be Proactive


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.—Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr

1. Habit 0—Be Aware of Yourself

The first step in applying any of the 7 Habits that Stephen Covey describes requires you to stand apart from yourself and observe yourself as if you were looking at another person. I call this “Habit 0″, although Covey himself does not use that term. In my opinion, the way to get the most out of his book is to get the Personal Workbook which allows you to make observations on your thoughts, behaviors, and actions based on the material you have read in each chapter. So my recommendation for those who read his book is to go get the workbook and—work through it!

2. Habit 1: What does”proactive” mean? Let’s ask Shakespeare!

Figure 1. Habit 1: Be Proactive

I think the common conception of the word “proactive” is “Acting in advance to deal with an expected difficulty; anticipatory” according to the American Heritage Dictionary. However, in my opinion Stephen Covey’s conception of the word “proactive” is somewhat larger in meaning, more like the definition of the word in the Collins Dictionary of “tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events.” You can initiate change in anticipation of future events, but you can also initiate change in response to past mistakes, and to one’s present circumstances.

Figure 2. Freedom to Choose = Being Proactive

If you believe that genetics, one’s childhood experience, and one’s environment SOLELY determine one’s behavior and attitude, then you are believer in determinism and are reactive. If you are able to use self-awareness to examine yourself, and then use one’s imagination, will and conscience to create a space in which you have freedom to choose your behavior and attitude, then you are being proactive in the wider sense.

It is this wider sense of the word proactive that gives insight into the genius beyond Shakespeare’s plays. Harold Bloom, the most celebrated literary critic in the United States, has written about what makes Shakespeare the most celebrated literary genius of all time. One of those elements is his characters’ ability to overhear themselves and gain self-awareness, and instead of simply reacting to events, to be proactive by exhibiting a freedom of choice from which they act.

Here’s an illustration from the play Hamlet. The eponymous hero has just come from a performance of The Murder of Gonzago, a play within a play that recreates the circumstances behind his father’s murder. When the murder scene happens, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius abruptly rises and leaves the room, and Hamlet is convinced of his uncle’s guilt based on his reaction to the play. Hamlet goes off to find his uncle and murder him, when he suddenly sees him deep in penitent prayer, asking forgiveness for what he has done.

Hamlet draws his dagger to kill him, which would be simply reactive based on his desire for revenge. However, he starts reasoning that if he were to kill his uncle right then and there, his uncle would be pardoned for the murder by having died in a state of penitence for what he had done. Hamlet sheathes his dagger and walks away, because he has overheard himself and reasoned that he does not want to create the unintended consequence of sending his uncle to Heaven by killing him at that moment, saying “Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge!” or as we would say today, giving his uncle a promotion rather than a punishment. In this space created by self-awareness, Hamlet is giving himself a freedom to choose and be proactive. This freedom to choose is what gives Hamlet the quality of being a fully-dimensional human being just like the audience, and they have responded to that echo of their own humanity throughout the ages by declaring Shakespeare the most celebrated of all literary geniuses. Why? Because his best characters are proactive, not reactive.

3. A Project Manager expands his Circle of Influence

One illustration that Covey has to emphasize the difference between reactive and proactive people is create the circle of influence which is the those items over which someone has a degree of control, either directly or indirectly. We can solve our own problems:

a) directly by changing our own habits directly (habits 1, 2, and 3),

b) indirectly by changing the habits of others (habits 4, 5, and 6), or

c) or for those we have no control over, by changing our attitude to one of acceptance.

Those that spend more of their mental energy on problems over which they have no control are reactive. They are either guilty about mistakes they have done in the past, or worry futilely about problems they may encounter in the future without doing anything to prepare. Those that are proactive try to expand their circle of influence, and a Project Manager does this in three ways:

Past Present Future
Proactive method Lessons learned Active listening/empathy Planning/risk response

For mistakes done in the past, a proactive project manager acknowledges the mistake, corrects it and puts it in the lessons learned for future projects. To avoid mistakes in the future, a proactive project manager plans and makes contingencies for deviations to the plan in the form of risk responses that can be made part of a risk register.

Then, to avoid mistakes being done by oneself and others in the present, you need to be an active listener to those in the team so that any concerns, even unexpressed ones, can be dealt with as quickly as possible.

If you follow these three methods of dealing with the past, present, and future, you will not only be a better project manager, but you will become a more responsible person.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers–Overview


1. Purpose

I am currently taking a course that is preparing me to take the Project Management Professional certification exam. The course is being put on by the Orange County chapter of the Project Management Institute. Our main text for the course is A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge or the PMBOK® Guide for short. Appendix G to that guide lists interpersonal skills that Project Managers should have to help them interact appropriately with the project team and other stakeholders.

Section G.9 of that appendix gives a list of references, and the first book on the list was Stephen R. Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I decided to make a project of blogging about the seven habits that Covey presents with the idea of making them specifically relevant to Project Managers.

2. What is a habit?

The definition of a habit is “one of an imaginary race of half-size people living in holes”—oh, wait, that’s the definition of a “hobbit”, invented by J.R.R. Tolkien. But come to think of it, if you have a BAD habit, then you are half of the size of what you COULD become, and you are living in a hole of your own making.

To break a BAD habit and replace it with an EFFECTIVE habit, you need to have three components which Stephen Covey outlines in his section “The Seven Habits—An Overview”. You need theoretical knowledge of what to do, you need the practical application or skill or how to do it, and the motivation or desire to want to do it.

A project manager is motivated by a desire to see the project succeed. Gaining the knowledge of the 7 Habits and putting those skills to work will make it more likely that future projects will succeed.

3. What are the 7 Habits?

The 7 Habits are arranged according to a paradigm or pattern as follows. The first three habits 1, 2, and 3 deal with the paradigm of dependence where the focus is on you, e.g., you take care of me; and if something goes wrong, I blame it all on you. The next three habits 4, 5, and 6 deal with the paradigm of independence where the focus is on me or I, as in I can do this myself. The 7th habit is the paradigm deals with the paradigm of interdependence where the focus is on we, as in we can combine efforts to achieve success.

Habits 1, 2, and 3 deal with self-mastery, and move a person from dependence to independence. Habits 4, 5, and 6 deal with teamwork, cooperation, and communication, and take you from being independent to being interdependent and working with a team. Habit 7 is the habit of renewal, of constant innovation of both yourself and your team.

You can see why being a better leader first means being good at your craft of project management. Although there are many leadership styles, leadership by feat (or example) rather than by fear is the one that I have appreciated in my managers in the past, and is one that I hope to cultivate in the future as a project manager.

4. What is Highly Effective?

These habits are highly effective because they not only increase production (abbreviated by “P”) in the present, but increase one’s productive capacity (“PC”) or capacity to produce in the future. In the illustration Stephen Covey uses of the familiar Aesop’s fable of the goose that laid the golden eggs, the farmer ends up killing the goose (the production capacity of the eggs) to get at the eggs (the production).  Highly effective habits are the habits that keep on giving; they balance your time between activities which give short-term benefit now and those which create long-term benefits for the future.

The PMBOK® Guide recommends this book for project managers, but I recommend that you learn it not just for yourself in your capacity as a project manager, but also to impart these habits to those on your team, to help them move from dependence on you to being able to work independently, and finally to work with others in an interdependent way as part of a team.    When your team becomes more highly effective, then so do you.

With my next post, I start with Habit #1: Be Proactive.