QR code


  • Odessa, Ukraine
  • comments

Susanne Madsen was a special guest.

Check Susanne’s Twitter, LinkedIn and the blog (definitely worth reading).


[00:00] Yegor: Hello, everybody. This is Shift M podcast episode and we have a special guest today, Susanne Madsen. Did I say the name right?

[00:10] Susanne: Yes, that’s fine. Thank you.

[00:12] Yegor: Okay, yeah. And I just give a few words about you and then you’ll introduce yourself. What I know about you is you are a blogger, a book author and you have quite popular Twitter account and you’re making money by consulting companies about leadership and [inaudible 0:00:30] Am I right?

[00:32] Susanne: Yes. That captures it very well.

[00:35] Yegor: So, now you just introduce yourself and then I’ll have a lot of questions for you.

[00:40] Susanne: Okay, fantastic. So, I’ve lived and worked in London since 2000. I’m actually originally Danish and throughout that time I’ve been managing projects and programs. You’re right in what you’re saying. I’ve authored two books. I’m now consulting. I’m doing lots of project leadership training but I think what’s more interesting really is how I came to change my career from being a project manager myself to coaching others because I also have a coaching qualification. Is this a good time to tell that story?

[01:17] Yegor: Yeah, go ahead. Of course. Yeah.

[01:20] Susanne: So, basically in 2008, I’d been running a large program at that time and I was pretty exhausted and I kept thinking I was going to be fired because the three project managers before me had been fired and the survival of the business I was working for depended on this product. So, it was pretty heavy and it was a large project with about 50 people on it. It lasted for over two years and basically I was very lucky. I attended a leadership course for five days at that time and just what I remember from the leadership course was that I was coached. It was my first time of a one-on-one coaching conversation and it really opened my mind to understanding that I could do something differently. It sounds very simple but it had such a profound effect on me. I really realized that I could make changes and I would get a different outcome. It sounds simple but for me it was such a revolution, I realized I didn’t just have to quit project management if I felt it was too exhausting and really that one experience changed everything for me. I got interested in coaching, I started studying coaching and in 2009 I qualified as a coach. I got interested in leadership and I started writing my first book, The Project Management Coaching Workbook and the rest just followed on. Four and a half years ago, I decided to do this full-time. I’d been blogging since 2009 and there came a point when I couldn’t do both anymore so I decided four and a half years ago to focus fully on coaching, on developing project managers into leaders and I wrote my second book at that time as well. So, I think that’s a fuller introduction really.

[03:00] Yegor: Yeah, that sounds interesting and that actually helps me to ask you the first question because I write a lot about managing and project management but I don’t really know what leadership is about. I mean I’m not a professional in that area and I want to ask is it a different thing for management from project management? So, leadership and management, they’re two different things or they overlap some? How can you help us to define what they are?

[03:25] Susanne: Yeah, absolutely. They do overlap but I see them as being very different as well. The management side I think is what project managers would be normally more familiar with. So, it’s what we do a lot of the time, we deliver something to certain parameters. We have the time-costs-quality triangle, we deliver a certain outcome, it’s all quite rational and we can estimate effort and calculate duration. That’s kind of the words that we use in project management. It’s almost there’s a science to it and we can debate whether our estimates meet plus minus 15% buffer and it’s almost as I said like a science. Also management is really a bit based on I would say telling others what to do. So, that is changing at the moment with more collaborative working but I would say the traditional way of project managing is that the project manager would do the plan and of course with input from team members but by and large, they would instruct others and that’s very much a management view. It’s very much rational. Well, I’m the manager, I tell you what to do. I know that many project managers can’t in detail instruct people and tasks because they don’t have the expertise but they’re still kind of instructing others in when things need to be done and what the specifications are, etc.

[04:48] Yegor: Do you think it’s wrong?

[04:51] Susanne: No, no, no. I don’t think it’s wrong. I don’t think we have to get away from that. I think it definitely has a place and I’m not here to tell people to stop managing. I’m here to tell people that they need some leadership as well because if we only use this management way, it’s very hard to gain engagement from people. It’s all very good to create a plan or to be very rational about certain deliverables but it’s really people who deliver projects. So, if you want to engage the team which we do, we need to move more into the leadership side because leadership in comparison to and contrast to management is not people oriented. It’s much more about understanding the individual, what motivates the individual and also inspiring people to follow and to implement that which the project demands that we implement. So, leadership has a different taste to it, it has a different texture, it’s more engaging, it’s more collaborative but not from a management point of view collaborative. Collaborative because I’m interested in the people, I’m interested in making it work for others. It’s not me telling others what to do, it is by nature about us, about the team. So, as a leader you create the space and the environment for others to contribute and to excel.

[06:13] Yegor: I got there but we still remain as project managers you said. For example, if I’m a manager I still instruct people like you’re saying, instruct people what to do and tell them what to do but on top of that you are saying that I need leadership. So, we are not removing this instructing people or we are still instructing them?

[06:32] Susanne: Okay. So, good question. I see this as both management and leadership are required for project managers. Instructing people is sometimes a good style but it is not the only style we should rely on. If I just instruct people, again I’m not collaborative at all. I’m not actually listening to others, I’m not actually inviting others to step in. Sometimes if it’s a short task, if it’s something that’s black and white, it’s quicker just to instruct people. At other times, it’s much more empowering to coach people, to use and more what do we think, what would you do or when we plan to step back and let the team plan. I’m still there. I’m contributing as a team member but I’m not the one who’s instructing. So, what I’m saying is sometimes it’s appropriate but not all the time.

[07:21] Yegor: Yeah, but you know as a Prince2 certified project manager, you know that project management is about, like you said a triangle. So, about drawing the scope and understanding the budget and understanding what has to be done by certain people and then my job as a project manager is to tell them what to do. but then at some point you’re saying that I have to switch roles and become a leader and forget my duties of telling people what to do. So, isn’t the kind of a conflict of interest? So, what I need to do? Being a friend and a coach and a leader or being a manager who has to follow all this triangle requirement?

[07:56] Susanne: No, I don’t think it’s fundamentally the project manager’s role to tell others what to do. I think it’s a project manager’s role to lead the team, to focus the team, to make sure we all understand what we’re delivering, to do lots of other things that we all are aware that the project manager does and the question is how do you as a project manager get the best from the team? How do you as a project manager get the best outcomes? If you believe fundamentally that project management is about telling others what to do, I think that’s limiting, very limiting.

[08:29] Yegor: But like you said, there’s still some necessity to give orders or instructions or whatever because there are some signs of a project management which requires us to build some structure on a project or this is from the past? Because I’ve heard the opinion that this is kind of the management from the past where people were actually following this requirement and the management triangle and working by the documents but now it’s more a time of teams which are more flat and there’s no central boss or a central manager and the team somehow by itself moves forward.

[09:07] Susanne: Yeah. It’s not about the team by itself moving forward, it’s not about the project manager being invisible. It’s about the project manager relating to people in a different way I think. So, the time cost quality triangle, of course, we still need to deliver. Of course, the project manager still communicates all the constraints we have but they work together in the team to find out what can we deliver by this time. It’s not me as a project manager who bears the responsibility to plan all of this out. It is us because if I bear the responsibility as a project manager, my team is not engaged, right? Because it’s the project manager who promised it all. So, what do I know? I wasn’t asked. If we want teams that are high-performing and teams that actually buy in and weight into the whole thing, they’ve got to have a stake in it. The only way you can give people a stake is by inviting them in, inviting them into the planning room, inviting them in where the decisions are being made and that’s what I’m talking about. The project manager still needs to be maybe the conduit between upper management and the team. The project manager still needs to relay some requirements. Of course, all of these things still need to happen. It is how I relate to the team that’s different. That’s really the essence of that leadership aspect is how I relate to the team, how I engage the team.

[10:25] Yegor: Yeah, that makes sense. But my next question is can I or our listeners actually learn those leadership skills and techniques or is it something which people are born with? Because the project management is more like a sign. So, you can read a book and understand how to manage this triangle and just do everything by the book and you will become more or less a good project manager. Well, let’s say you don’t pay attention to people, you don’t care about all this but you will still follow the rules and you will still give instructions and you will do everything by the book and somehow the project will I guess move forward. But the leadership thinks it sounds like more psychological questions and more questions about how do you feel people or there are some body of knowledge which I can study and become a good leader?

[11:13] Susanne: Yeah, that’s some good observations. I agree that management can be studied and you can learn good project management techniques. On the leadership side, some people would say that yes, you’re born with certain skills and leadership but leadership can very much be learned. In fact I believe it has to be learned, nobody is born a perfect leader either although some people have a natural tendency to connect better with people. So, the ways to develop it is well, first of all if we work for someone who’s a great leader which unfortunately doesn’t happen that often and if we are mentored by a great leader, that’s really the best way because that person will stop and say hmm, just reflect on that meeting we had for a moment. They will mentor you in the moment. So, that’s obviously the best way. Working with a coach, working with a coach on leadership in particular will be very beneficial. What leadership is really about and when we learn it is about awareness. It’s about building awareness about how I come across, about what my values are, what I do, what I don’t do, how I react in certain situations, all of that stuff. It’s self awareness. It’s very hard to become a good leader without that self-awareness because leaders are very aware of how they act in certain situations, whether they instruct or whether they coach, whether they react, whether they hold back their reactions, all of that stuff, they’re very self-aware. So, the way to develop that is to reflect personally, people can reflect at the end of each day what happened today, am I happy with what happened, what could I have done differently, not being overly critical just observing ourselves and making some notes maybe at the end of the day and beginning to work consciously with our behaviors. So, there are some of the ways we can work with it, keep a journal, work with a coach, work with a mentor. Of course, reading books but reading books just gives you theoretical knowledge, it doesn’t give you the practical application of it.

[13:28] Yegor: Okay. I get it. But do you personally have any experience of people who were bad leaders and then you started to coach them or maybe not yourself but somebody else so you started or somebody started to coach them and then they became better leaders? Have you seen that?

[13:43] Susanne: Oh, of course. That’s what I do on a day-to-day basis. The thing is, however, it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen from just attending and I run a lot of leadership workshops. Good leaders are not built in a two-day workshop but a two-day workshop or a seven-day workshop or whatever it is can give people insights, very profound insights so they can take with them to the project and what we do in some of the workshops we run is we pair people up in buddies so that after the workshop they actually have a peer, a buddy who they can continue the peer-to-peer conversations with and they have personal development plans, they know what they want to develop, we’ve done very deep work with them where they understand more about their personality, more about what they need to work on. Absolutely, I’ve seen that happen, absolutely.

[14:40] Yegor: And how do it happens because their projects are more successful or because they’re telling you this?

[14:46] Susanne: Because they come back and say that they have different experiences with people. They come back and say that people react to them differently. That’s when you know because I’m not interested in giving people more knowledge, I’m interested in seeing people do something differently. So, when they come back and report back, so we’re running some leadership workshops where we see people three times, so we meet for three days, then six weeks later we meet for six days again then six weeks later we meet for three days. So, when people come back and the same happens when I coach people one-on-one. There’s people I’ve coached now for two and a half years. So, when people come back and they begin to apply what we’ve been working on and they say that they see people react to them differently, they have different outcomes with their stakeholders, they have different outcomes with their team, they do things and you know it’s because they’ve built it up, they’ve learnt it, that’s fabulous. That’s really the reward for me.

[15:43] Yegor: That’s really important but again, it sounds to me like you’re changing people psychologically and you are helping them more like really a personal growth coach but the question is their projects, I mean money-wise and timewise and scope wise, are they really becoming more effective or are they just more enjoyed being in their projects and they love to work with people more? Do you see really business outcome then?

[16:08] Susanne: Of course, yeah. It’s linked. So, if people are better at connecting with others, if people are better listeners, if people are better at asking the right questions, if people are better at leading their stakeholders, if people are better at understanding why they’re doing something, all that stuff, if people are better at reading others psychologically, of course, that adds to an outcome. I’ll say again what I said in the beginning of the podcast is people deliver projects, it’s not processes. If you do not engage the team, you have a team which is not engaged basically and that’s one of the biggest problems we have in the Western workforce today, disengaged team members and we all know it. That doesn’t create the best outcomes, of course not. It doesn’t create team members who really apply themselves who are really highly motivated, who think, who want to do great things. Of course, it doesn’t. So, when people become better leaders, it implicitly will create a better outcome and I see that.

[17:09] Yegor: And you think that everybody is capable of becoming a great leader or it’s just some people are good – in general we’re speaking about programmers because most of my listeners are computer people. So, the question is can we tell them that look, some of you are going to be good programmers and some of you going to be good leaders and just improve your skills or anybody can become a good leader?

[17:30] Susanne: I think as anything in life, some people are more inclined to be good at something than others, some people are naturally more skilled in becoming a great musician maybe than others. So, in leadership everybody has the potential to become a better leader. I’m not sure everybody has the potential to be a great leader. Well, if they work on it. So, I think it’s as with everything, to some people it comes more natural but everybody can learn to be better than they are today.

[18:07] Yegor: And somebody is asking on the chat what do you think about being leaders in teams which are remote? So¸ you don’t have personal contact with programmers who are sitting somewhere but you still have to manage them. So, is it still possible or I mean if there is no face-to-face communication, if you’re basically using some documents to manage people and some chat?

[18:28] Susanne: Yeah. More and more teams today are remote and being remote – I think no matter the situation, we can employ better leadership skills. What does it mean? It means that we engage people differently. It means that we ask more questions, it means that we listen, it means that we’re interested in them and we’re interested in why they’re on the project, what they can gain from the project. Again it’s the quality of our relationship coupled with an attention to the outcome of course. As we’re saying, we’re not throwing that away. So, even if key members are remote, we can employ that. I think the full potential of leadership probably will not come through in a remote team because as we say, you’re not actually with people but you can still show leadership skills with remote teams in the way that you engage people during your conference calls for instance or during your web chats or whatever you’re having. If it’s just texting people, I would say it’s harder, definitely harder.

[19:34] Yegor: Yeah, that’s true and more and more companies like you just said, more teams are becoming remote now and maybe in 10 or 20 years everybody will work remotely. So, maybe the leadership as well will have to change somehow, the entire idea of leadership. Don’t you think?

[19:48] Susanne: No, I mean I think leadership is leadership. Leadership is rooted in who we are. Its roots again are in our self-awareness. So, I don’t think the idea of leadership will change. Leadership is not about tools or techniques. The tools and techniques will change so how maybe we engage people may change but I think as people work more and more remotely, our tools are becoming better. So, there’s much more video conferencing now. The collaboration tools are extremely good. Not everybody is using them yet but they will. So, I think that video will replace a lot of our face-to-face, no doubt about it and there are people in the US I’ve been coaching for years and I’ve never met them in person and I always see them on Skype or another tool and it’s incredible what you can do with video.

[20:40] Yegor: You know what happens usually, what I hear from programmers is that they explain the situation where they have a manager, a leader, you call it whatever, the [inaudible 0:20:50] masters, they have team leads, there are different titles but somebody who’s in charge and this person usually is not really professional in this management triangle, is not good at managing scope or planning or drawing the diagrams but is just a big talker and he just spends a lot of time on Skype and he just enjoys being with people and programmers complain about that. They’re saying that the project is not being really managed. We just have somebody who is a good friend of us but this person is not really capable of professionally managing actually time and scope and budget problems and this is what I feel that it comes from in general, the idea on the market right now that you don’t need management skills, all you need is just leadership skills. Don’t you think it’s a problem?

[21:38] Susanne: I don’t agree with that. I very much agree we need management. You can’t just have somebody who is running around being good at talking. That’s not leadership. I don’t know what that is. That’s talking.

[21:51] Yegor: Yeah, exactly. But that’s what’s happening so people are not really professional. They don’t get the education in management. They just become leaders and they just read a few books about leadership and they just start talking and engaging people but they don’t really know what the difference is between, I don’t know, the end-to-end connectivity of tasks and to begin something like that. So, they just don’t know the basic stuff of drawing a diagram or a plan or calculating the budget and that will ruin the project.

[22:21] Susanne: Well, I think again different situations, there are some types of leadership where you don’t need to know the detail but I would say on projects, it’s hard to lead a project if you don’t understand the mechanics of project management. So, I would agree with you on that one.

[22:37] Yegor: So, when you’re coaching these people, these managers and leaders, you’re telling them that you have to learn your basic skills like management skills and then apply leadership on top of that. We agree about this, that they don’t replace each other, right?

[22:53] Susanne: Yeah, that’s right. They don’t replace each other. It’s more like additional skillsets and when I coach people, it’s interesting because we often start off with the management side just to make sure that they have the foundational techniques that they need, that they understand how to create a collaborative plan, that they understand what risk is, how do they use risk, how do they work with risk for instance and we very quickly cover that off because as we’ve said already, it can be learned. It’s not that difficult. It’s logical. Most people if they work in the field, they will have certainly awareness about it and then we move into more interpersonal stuff and what often happens is that the way people come across with others, it’s oftentimes a mirror, it’s a reflection of themselves. So, they’ve got to deal with their own stuff before they can deal effectively with team members. So, if someone says something to you and you react because that stuff comes from the past or let’s say people don’t say hello to you in the morning when you get to work and all of a sudden you feel that they’re ignoring you and that you’re worthless and all this stuff starts off and it has nothing to do a reality. It affects how you come across on your project so a lot of people project their own fears and anxieties onto the team. I’m sorry to go a bit psychological here but that’s what happens. So, that’s why a lot of the coaching comes back to well, who are you really and what’s going on for you and to learn to unpick these behaviors and understand them.

[24:34] Yegor: And this leadership hype, I don’t think it’s hype but it’s really popular now. It’s a trend definitely. We didn’t have it 20 years ago or 30 years ago. It’s kind of new. Am I right?

[24:47] Susanne: I don’t know. I’m not

[24:50] Yegor: You were not there.

[24:51] Susanne: I have over 20 years’ experience. I don’t have 30 years’ experience so I’m not the right one to compare. I don’t see a hype really but potentially it could be because I think there’s been an over reliance on management recently and I think people have started doing MBAs and going on management schools and optimizing this, that and the other and having KPIs and everything has to be lean and the bottom line. It’s all management speak or strategies and I think for the last many years, there’s been a real over reliance on management and all the management techniques in the management schools. So, if you feel there’s more emphasis on leadership now, it could be because we’ve gone too far in the management camp. I don’t know if that’s true. That’s just one possible explanation.

[25:42] Yegor: Because right now, sometimes I speak at management conferences and that’s my observation that out of for example 50 different talks, 45 of them or more will speak about leadership and this emotional affect on management and how you deal with people and just a few speakers will actually speak about management something, for example, risk management or scope management, foundational things.

[26:05] Susanne: Yeah, yeah.

[26:05] Yegor: So, it sounds to me like a trend. So, people are more interested in leadership things.

[26:12] Susanne: Yeah, but it’s probably because we’re oversaturated with management. I mean what can you say more about risk management that hasn’t been said?

[26:20] Yegor: So, you think it’s fundamental knowledge which we already have, we don’t need to discuss it anymore?

[26:25] Susanne: Yes or no. Because honestly people are not applying the fundamentals.

[26:31] Yegor: Yeah, exactly.

[26:32] Susanne: And I mean the amount of people who still don’t understand the difference between a risk and an issue. Of course, professional project managers do but the other thing is that a lot of people now are running projects because we’re living in a world where everything is changed and everybody has to be a project manager even if it’s not their day-to-day work. So, there might be an account manager or there might be an HR manager but they also have to run projects on the side. I train a lot of people like that who are non-professional project managers if you like and awareness levels are very low.

[27:11] Yegor: Do you think that leadership skills actually have to be learned by managers or people who lead the groups but not for programmers? Because I feel that programmers as well or people who are actually doing the work, they also need to understand those skills or maybe have them or do you think there is a clear separation between people doing the work and people leading them and managing them?

[27:33] Susanne: Well, I think that’s a good question and I don’t think there’s a clear segregation. Leadership is actually not about the title we have or the position we have in an organization. Everyone can be a leader in their own right. Of course, there’s different types then of leadership. What I mean is that because leadership is so much about self-awareness and is so much about being aware of my choices, being aware of my reactions, how I engage others, how I interact with others, how I listen to others, how I motivate others, that’s very relevant to everybody. Project leadership will not be as applicable to a programmer as it will be to the project manager but I think this self leadership is applicable to everybody.

[28:20] Yegor: So, programmers at least – well, that’s what I understand. I’m just trying to check that theory on you. I feel the programmers at least need to know how they’re being managed. So, they need to know what techniques and tools are used by the manager on them in order to understand the big picture, not to be offended for example sometimes.

[28:38] Susanne: Right, yeah. So, one of the things that often talk to people about is to have open conversations no matter who’s being managed and who’s being the manager, who’s being lead and who’s the leader for instance. It’s a question of having the conversation. What do you more of a new job? What do you less of a new job? How should we work together? So, it’s a very bad idea for most managers and leaders to be micromanaging, to go and check up on people every five minutes. Very few people enjoy that. It’s controlling. So, to have the conversation about okay, so you’re working on this particular task. It’ll probably take you a week or two weeks. How are we going to check in with each other? Are we going to check in with each other at the end of every day, every three days, at the end of each Friday? How do we do it because I don’t want to be micromanaging you but I still want to give you the support that you need. So, those conversations about what type of leadership do you respond best to, what do you need from me as your manager and leader. Having those conversations is really crucial, not just assuming that we’re going to get on.

[29:50] Yegor: Yeah, I agree and I’ve heard that opinion too, that some people are saying that you have to manage your manager. So, be smart enough not just to listen to what the manager is saying but actually give something back and maybe manage it back. I don’t know how exactly but that’s the word I’ve heard, that’s the phrase, manage your manager. What do you think about that?

[30:10] Susanne: I would have probably used that phrase in the past. I don’t think it’s a requirement but I think it’s very true. For instance, I’ll give you an example. If you have a project manager who is quite experienced and you have a project sponsor who is not used to running projects at all, you would be in a situation where the project manager can manage the sponsor in terms of feeding them information and decisions that they need to make and I see that as a situation where they’re managing the manager. I think the same will happen if you have let’s say maybe a programmer managing the project manager if the programmer has lots of experience, understands the project very well, understands the environment very well, may even understand the requirements from the client very well. The project manager may be a bit new, may be a bit hesitant or as you said before, they may have very little experience in the actual field. In that case, you’d be in a situation where the programmer can actually manage the project manager by feeding them certain types of information by being very clear to them. There are three options here. If you take decision one, I think that would be the consequence. If you make decision two, this will be the consequence. I would personally take option two but it’s really up to you. That’s a way to manage your manager I would say.

[31:34] Yegor: But don’t you think by this approach and in general by applying the leadership skills now which we’re talking about, we’re taking kind of some power and some authority from the manager and our managers are becoming less powerful than they were before they started using this leadership and were just strict managers?

[31:53] Susanne: Sorry, I didn’t follow that. You’re saying that managers are becoming less powerful?

[31:58] Yegor: Less powerful and there’s less authority on their hands because if you just follow the strict traditional management and you just – well, we said before, just direct people and tell them what to do, then you feel like a big boss. Yet now if you apply the leadership skills and this leadership approach, then you feel less like a big boss. Is it correct?

[32:18] Susanne: Maybe. Yes or no. The thing is leadership isn’t about authority. So, if I’m the big boss and I have 50 people report to me, then I have authority over them. I can probably give them a pay rise, I can decide maybe with some consultation to make some of them redundant. So, yeah, I’m the big boss. I can make that decision but I may be a very bad leader. You can have someone else in an organization who’s actually a very good leader but they’re a project leader. They have no one officially report to them but this person has a way of – people want to work for them, people want to work with them, people want to follow them because they feel appreciated.

[32:59] Yegor: Feel respected.

[33:00] Susanne: Exactly. They respect them, they feel respected, all that sort of stuff. That person I’m sure has no need to feel like a big boss. Why would they? It’s not what drives them. So, I think it’s a different mindset.

[33:12] Yegor: Yeah, I agree totally. Do you think this is the right way to go? We need to get rid of these big bosses and more think about people who are managing by respect and managing less by title and more by the values actually provided?

[33:30] Susanne: I would love that. You know what? I have worked in finance for many years before I worked for myself. I have worked for a lot of good managers who were all about KPIs and all about pushing, pushing, pushing for results. They were very good at that. Their level of emotional intelligence in some cases were shockingly low, they didn’t really care about people – well, I’m sure they did but they didn’t show it and their leadership skills, their ethics were just absolute appalling, not always but I’ve seen many good managers and very few good leaders. I would love to see more people who are good leaders but as we said before, we shouldn’t throw away the management because it’s all so

[34:15] Yegor: It’s fundamental.

[34:16] Susanne: It is. It is required as well, yeah.

[34:19] Yegor: Have you heard about this word Holacracy? I don’t know how to spell it right. H-O-L-A, Holacracy.

[34:29] Susanne: No.

[34:29] Yegor: It’s the way of managing but they’re saying that the team has to be more flat and we’re not supposed to have any managers at all. So, they completely suggest removing the role of a manager so there is no official title for manager, just a flat team where everybody is just moving forward according to some internal rules or internal tensions. I don’t know.

[34:53] Susanne: Well, when you study high-performing teams or when you read something about the studies they’ve done on high-performing teams, you’ll find that in a truly, truly high-performing team, there is no leader. In a truly high-performing team, there’ll be small groups. Let’s say we’re a group of four or five people. We take turns in making decisions, we take turns in stepping forward, we know each other very well, we worked together for a number of years, we understand each other skills and we understand each other strengths. In that situation, it’s like we work together in osmosis almost and we just know each other and we’re working towards the same goals and we have the same values. That’s beautiful when that happens but it can only happen when you have a relatively small number of people because communication has to be so good and so tight between these people. In a large group, it’s very hard to get this also because we work in different teams, people leave, people come and it takes time to build up that relationship where we understand each other, where we can work seamlessly together. So, I’m not sure it’s realistic in teams that they haven’t been working together for a long time.

[36:01] Yegor: So, it sounds you’re positioning this management role as a necessity. We just need it instead of we want it. So, ideally you’re saying in the Utopia situation, an ideal situation, we would not need a leader or a manager or anybody like that. Is it correct?

[36:23] Susanne: No, maybe people just swap the roles. People take turns in maybe taking the leadership role. Maybe that’s more the way of looking at it but it’s not official. It’s not like oh, now, I’m the leader. It’s more we blend in and out of it in those high-performing teams.

[36:41] Yegor: Based on the current situation or the kind of value you can provide, yeah?

[36:46] Susanne: Yeah, based on the situation. Yeah, that’s right.

[36:50] Yegor: So, who knows better becomes the leader, who can do better becomes the leader, that kidn of thing?

[36:54] Susanne: Yeah, and it’s not oh my god, you’re taking the lead again. No, because we blend beautifully and I think it is an ideal situation. I know that it exists but it takes quite a lot to get there, not necessarily. I’ve seen different teams get there but then for different reasons they would split and not come back again to their team. But it’s definitely possible and it’s beautiful when it happens.

[37:26] Yegor: That’s kind of a summary I’m trying to build. In that team which you just described which is working together for many years and they just know each other, can I say that they are such a great team and they don’t need a leader or manager because the rules of work are clear for them? They just know how everything works.

[37:41] Susanne: Yeah, yeah. I think they have to same norms, they have a way of contracting with each other – that’s a terrible word – but they understand how they work together. Yeah, exactly.

[37:56] Yegor: So, maybe the next conclusion from that is that if a good leader joins the team or a good leader is in the team and builds these rules and norms for some time and then eventually the leader or manager can just disappear slowly or fade out and the team will just continue to work according to the rules and norms and principles in the discipline already established there?

[38:18] Susanne: Yeah, and I think that’s actually what in a normal scenario, most managers and leaders should aim to towards because when a team is first formed, of course, there’s lots of things that are new. I don’t know how much about Tubman’s stages of team development. You go through the forming and the storming and the norming and performing and that’s actually a bit of a reflection of in the beginning there’s so much we need to figure out and who’s going to take the power and my muscles are bigger than your muscles or whatever and we have to go through that phase and someone has to kind of take the lead and also iron out conflict or make sure we address it and talk about it or whatever and a really good leader will slowly empower the team and sow all the seeds and take a step back. I think that’s very true.

[39:07] Yegor: Have you seen those leaders in your life?

[39:09] Susanne: I have but as I said before, in corporate, very rarely.

[39:17] Yegor: So, probably those people didn’t live in the

[39:20] Susanne: My first [inaudible 0:39:20] job, I worked with leaders that, yeah.

[39:23] Yegor: And these leaders, do they enjoy working in big companies and enterprise environment or they just go to startups and small teams where there is more energy, more dynamic?

[39:33] Susanne: I think it could be either. I mean I’ve spent most of my life in corporate. Of course, now is different for me because I work across industry but my role is different now. I’m more the coach or the trainer or the consultant so I see people in a different light if you know what I mean. I see them almost taken out of context.

[39:54] Yegor: Okay. And a few recommendations I’m asking you because we’re quite close to the end. I’m asking you to give a few recommendations to our listeners. The first question is if I’m a programmer now, would you recommend for me to try to become a leader and become a manager? Do look at it as the next step in my career or it’s doesn’t necessarily have to be the next step?

[40:18] Susanne: No, I don’t think it has to be the next step. We all know that there are can be problems when technical people and programmers are pushed into management because they think that’s the right way. They’re losing the joy of what they’re doing. In fact, I saw one of my friends last night and he’s a programmer. He’s a very high-level programmer in one of the world’s big banks and he’s just got a new role in a new bank and he’s so happy that he’s back doing programming again. He said I spend most of my time programming. It’s what he loves to do and people have to really recognize and be clear with themselves what is it that they love doing. What is it that makes me you want to go to work every day? Is because I love to figure out these technical things? Then people should continue to work with that. However, I would still recommend everybody to work on personal leadership. Everybody will gain from learning more about themselves, gaining self-awareness, understanding more about their own behaviors and understanding more how to communicate and connect with others. I think that’s what I would call personal leadership. I think that’s relevant to everybody.

[41:29] Yegor: And the next question is if I’m already a manager, what’s the right way for me to grow my career, to stay in a small start-up, to manage a small group 5-10 people and just be with them or constantly changing teams and growing and moving up in my career ladder – I don’t know – to big enterprises and big departments? What do you think is more?

[41:49] Susanne: I actually think a variety of things is very beneficial for people. For instance – but this is my view, I’m not saying it’s the right one – if a person, let’s say a product manager works in one area only, they can become very good at that area, that type of project, that type of technology, whatever it is. So, they get deep knowledge but for leadership I would say it’s really good to get a breadth of knowledge, to put yourself in different situations, different types of businesses, different technologies, just different environments because then we see things differently. I’ll tell you that one of the biggest problems in big corporates is that they think in silos. People have worked in the same area for 15 years and they only know how to operate there. So, in big corporations they actually incentivize people to do something differently within the same company to break down the silos. So, back to your question, I would say that I think for people to develop and to grow, it’s best to step out and do something completely different, maybe not completely different but go to a start-up for a little while, go back to corporate, be self-employed. You know the amount of stuff I have learned from working for myself, it’s incredible. You get a completely different perspective on things from working for yourself and I think it’s exactly this experience. So, I would encourage people to get just different experiences. That’s where they’ll grow from.

[43:22] Yegor: I’m asking that because many people, many friends of mine told me that they are experienced in working in large enterprises, it’s all about politics. So, they are saying there’s no leadership no management, just politics. So, they’re just trying to get out of that as soon as possible.

[43:36] Susanne: Yeah, it can be a tough environment to work in but at the same time it can give you some great opportunities, it can give you some good insights. So, I think there’s something to learn as well from big corporates but it can be quite tough.

[43:50] Yegor: Oh, yeah. I actually agree with them. Yeah, I also think that you will definitely learn something. It’s not nothing, yeah.

[43:56] Susanne: If nothing else, you learn something about yourself.

[43:59] Yegor: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. What you think in general about the idea of hiring, for companies, of hiring coaches and consultants like yourself? Is it a good idea in general or they need to solve their own problems internally? Because some people say that all these external consultants and trainers, they just come in, they bring some ideas but then they leave and we just stay with what we have and these ideas are completely not applicable and all that. You’ve probably heard that story.

[44:27] Susanne: Yeah, and that’s very true but I think there’s a big difference between a consultant who comes in and gives you a report and tells you what to do and then leaves again or a trainer who comes in and trains you for two days and then leaves again. I think that all of those initiatives are good but they’re better, much, much better if that person stays involved and helps people to implement it. I completely agree with you. Just throwing a bomb or dropping ideas and then running off, I mean that’s not a good idea. Oftentimes I can tell you that I’m fighting for that because I run a lot of training as well. I’m fighting, not fighting but I’m encouraging my clients to have follow-up sessions where we go so, what did you learn, what did you implement, what did you struggle with, how can we help you to move on and it’s budget that determines if they do it of it they don’t do it. It’s budget.

[45:20] Yegor: And when you coach these projects and when you coach these managers, you coach only managers or the entire group or the entire team?

[45:28] Susanne: It can be either. There’s no rule. Something I’ve often done is I’ve coached two people. So, I’ve coached a project manager and sponsor or a project manager and a team member. If you have the whole group together, I wouldn’t call it coaching. Oftentimes it becomes more like training or helping them to kick off the project. So, more like being the facilitator with them, helping them to facilitate a kickoff meeting, something like that and being the one who verbalizes. So, what rules do you want to play by, what’s important to you. Everybody writes down a topic, something that you think is important for this team to work together. But I wouldn’t call myself a coach. I would probably more say I’m a facilitator then.

[46:17] Yegor: Facilitator. So, it means you’re getting what they have and then you facilitate it.

[46:22] Susanne: I’m helping them let’s say to define the project or helping them to plan it and helping them to define how they want to work together. Of course, I use coaching techniques but coaching one-to-many is a little bit of a funny thing. I think coaching is more often used when it’s one-to-one.

[46:43] Yegor: Okay. Well, sounds interesting and one last question. Have you had a negative experience in coaching these teams? Did you have people disappointed and saying hey, this is not for us, leave us alone maybe.

[46:55] Susanne: That’s a good question. Have I had that?

[47:01] Yegor: Just let us stay with the traditional management, it just works for us, we just need more forms, more spreadsheets, more documents and all these leadership is not for us.

[47:11] Susanne: I’m sure that has happened. I actually can’t think of an example. I probably have examples where individual team members got a lot from it but management would have cut it because of budget or something like that. But I can tell you a funny story. A little while ago, I was interviewed to run some training for a company, several locations in Eastern Europe actually. It doesn’t matter. It’s an Australian company but they were looking for me to train them in Poland and in Czech Republic and in Romania which I did and there were about four managers interviewing me. This was all online because they wanted to see the trainer before they chose the trainer which is fine. I was on video conference and they said to me okay, we love everything you presented but what in your mind what is a danger of just training? This is exactly to the question you asked me before. What can we do as a management team to make this not just another training? What can we do to make it stick? You know what I said to them? I said to them I can tell you but you’re not going to like the answer and they said okay, tell us what the answer is. I said the answer is that I also train you because oftentimes I will train project managers and what they’ll say to me is oh, I wish my manager had been here because we’re not getting the support from our management or they don’t understand project management or they just tell us to give them a deadline and they don’t want to listen to anything else, whatever and it’s true enough. Of course, I trained their teams but I didn’t train the managers. I didn’t even meet them and that to me is such a missed opportunity. I mean they asked for it. They wanted to hear but they didn’t want to work with it. They didn’t want to engage.

sixnines availability badge   GitHub stars