One of the problems that project managers, and in fact managers in general, have is that they tend to think that the road to success starts here and ends there – ie, it’s a fairly straight route. The truth is, for most success stories, that they set out on one road and met failure, they then set out on another road, and met failure, and they kept doing this until they arrived at the success they were aiming at. And it’s important to bear in mind, when carrying out those important end-of-year appraisals that this is so often the case.
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look at some examples...
This person wasn’t able to speak until he was almost four years old, and his teachers said that he wouldn’t amount to much. Who was he? Albert Einstein. And you don’t need to be a theoretical physicist to have heard of him.
Or this man, who was sacked from a newspaper for lacking imagination and having no original ideas. He was Walt Disney. Or this woman – she was demoted from her job as a news anchor because she wasn’t fit for television. She’s Oprah Winfrey. Or this person who was told by a teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything and that he should go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality. That was Thomas Edison. Or the would-be author whose first book was rejected by 27 publishers. That was the best-selling children’s author, Dr Seuss. Or what about the man whose fiancé died, who failed in business, who had a nervous breakdown, and who lost eight elections? That was Abraham Lincoln, who went on to be the 16th US president. Or you might be more familiar with the guy, aged 30, who was left devastated and depressed after being unceremoniously removed from the company he’d started. That was Steve Jobs and Apple.
If you like sport, there was the lad who was dropped from his high school basketball team, who went home, locked himself in his room, and cried. That was Michael Jordan, six times NBA champion, five times NBA MVP, and four times NBA all-star. Or the 11-year-old boy who was dropped from his football team after being diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency that made him smaller than most children his age. That was Lionel Messi, who became three times FIFA world player of the year.
Then there was the high school dropout, whose personal struggle with drugs and poverty culminated in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. That was Eminem, who became a 13 times Grammy award winner. Perhaps, most famously, was the popular beat combo who were rejected by Decca recording studios because they didn’t like their sound. Decca added that the band had no future in show business. That was The Beatles, arguably the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed band in history
The argument is that if you haven’t failed, you’ve haven’t tried anything new. So maybe, in your team, you’re not seeing the potential in someone, who may go on to become a great success.
But how do you motivate someone? The argument is usually between the carrot and the stick approach. You motivate someone away from pain and towards pleasure. With the stick you threaten them with losing their job if they don’t improve. With the carrot you dangle a promotion in front of them if things go well. But really, you need to know your team and what their values are and what their goals are. That way, you can offer them appropriate incentives to get them to do good work on the project as a stepping stone towards achieving their life goals.
And while not everyone you meet will be an Edison or Einstein, I think it’s important not to write them off as talentless, until you’ve had a chance to explore what talents they have and what they can bring to an organization.