Effective Leadership Under Pressure

When the pressures of projects and deadlines start piling up take the opportunity to build your leadership skills and in turn you will be rewarded with an intrinsically motivated team.  Below are a few pointers for turning out successful projects and being an effective leader. 

Respect and Embrace the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Team Member

Every one of the members of your team has unique skills and experience that, if managed well, can contribute to all projects.  Do you have a low performer?  Look for the good qualities of that person and put them in situations where those qualities will be exposed.  This will help build his or her confidence without hindering project goals.  Do you have a superstar?  Make sure you know his or her weaknesses so you aren’t surprised later.  For example, you may have a developer who produces code rapidly.  The downfall may be that his code is sloppy meaning the test phase of his code will take longer.  Do you have a plodder?  Make sure you estimate more development time, but you might be able to have a shorter test window.   

Rotate Lead Responsibilities 

If you have multiple team leads, avoid putting continuous pressure on them all year long.  Instead, rotate projects or project phases between them allowing for some “down” time between projects.  Down time does not mean unproductive time, but instead might be a time for them to regroup, clean up and wrap up straggling work.  It is also a time when they can serve as support for other projects rather than leading the project, effectively creating a break in the pressures that come with project demands. 

We’re Not All Crazy on the Same Day 

There is a bond that is built when people go through stressful times together and this is no different.  Encourage your staff to talk to you when they are feeling discouraged or overwhelmed.  Conversely, confide in them on occasion when you are feeling overwhelmed or discouraged.  The idea is that soon your staff will see that on days they are going crazy, you can talk them off the ledge and vice versa.  Not only does this build trust, but it solidifies your team. 

Mistakes Happen, Move On 

People makes mistakes.  Don’t punish and scold.  Remember you are working with adults and most adults will self-correct.  Instead, build trust with your staff so if mistakes are made they are brought to your attention quickly so you can help them fix the mistake and move on.  I had a boss once who used to say, “You’re not a real programmer, until you bring the system down.”  That statement, shows your staff that you encourage them to take risks and will be there to help you out of a jamb. 

Work Hard Too 

Nobody likes a boss who walks around with a cup of coffee chatting while everyone else is working hard.  Jump in and work hard too.  If you are managing a development effort there is still so much you can do to support your staff so they can get the job done.  You can create the vision and help them through the design process.  You might need to gather information for them so they can continue working.  I’ve even helped do development work and tested.  I also help out the training staff by meeting with subject matter experts and selected users to demo our new systems throughout the SDCL process. This helps the stakeholders to understand what is coming and how much training their staff will need.   The list is endless and your team will appreciate and respect your efforts throughout the project. 

Reward Your Team for Their Hard Work 

Rewarding your staff can come in all different ways, it doesn’t have to be anything big.  It could be as small as writing an email to everyone showing your appreciation.  I like to do nice things for my staff that just shows them that I was thinking of them and recognize the demands that I have put on them.   

The bottom line is effective leadership starts with recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of your team, putting them in situations where they will succeed, building their confidence and most importantly, their trust.  Using the formula above takes time and a lot of trial and error to get it right, but in the end, you will have a bonded and loyal team who will work hard for you when it counts. 

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