Be Gentle with Yourself


If you're managing a huge project for the first time or managing some campaign of far greater magnitude than previously, the notion of being gentle with yourself is one worth heeding. As with so much in life, there are two sides to an experience:

  • On the plus side of managing the people, time, budgets, technology and processes associated with campaigns are praises, raises, promotions and greater challenges.
  • On the negative side is greater potential for mistakes, wasted time, misallocated funds, anger and frustration.

Take the case of executives who suddenly have to do more traveling for work. The positive side of business travel is getting to see new places. Most managers' transportation, food and accommodation expenses are paid for. They meet new people, have new experiences and perhaps enjoy benefits they don't have back home. Many of the hotels in which they stay will have ultramodern health clubs and other guest facilities that they enjoy using.

What is the down side to business travel? Besides the obvious transportation delays, bumpy plane rides, lost luggage and inattentive clerks come less often cited but equally frustrating experiences. Travelers tend to lose things more often, such as sunglasses, favorite ties or belts, alarm clocks and expensive pens. Road food might not agree with you. Your sleeping and waking pattern may be awry.

During these times, it's important to be gentle with yourself. You have to realize that the price of affluence, travel and seeing the world is losing things.

Gentle on the Project

There are also prices to project management. They include embarking on the wrong paths, not being able to assemble all the resources you need at the time you need them and having to "make do" more often than you would prefer. Often these experiences are not necessarily related to your management style, the project or the particulars of your situation. They occur because you are involved in management! Learning rarely comes in even measure. When you're carving out a plan that no one has embarked upon before, it is difficult to know exactly how long it "ought to take."

When once asked his thoughts about a critical foreign policy issue, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Ph. D., studiously replied, "I haven't given that measure any consideration. I will have to think about it." A lesser person might have tried to bluff his way out of the situation.

Henry Kissinger understood the power of reading and reflection. He knew that to be at his best, he needed time to think, collect his thoughts and form an opinion. To be at your best, often you need time to think, collect your thoughts and then take action.

Days of Doubt

Days will pass when you feel as if you have accomplished nothing. Consider a young musician who is asked to practice a piece that he finds difficult. Before fully mastering that piece, his teacher gives him a more complicated piece to play. Now the young musician is feeling frustrated. He hasn't quite mastered the first piece and finds himself attempting a more challenging piece.

Out of the blue, his teacher asks him to play the first composition. Bingo! The young musician plays it masterfully. Yet, he hadn't practiced it for at least a week and was fully engaged in attempting to learn the new composition. What happened? Assimilation and germination.

If he is asked to play a third composition more challenging than the second, the same phenomenon is likely to occur. The musician can play the second piece a week later with greater aplomb than if he had labored at that piece over and over again.

In time and with learning, the young musician, as well as a project manager, discovers that "things" are happening and progress is occurring, often when it appears otherwise. Many seasoned managers, like top executives and politicians, learn to take activities in stride. They develop a way of being gentle with themselves, knowing that progress on a campaign not only is uneven, but often fluctuates widely.

It would be a wonderful world if progress came in predictable, manageable steps, but events rarely work that way. If you are battling self-doubt or are engaged in heavy bouts of second-guessing, remember the importance of being gentle with yourself, particularly in the early stages of a project.

Very Ready, Set, Go

After you have done everything that you can to prepare yourself for the challenge at hand, you are ready to jump into the fray. Perhaps you have to fully familiarize yourself with some new software or ensure that your staff is familiar with the campaign. Perhaps you need to become familiar with operational procedures on the factory floor.

During the ramp-up period, when you allow yourself some slack, your methodical preparations have a way of paying for themselves in the days that follow. Whether it's obtaining a more complete comprehension of the challenge before you, mastering new software, understanding an industrial process or even learning a new language, the time and energy that you spend on those critical activities is akin to an insurance policy. Your early learning helps you minimize future down time on the project.

The key to knowing when to take off the kid gloves is understanding what it takes to master the fundamental skills necessary to propel the project forward. What will it take in terms of hours, days or weeks for you to acquire the background skills or capabilities that are appropriate prerequisites to:

  • launching a project,
  • managing it successfully, and
  • seeing it to its desired end?

When learning to use essential software, you know you've arrived at completion when you're so comfortable with the new software that you wouldn't go back to the old software even if someone paid you. The benefits of using the new software are so obvious and overwhelming that no argument or incentive would be sufficient for you to revert to what came before.

With your staff, proceeding at half-speed is no longer necessary when it becomes an impediment. With their newfound understanding or skills, people will become antsy when they can't get on with the project. Such eagerness does not mean that they won't require additional coaching and support as the campaign unfolds.

Nevertheless, they've read enough, seen enough and learned enough to feel comfortable in boldly proceeding where they haven't gone before, in terms of supporting you on this project!

Copyright © Jeff Davidson

About the Author
Jeff Davidson

Jeff Davidson, MBA, CMC, is the internationally recognized expert on work-life balance and holds the registered trademark from the USPTO as the "Work-Life Balance Expert"®. Delivered with passion, Jeff has offered his cutting edge, hands-on strategies for a balanced career and a balanced life to audiences worldwide. He is a five-time state winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration's "media advocate of the year" award. Jeff's breakthrough books and articles have made him a favorite, repeat interview subject of USA Today, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and the Career Weekly of the Wall Street Journal. Jeff can be reached via his web site at

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