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Friday, September 30, 2016

Managing others: Four Simple Powerful Questions

I was recently invited to be part of the expert panel with EcoCar 3 in Natick, Massachusetts. It is a college level automotive engineering competition that challenges 16 universities from across North America to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles. It’s a major workforce development initiative that seeds the auto industry with thousands of engineers, business leaders and communicators and we’ve added in a new project management track!

Among the numerous questions asked of the panel, one question that really struck a chord in me was the question on how to engage a team member as a project manager. Now, this particular topic has been a burning question for me because the most important task facing any project manager or any manager is getting work done through other people. The principle of emotional intelligence is at the epicenter of leading others. In my doctoral thesis, I studied about the relationship between emotional intelligence and various types of leadership styles concluding that transformational leadership was found to be critical for project manager success (Rajagopalan, 2009). Subsequently, I continued to explore using a qualitative research interviewing a number of senior representatives across many industries validating a framework called TONES for middle management transformation through project management (Rajagopalan, 2014).

Synthesizing the ideas again that the panel reaffirmed during the panel discussion, I present below four critical questions. These are:

  1. Can you do the task? 
  2. Do you want to do the task?
  3. Do you have time to do the task?
  4. Is this the best you can do to complete this task?

I have established and managed a PMO in a professional services setting and in a life-sciences setting. Further, I have delivered a number of projects and programs - some platform level and some client driven projects and I will explain below the purpose behind these questions.

  1. The first question focuses on unearthing the true desire for an individual project team member or a project manager in the PMO. If the person doesn't have a desire to accomplish any task, then, no amount of motivation can help. 
  2. The second question focuses on addressing the fear factor. The fear may arise from a fear of failure or fear or uncertainty. In such cases, if the person wants to do this but has inhibition, I intellectually stimulate the person on why they want to do the task. 
  3. The third question focuses on creating the bandwidth. Sometimes, the person may have too much going on to devote adequate time to complete the task. This question raises what needs to be stopped to free up time required to accomplish this task. 
  4. Finally, the fourth question focuses on continuously monitoring the progress, motivate and energize the person to create a stretch goal to raise beyond their own limits. 

Engagement is all about making one feel important and helping them raise above their own assumed potential. Creating this engagement is the seeds for leadership. In getting projects done by people, every project manager therefore needs to demonstrate this leadership.


Rajagopalan S. (2009). Relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership styles of information systems project managers in virtual teams. Dissertation Abstracts International (UMI No: 3359539).

Rajagopalan, S. (2016). TONES: a reference framework for identifying skills and competencies and grooming talent to transform middle management through the field of project management. International Journal of Markets and Business Systems, 2(1), 3-24.

1 comment:

  1. Commendable writeup, Dr. Sriram! Love how you mentioned that PM deals not only with details of the project itself, but also team members' difficulties, which need to be overcome to meet the deliverables. We often think of PM as an objective system, but this is in fact far from true. Great job with this.