Sunday, December 11, 2005

Which Apprentice Candidate Will Best Handle a Crisis?

The interlude between two episodes of the final round provides an unusual opportunity to look at project leadership during a project before the competition's outcome is known. We don't really know how each team is doing according to whatever implementation plans they decided except that each leader now faces a crisis. Bad weather can shut down Randall's charity ball game and Rebecca has lost the star attraction to her charity comedy show. What we have seen are vignettes of project manager behavior and this is how some of those look through the lens of A Vision of Leadership.

Visualization. Each project leader has in his/her mind some visualization of the desired project outcome that is a basis for directing their staff. We did not see project managers sharing or developing their visualization with their team and instead they move straight into delegating responsibilities. This requires total trust by the following team members that the PM has all the wisdom, insight, experience and competence necessary formulate how the task will be best accomplished in all its aspects.

Follow is opposite visualization in the tetrahedral model. This means that if you don't share a leader's visualization, you cannot place your actions into the context visualized by the person you are following - you follow blindly. This is well illustrated by Mark who was quite disturbed that Randall wanted him at the gift store and not working with the ball game's color commentator and, again, when he was left on his own erecting important facilities and signs. Mark said nothing to Randall.

Respecting. What's really happening? Mark could explain to Randall how he was prioritizing his time but, apparently, he has insufficient respect for his own potential to lead Randall. Meanwhile Randall is not respecting Mark when he countermands his earlier direction without checking the impact upon Mark's activities and later, leaves Mark alone conducting a major task without checking with him about how he is doing. Together they are an ineffective organization and they do not collaborate.

Structuring. Structuring emerges from the desires to lead and to implement. In the case of Mark, Randall's structuring of his organization and even his structuring of his visualization of how things will come together are called into question.

Responding. The outcomes of collaboration and contribution require a leader to be responsive, a practice that supports their commitments to innovate and follow. Randall appeared non-responsive to the representative of his charity and the significance she gave to the message about the high incidence of pediatric AIDS. The same was true when the ball park's owner twice raised the issue of bad weather to Randall and later emphasized how he was an important stakeholder in the project. Randall's capacity to collaborate and contribute in this project are now in question.

Rebecca at least acknowledged that there would be no purple food for the VIPs at her comedy show. However, it was not obvious that she respected and responded to two other comments from her corporate sponsor. The first was when they explained they had no experience in supporting charitable fundraising (although one executive later replied to Toral's specific question about direct solicitations), and the second was when they questioned the adequacy of three bartenders serving 150 people.

Improvising. Each team faces a crisis that shatters their leader's original visualization of how their event will be constructed and conducted. The outcome of each event and each team's performance is now likely to be judged according to how well they improvise in these crises. The practice of improvisation derives its strength from commitments to lead and to innovate and supports the outcomes of visualization and collaboration.

I recall Rebecca dependably improvising under pressure but have no similar memory of Randall. To the contrary, it was Donald Trump who formulated a way for him to go to his grandmother's funeral while continuing the interview process. Rebecca continued the interview despite a broken ankle, she prepared and delivered a presentation at the last minute for her team when no-one else would, and she replaced ineffective actors with Randall and herself in her commercial. I expect her to at least consider standing in for Joe Piscapo as MC.

Responding, Improvising and Respecting are the three leadership practices that support collaboration. Collaboration is necessary in both teams for them to get through their respective crises and in the collaboration stakes Rebecca has an edge.

Respecting, Structuring and Improvising are practices that emerge from the commitment to lead. Weakness in these weakens the outcomes of Visualization, Organization and Collaboration and this is where Randall is vulnerable.

We get a clue about how this happened from the team-picking dinner when Rebecca "put on her game face" and assertively negotiated her members. Randall was unprepared for her competitive toughness and may have lost much of his earlier confidence. Unlike Falisha who was fired last week, Rebecca continues to demonstrate the "toughness" demanded by Donald Trump.

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