Have you ever found yourself running the other direction when asked to consider managing a team or group of people?  People management can be hard.  And if you don’t like managing people, I’d like to offer another perspective.

The first thing that goes through your mind when considering such opportunities is the time suck of dealing with people.  How can you get these people to put in their best effort?  Perhaps the image of trying to push and cajole them into doing work at a high level of performance seems daunting, especially if they don’t really want to do the work.

When considering leadership positions, many talented leaders imagine the litany of people issues, rather than the outcome they could collectively create.managing people with Zen - man on table meditating

What if managing people could be more like mixing your favorite beverage? You start with your base liquid. Then you add various ingredients until you get an amazingly delicious concoction.

This simple shift in approach could make a big difference, from people management to project management.  Here’s a simple example, or a case in point…

People Management Versus Project Management

“I can’t stand managing people,” Derek, mid-level manager at an IT company said, as we stood next to a table of scrumptious holiday cookies.

Considering his charismatic, intelligent, and outgoing nature, I was a little surprised to hear such a strong statement.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Derek said, “I enjoy managing projects… just not people. If I manage a project, I get to find the best people and resources to complete the project. It’s much easier than managing people.”

how to think about managing people“So,” I replied, “When you’re managing people, you’re telling them what to do. And, when you’re managing a project, you’re looking for people with the skills and resources you need in order to complete the project?”

“Right, exactly,” Derek said.

Pushing People To Do Their Job

Derek’s challenge is far from unique. Few leaders want responsibility for pushing people do their work, or to care about their performance. Let’s face it, most people in positions of leadership want hard working team members that will do whatever’s necessary to get good results.Happy co-workers throwing paper

The problem is that many leaders think they need to manage people.  But their real opportunity (when given a team to manage) is to scope out the work, clarify success, gather buy-in from the team, allocate resources appropriately, and then celebrate small wins along the way.  

When considering this approach to managing people, which I suggested to Derek, his face brightened, and he got excited by the possibility of his ability to step into the true leader he is.  

Questions Or Tools For Getting Your Team to Push Themselves

To inspire your team to push themselves, and avoid the time suck of pushing and cajoling, carve out time and use  these three questions as tools in your toolbox of project management:

  1. What does success looks like?
    (Make it a clearly defined project)
  2. Why does this success matter?
    (Be clear for yourself and your team why the work is important)
  3. How can we use the skills, experiences, and knowledge we have?
    (Help this team to make the greatest impact in reaching success by identifying the resources you have available)

By scoping out the work, defining success (not always the easiest task), and making the most of the resources available, managers can shift themselves out of the often frustrating role of managing people into a position of leadership (managing projects).

Leaders Learn to Lead: Scrabble LettersBy reframing your role, you’ll have the chance to enjoy the journey of discovering and developing the immense talent within your team (including making the most of your strengths and knowledge).

The better you get at clarifying success for your team, and engaging them in collective action, the more valuable you’ll be as a leader. In fact, doing so gives you the ability to say “yes,” and enjoy the work.  Regardless of whether you’re being asked to manage people or projects, reframing the work into this context, using the three questions above for reflection, you can get past the managing people part, to truly help your team, and yourself, reach your highest potential,