In the last part of the Focus on Coaching series, I’m interviewing Kevin Ciccotti, CPCC, ACC. Kevin is a coach who has chosen to work specifically with PMPs (although I expect he’d work with any project managers). I asked him why.
Kevin, how did you get into coaching?
I will say my path to coaching was not exactly a straight line. I spent many years working in different organizations, from hotel-casinos (I grew up and still live in Reno, Nevada), to airlines, and a few others before ‘settling in’ and working for more than 25 years for a world-class manufacturing company that happened to be the world’s largest slot machine manufacturer. The last 16 of those years were spent in management, and that is where I really began to develop my ability to help my team members build upon their strengths, overcome challenges, and create successful careers.
One of my employees told me, “You’re wasting your talents here. Not that what you do for us isn’t appreciated, but you have so much to offer beyond these walls. You need to think about how you can reach more people and help them the way you’ve helped us.” Well, those words both inspired and terrified me. The truth was that I knew I wasn’t playing to my own strengths. So I researched coach training programs, and attended one of the best in the country.
It’s been more than four years now since I left my corporate job and started my coaching business and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. I haven’t looked back once, or regretted a second. That, for me, is the ultimate definition of success.
Why did you choose to work with project managers?
In my previous job, I was heavily involved in product development – from product concept, to planning and development, to production, and ultimately end of life cycle, or obsolescence. One thing that was a constant was that no matter how well team members knew each other, regardless of skill sets, we struggled to get traction on new projects. For me, it was a fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, study of how complex relationships in the workplace can be. We’re all on the same team, right? Then why is there so much conflict, so little cooperation?
When I became a coach, I honestly thought I’d left all that behind. Then, I began coaching the CEO of a technology company that specializes in ERP implementations and PPM/BPM processes for large corporations. After working with me for a while, he mentioned that what I do as a coach could greatly benefit project managers who struggle with leading teams – especially when they have no direct authority over members.
That sparked something in me, and I investigated further. Over the last four years, we’ve seen an incredible shift in the workplace, and all of us are faced with unprecedented challenges. Companies have dramatically cut staff and asked people to do more with less, and PM’s are under more pressure than ever to get their teams engaged and working together effectively. I’ve since joined PMI, have spoken at multiple events, written articles for a number of publications, hosted webinars, and created a one-day workshop called The Human Factor in Project Management, and I absolutely love working with PM’s!
Well, we are lovely people. One of the things you’ve said is that some of our behaviour is down to brain wiring. Does that mean that there are some behaviours that we cannot change?
While it’s true that many of our behaviours are influenced by the way our brains are wired, that by no means implies that we are automatons who are simply running on programs. Ultimately, we always have the power of choice in any situation.
For example, think of a time when you faced a major change or uncertainty in your work or life. If you’re like the vast majority of people, your initial response was probably one of resistance or fear. That’s because the brain is literally wired to see change as potential threat, it craves certainty. Anything new and unusual triggers us to make a ‘toward or away from’ decision, based on moving toward a perceived pleasure or reward, or away from potential pain.
The most important thing to be aware of in those times is that you get to decide what the change means. Of course, we all know that not all change is inherently bad, nor is it always good. Our ability to discern the events, study our choices, and then make a conscious decision about how to proceed, gives us the power to make more effective decisions. So, regardless of the situation, we are not slaves to our brain’s default settings.
Hmm, interesting. How does understanding human behaviour help project managers coach their team members?
It’s really all about increasing awareness. We all tend to view and interpret the world around us through the lens of our own experiences. And, what’s ‘true’ for me is not necessarily true for you or anyone else. Without that understanding, we tend to judge others who don’t share our perspectives as ‘different’ or even ‘wrong.’
When Project Managers learn to see the individuality in team members, they’re much less likely to judge them or their behaviours, and they are far more likely to develop a better sense of connection with them. In the end, my belief is that the single most important aspect of leading teams is your relationship with the people on that team. Understanding human behaviour is a gateway to understanding the people around us. Now, I’m not talking about turning PM’s into psychologists, but having a basic
understanding of behaviour is essential to learning not only how others view their world, but also how you view and interpret your world.
What’s your top tip for project managers who want to start better understanding the way that their project team members work?
Wow, it’s so difficult to come up with just one. I’d have to say that if there were only one thing PM’s could do it would be to really work to become a better listener. And when I say that, I mean don’t just hear what’s being said, but really listen for understanding. So many times, we get caught up in the busyness of our day and our projects, and we don’t give our people the attention they may need. When team members don’t feel heard, it can dramatically impact their level of engagement. When we take the time to listen, even if no action results from it, the person feels heard. And it’s a big difference maker.
For the project manager, this can translate into stronger connections with team members, a deeper level of trust, and more effective communication. All of this can absolutely work to the PM’s advantage when it comes to getting the most from their project teams.
Kevin Ciccotti has been a student of peak performance, interpersonal communication, and human behavior for more than 25 years. He was trained at The Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the world’s largest in-person coach training organization. He is certified by both CTI and the International Coach Federation, and in 2012 was named President of the Nevada Professional Coaches Association.