My wife and I were back home in Vancouver, Washington for the weekend, visiting with our family. On Sunday morning, we headed down to the Farmer’s Market in Esther Short Park. The Market is the sort of traditional gathering place that no shopping mall will ever be. Vendors selling produce and handicrafts, making food, and chatting with passers-by, while homeless guys share their benches with families noshing on freshly picked bing cherries. My granddaughter and I stopped to look at some fresh veggies, and got into a conversation with the two women running the stall. They were extolling the virtues of “Jackie Brown,” and Pam Grier.
“That movie is filled with great actors, who just signed up so they could work with Quentin Tarantino,” one woman said. I helped list a few of the big and medium-sized names, as we marveled at how a low-budget film adapted from a lesser-known Elmore Leonard book about gun runners could draw such a crowd of high-end professionals. We agreed that it was about the film-maker, not the project. And make no mistake about it: a film director is a project manager.
On the way home, as we ate some more cherries, I reflected on the idea that so many people at the top of their craft would want to work with someone they perceived as a top craftsman. I suppose part of it is the perception that people who have delivered high-quality products will probably deliver more of them, and the desire to be part of a success. And part of it is likely the opportunity to stretch your own skills, learning from interacting with people who operate at a high level. But I suspect that at least part of it is the chance to work with someone who has enough confidence in you and your skills to let you work independently. As Grace Slick observed, “Lead yourself; you deserve it.”
I’ve heard too many project managers talk about people on their projects as though they were lazy, incompetent, or actively working to undermine the project. Really? If so, get rid of that particular person you can’t trust as soon as you can, before they instigate a larger problem. No one is irreplaceable, including the PM. The team doesn’t have to be comprised entirely of all-stars, but you owe it to them to ensure that those who aren’t pulling their weight don’t drag them down. Good managers solve problems, and good workers appreciate good managers. And average workers will work to improve their game when they perceive that they are working with above-average workers and managers. But most importantly, everyone on the team works harder if they perceive that the manager has confidence in the team, and is willing to empower them to solve the problems that come up.
So, maybe you aren’t a charismatic leader or a master of arcane but interesting details, like Quentin Tarantino. But if you work at gathering and maintaining a high-performing team, and empower them to deliver, you’ll probably find it easier to recruit high-performers for your next project. And your career is more likely to shake off the effects of your occasional “Death Proof” failures.