the ceo magazine, leadership
Esen Akter Tekinel, COO/Vice Chair, PMI-Washington, DC

When was the last time your team leader displayed poor interpersonal relationship skills? When did you see a leader escalating tension in an already stressful situation? If your answer is “recently”, this and similar cases can be alleviated with a new leadership model.

The model proposed herein, can help transform the bully culture specific to the IT sector and “the more technical you are, the better leader candidate you are” approach. Only those who value interpersonal relationships can achieve this.

A team leader or supervisor who was under extreme pressure from a superior would not reflect this stress on subordinates. A true team leader does not react rudely to a 3AM helpdesk call that is escalated to him because subordinate engineers failed to answer their phones.

This evolved style of leadership consists of two factors:

  1. Leader sees his team as a big family and himself as part of this team
  2. Leader creates an environment of “question everything and begin with me”

Here is a story of a friend of mine who works at a large IT company and his experience with his boss. His colleagues are typical IT staff; engineers who claim they know best, having discussions loudly, and, about everything. His boss made a comment during his interview: “Every single member of my team has a unique personality and we are like a big family at a Thanksgiving dinner table. Most of the time, everybody speaks openly and there can be some fiery debates. But, at the end of the day, we are a family that really cares for each other.” This comment proved to be true on the first and following days at work.  Almost every daily meeting was a forum for loud and fiery debates. At times, my friend thought somebody would lose it and throw a punch at a colleague. At each meeting, his boss would mostly listen, asking only a few simple sounding questions, and intermittently crack a joke. The next thing you know, the team would come up with the solution to the system issue and walk back to their desks with smiles on their faces.

It’s not that easy to manage people. Particularly, when team members think they know the best way to resolve complex IT issues. One way is to approach the team members like a father figure at a Thanksgiving Dinner Table displaying the joy of being together at all times. In addition, having the goal of serving others is the catalyst to succeed. Only then, can a leader create a team of professionals who can follow him anywhere he goes. My friend’s boss always puts his team’s welfare before his own, serving his team and helping them to better themselves. In crisis situations, his strategy of asking simple sounding questions helped his engineers find the answers (or make them think they find) themselves.

What kind of attitude is required when a company is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars every second due to a system issue? Tense, aggressive, finger pointing, and name calling? Or calm and collected, with the goal of helping engineers reach a solution. This caring father figure has the skills to guide his “children”, check his ego out at the door when in the office, and creates a rational “question everything including me” environment. In stressful situations, he keeps his calm and makes sure his “children” know they are cared about. Because, he knows if he reflects his anxieties to his team, his team will mimic him, which in return will turn into a vicious cycle and/or a snowball of negativity. The engineers could then be reflecting the anxiety to the people around them, at times in multiplying levels.

The key for a leader to reach this maturity is giving priority to serve others and focusing on personal development with utmost sincerity. The people to help the leader to personally improve himself are the people around him, his team members, because when you set the “question everything including me” mindset, the above average smart engineers will challenge you day in and day out. Hence, you will receive your personal and professional development as an on the job training. Therefore, checking ego at the door and focusing on managing things not the people is crucial. The team leader can only serve people.

The desire to be a leader who creates and develops a team that would follow you anywhere and is much loved means you are ready to use the Person-Focused-Open-to-Questioning (PFOQ) model. Are you ready to start questioning yourself, make peace with yourself, love your team members like your family where they are constantly questioning you day in and day out?  If you answered yes, then the Thanksgiving Dinner Table (TDT) style leadership model will create the change you have been waiting for at your company.

About the Author

Esen Akter Tekinel is the COO/Vice Chair of the largest Project Management Institute of the world, PMI-Washington, DC. While managing the Operational Board of Directors, Mrs. Tekinel provides strategic guidance to chapter initiatives. She provides mentoring to the board of a Washington, DC based intelligence community association, workshops to the US Department of State and has given speeches at the National Press Club and international conferences in the EMEA region. Her videos reach all the US embassies in the world encouraging the use of project management by US foreign services professionals. She has published articles and attended radio talk shows.


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