Earlier this year, I became a founding member of the Mentors Guild, an on-line service that helps individuals and businesses maximize their performance. One of the services they offer is a nifty Ask an Expert program.

From time to time, I’ll be posting some of the questions (and my answers) from there here at the LeadershipTraction blog. Like these:

Their Question: What recommendations do you have for HR when execs think they know it all because they’ve read a few HR books?

My Answer: If it were me, I’d read those exact same books, schedule some time with the exec, and have a series of pseudo-book-club-type conversations where you discuss the parts of the books that you both agree with, the parts that you both don’t, the parts where your opinions differ, and (most importantly) the parts that have particular applicability to what you call the ‘business of the business.’ Then you can check back in, on a regular basis, to insure the key points are kept top-of-mind.

Their Question: How does one develop an ability to “see the big-picture”?

My Answer: A good way to differentiate the “forest” from the “trees” is to think in terms of the precedence or implications of a decision or recommendation. “Trees” (more tactical decisions/recommendations) are typically one-and-done — good for the particular circumstance/situation, but not much more. “Forests” (more strategic decisions/recommendations) are more “one-and-some,” meaning they address both the current circumstance/situation AND future choices relevant to it or that may arise as a result of it.

To get a better feel for the difference, look at a decision one of your more strategic coworkers recently made. Consider its depth and breadth. Why THAT decision? What sort of precedence does it establish or work within? Buy them a cup of coffee and ask them about it, how they approached the matter, identified possible options, vetted those options, and ultimately came to a conclusion. Ask them to explain their thinking in as much detail as is helpful to you.

Now look at one of your more tree-like decisions and ask yourself the same questions. Compare and contrast the two and notice the differences in approach and methodology. Now ask another coworker. And another — until you start to recognize some patterns behind big-picture skills and how you can incorporate them into your own decision-making. Share what you’ve learned with your boss and get his/her input and insights, as well. Make better “big-picture” thinking a routine part of your 1-on-1 meetings.

Hope this helps get you started.

Their Question: How can I drive consensus in cross-functional projects?

My Answer: “While my experience in working relationship one-on-one is excellent, it becomes really difficult to manage conflicting priorities when the size of the team pushes 4 or so members.” Yes, welcome to the world of herding cats — and IT cats are the hardest to herd!

So let me suggest that you consider the level of support you NEED from each person on your key issues by using the following  continuum:

I need them to LET it happen » » » » » I need them to HELP it happen » » » » » I need them to MAKE it happen.

Then, using the same continuum, consider the level of support you CURRENTLY HAVE from each person on those key issues.

Less confident/practiced IT project managers tend to spend most of their time with the people who are already giving them as much, if not more, support than they need for a given issue and not enough time with the people from whom they need more support than they currently have.

You can substantively increase your impact and influence, without having to engage your executive sponsors in the minutiae, by focusing your attention on those who’s support you currently NEED > CURRENTLY HAVE. Then, the conversations with your executive sponsors can focus, instead, on more meaningful updates and progress reports and maximizing executive-level support and visibility for the initiatives under your charge.

I’m happy to talk through some ways the make this happen for you, if you’d like.

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