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How To Become Compulsively Successful

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Project management sucks. Anyone who's spent five minutes in a large organization knows this. But there are people who manage to get it done: on time, on budget, high quality. And it's not only because of the conventional wisdom about what we can rely on to make a project great:

It's not about automation tools. They don't tout Trello, brag about Basecamp, or insist that "Sharepoint really works, if you take the time to learn it."

It's not about PM certification. I've seen highly trained PMs mouth off and melt down, just like there are those who get done without ever having cracked a textbook. Regular, agile, waterfall, windmill...none of it makes a difference.

It's not about communication, or emotional intelligence. That helps, of course, but I've seen virtual robots in human form power-saw through projects without so much as saying "good morning."

Here is what the best project managers have: An intensely powerful compulsion to fashion order out of chaos. You might think that such people would go for peaceful careers, like . . . I don't know, marine biologist? But it's just the opposite. They unconsciously gravitate toward fixing disarray.Think about it: Who else could deal with demoralized teams; fuzzy or constantly morphing requirements; out-of-control costs; finger-pointing partners; and hellish, endless, migraine-inducing meetings? Only someone who gets a more-than-the-paycheck sense of accomplishment by bringing things under control. Want to pick out a good PM in a crowd? Look for:

  • Statements like this: "I'm not gonna live in the land of crazy," and "chaos doesn't work for me."
  • Myers-Briggs type INTJ: sees the big picture, "gets" what's going on, calls people out, visibly irritated by those who go off-track.
  • Insistence on documentation: These people don't do "handshake deals." There is a project charter, a calendar in hard-copy, meeting agendas and minutes, and recorded approvals. Every time.

Why does the compulsion to PM matter? Because the same principle holds true across careers. You will excel at whatever you're driven to do. I know a person who's obsessed with special effects makeup. Every time I go to the drugstore, she stops to show me her latest "puncture wound" photo. Another takes seventeen selfies a day. And posts them! A third person must be liked by everyone. A fourth has the compulsion to manipulate. A fifth "eats clean" - always talking up some natural remedy that will "remove all the toxins from your gut."

Most of the time we think of these compulsions as "bad." We tell people to go for therapy, talk it out, and live a more balanced life. But what if we reframed unconscious inner drives, and focused only on ways to harness them positively?

What is a brand, if not a driving obsession? From this perspective, talent acquisition is more than just deciphering what people can naturally do. It's also about learning what they must do, what they are driven to do, for reasons neither of you will probably ever know, understand or control.

Copyright 2016 Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The opinions expressed are her own and not those of any government agency or entity or the federal government as a whole. 

Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D., is a federal communicator with 20 years' experience in the private sector, academia and government. Best known for her work on branding, Dr. Blumenthal now focuses on the discipline of management, particularly the intersections between identity, culture and communication. She has lectured at a variety of schools including The George Washington University and the University of Maryland University College. In her spare time she is an independent community activist, focused primarily on raising awareness about child sexual abuse and domestic violence. All opinions are her own.

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