Being Mindful or being concerned about Risk

When we notice the literature and trends in management, there’s a huge shift towards mindful leadership. When you reach out to the millennial workforce, they more than the earlier generation, are looking for the leadership to be mindful. So what impact could it have on some areas like risk management? Is it going to be a trade-off between the two? Or does it open us to think about risk management in a different perspective in the mindful leadership era? Or is mindful leadership not necessarily applicable in areas like risk management?

I am going to explore this in a two part blog. In Part I, I wrap-up with the initial conclusion. In Part II, I would like to look at an alternate conclusion and also find the 2% Masala.

Staying in the present

One of the important things of being a mindful person is to stay in the present. This is a key tenet of being a mindful person. This also means that as a person, I don’t live in the past and get worked up about it. It also means that I do not worry about the future. As a mindful person I do my best to stay firmly anchored in the present, doing the thing that I am doing now with commitment, attention and energy.

As a manager, some of us tend to dwell into the past, and draw inferences from that. So, if you have seen a team member struggle to finish a given complex task a couple of times, we extrapolate that, intuitively, when we assign work to that person. We believe we have learnt from our past experience and hence we assign that team member with a non-complex task, and we do not risk giving a task that could again stretch the employee, and also affect the project adversely. We also believe we were considerate to the team member, in the process.

Similarly we think of the elements that can possibly derail our project. We soon draw our risk management plan. We have our contingencies and mitigation in play for them. As a manager or a leader, these risks are constantly playing at the back of our mind every day (for a good number of us). We are genuinely concerned about the likely impact of the risk materializing. A lot of what-if scenarios keep playing in our minds and thoughts, which in turn impacts what we do at present, and how we behave at present. The more we are entrenched in our project, these scenarios turn more into a worry, they even start appearing like truth to us. After all as a prudent manager, are we not responsible for thinking of the what-if scenarios ahead of time, so that we are better prepared for eventualities, by bothering about all these possibilities of the future.

The Bangalore Metro: Are they orthogonal?

When we see the Bangalore Metro project management, we find that they planned for 3 metres of underground drilling per day. If they accomplished 3 metres, they felt they were meeting the plan. If they accomplished 1.2 metres in a day, they seem to be not bothered, because 1.2 metres was the current day reality. They say, we could not forecast the hard rock – so the approach adopted by them seems to be like “I am working and when the work is finished you will know it”.

Or for that matter, when a cutter breaks down, they figured out they needed to get a replacement cutter. They started the process of getting one and it was seven months before the cutter was installed again. Well there project management view-point – how could we predict such things in advance. The approach here is – “So if it happens, only then we know it has happened. Only when we have a cutter we can resume work, whether it is 4 weeks or 7 months.”

They seem to be living in the present, unperturbed by the events from the past, and not bothering about the what-if in the future. It feels that this team is not bothered by the past, and not getting worried about the future.

Many a PM, will be aghast at this attitude. After all the Bangalore Metro project management team lived by the day, did not look at the past and did not think what the future could be. Do we think of this as great project management? Or as  the right commitment to the stakeholders?

So the question really is, can I really stay in the present, as a mindful leader and yet be a prudent Project Manager bothered about risks.

The first conclusion

Prima facie, if we look at Bangalore Metro example, the requirements and the approach seem to be orthogonal.

Well, it seems great to be a mindful leader or a manager – as a concept, not inferring from the past nor bothering about the future. It seems that every day will be a happy day – because you do not carry forward from yesterday, and tomorrow is outside your radar.

But then as a Project Manager, you would say, my stakeholders are going to be peeved off, if I start behaving like the Bangalore Metro Project management team, isn’t it! For that matter as a manager, you may not be comfortable behaving like that.

So, as a first conclusion  being mindful appears to be a great concept, but seemingly not implementable when you are a committed Project Manager – who wants to get the project done.

In Part II of this series, I wish to explore further, to see what an alternative conclusion could be.

What do you think?

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