Go for self mastery, go for passion says Jim Lewis of The Lewis Institute

Dr. James P.Lewis is the founder of The Lewis Institute. They have provided project management training to more than 35,000 individuals in 30 counties. Dr. Lewis is also the author of 12 top-selling books on project management.

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 Jim before we start can you give the audience an idea of where you are today? The kind of activities you do, the projects that you’re involved with today or the kind of training or consulting you do? Just a brief sense of what you do today.

 Sure. Well, I’m still teaching seminars of course that’s what I’ve been doing for more than 30 years. Doing some in-company training. I have a client up in West Virginia that we’re trying to help with project management. Occasionally I have some people out in Kansas City and other places that we do training for. I’m doing a lot more training and trying to help people be more innovative and creative in projects.

 I mean I still do the nuts and bolts project training but it’s become obvious to me that there’s a great lack of innovation in projects. This is an interest area of mine and has been there ever since I was a design engineer. So, I’m doing more of that. I’m starting writing a series of books on the ten keys to various things. These will all be Kindle editions and the first one will be on creativity and innovation. I hope to have that up in the next couple of weeks.

 I’m involved in some hobbies and things like that. But that’s the primary work stuff for right now.

 Great. In your teachings you are of the view that you can only learn skills by practice and not really sitting in a lecture. In your courses can you describe how you can incorporate skill practice into the courses of the training you do?

 Sure. Well, obviously now if I were teaching courses on how to ride bicycles you couldn’t learn to ride a bicycle by listening to me talk about it. I would have to put you in a class with a bicycle and put you on the bicycle and help you learn to balance and ride, all that sort of thing. And you could expect to fall off a time or two before you get the knack of it. I got this notation years ago when I was out at Boeing and I got to fly a 767 simulator.

 It really did strike me that, that was the true way to learn skills. You can learn content and knowledge, I could learn navigation principals in a classroom. But if I’m going to fly an airplane I’m going to have to get in the dog damn thing and fly it. In a simulator you can crash without, and walk away from it. Crash without getting hurt. I got to fly a simulator and I realized that everything was happening at the same time.

 We teach mathematics in isolation from chemistry and isolation from physics, and isolation from everything else. But in the real world it doesn’t work that way. You have to do it all together at the same time and that’s the beauty of a simulator. In my recent project management class that I did I actually would teach a little bit of the techniques for planning projects. Then I would have them plan a project.

 This was to present a webinar at the end of the class. We actually had to plan a webinar and present it on the third day. We planned it, they created slides, they put them together, and different people presented 10 segments of a webinar. We did that for a live audience Wednesday morning and it was a live webinar. They really got a kick out of that because they say how really do the stuff. That’s what I’m trying move toward us more hands on skill practice instead of just depth of a lecture.

 I see that more and more in the trainings now. A lot of exercise base, a lot of workshop base trainings.


 You also believe that you can not get good at something unless you have a passion for it. With all the training that you do and all the people that you meet, do you see the passion for project management?

 Actually, no. I had a group of about 25 people in it, six months or so ago. I actually asked them how many of you are really passionate about managing projects. They were around a handful PMPs in there. So these people were project management professionals. I think about a third of the people put their hands up. They weren’t all the PMPs by the way it was blend. I said, okay.

 If you’re not passionate about managing a project, are you passionate about the work that you do in the projects? To a person they all put their hands up. In order words the mistake we make in our country and probably around the world if you check, is a person gets good at some job like engineering or programming, or science, or whatever. We reward them by making them project managers.

 It’s a totally different skill set you know the Peter Principle says people raise to their level of incompetence. That’s not actually what happens. If you took an engineer or programmer or scientist and you left them in that discipline and let them keep growing they would not be a victim of the Peter Principle because they would keep developing their skill set.

 What we do is put them into a job for which they need a different skill set then the one that they spent most their lives developing. Then when they fail we wonder what happened. Actually I have a very close friend whose father was a chemist for a major corporation. He told him when he hired him that if they ever made him a manager, he would resign.

 He’s been there for about 20 years and they called him in one day and they said, well, you’ve done such wonderful work, we’re going to promote you. Where going to make you a manager. He said, “Then I resign.” They said, “What do you mean you resign? We’re telling you we’re promoting you.” He said, “I told you when I took this job that if you made me a manage I quit.” They said, “What do you want us do.” He said, “Do something else but don’t make me a manager.”

 They created a position for him which is what they should’ve of done. He became an internal consultant in chemistry. Because that’s what the man was qualified to do. He knew he did not want to manage people. If we’re going to be passionate about something, to me passion comes first. People will not really work that hard for something they’re not passionate about. If you think about our hobbies and sports, people go out and climb shear rock cliffs for passion.

 They don’t do it because somebody is paying them for it. They don’t do it because it’s in the job description. They do it because there’s some sort of challenge there that they thrive on, that they love, that they get excited about. It gets the adrenalin going. If you could see that in the workplace you would see super performance from people.

 Yeah. When people talk about their passions and you can see it in them. You can see the way they talk, and you can see the things that they do. The way they go out of their way to do the things that. You can just see it.

 That’s right. They’re eager to talk to other people about it. To share ideas, to talk about what gets them excited and so on so. The first thing we need to do is ignite passion in people in the workplace. We don’t do that by putting them in jobs for which they’re not suited.

 Where do you think in all this, the project management discipline is headed?

 Okay. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away. I mean can you imagine a world without projects? If there are projects there has to be people that manage them. But I’ll be very candid with you. I think that the PMP is going to loose some of its luster. The reason it’s going to loose some of it is because there is a violation of the very title itself. You’re called a project management professional.

 How can you be a project management professional when you have never actually managed projects when you get your PMP? Now, I know there’s what a 4,000 hour work requirement or something like that, that says you’re suppose to had so much work experience. The problem is a lot of the people get certified have not actually been managers of projects or if they have it’s been one person projects.

 Now one person projects means you’re managing nobody but yourself. You’re managing the work, you’re not managing workers. Therefore you don’t have the experience of trying to deal with a team of people. All those people don’t belong to you, you’re trying to get them to do work when you have no authority and you have to use nothing but influence. That’s project management. Even if they’re your people you still have to use influence to get things done.

 There are too many people becoming PMPs who don’t really qualify in terms of the work experience. They pass the exam, that’s true. But the letter of law is fulfilled but the spirit of the law is not. What I think is going to happen is I think companies are going to become disillusioned because I’m already hearing from companies saying, yeah we hired this person. They had a PMP and they couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag. That’s bad. That’s going to give the whole profession a bad name.

 Indeed, especially in software. There’s a lot of popularity for agile project management. What are your thoughts about that?

 Well, I think there’s a place for agile. I think there’s some really good stuff associated with it. I’ve run into a couple of companies that are doing a really super job using agile techniques. I can’t profess to know first hand how agile works because I’m not a programmer and I’ve never used it first hand. I do think however, that sometimes people mistake the techniques of agile for being unclear of what they’re trying to do in the very beginning.

 In other words, it’s one thing to say you don’t know how to do something. But if you’re not clear about the end result you’re trying to achieve it’s a totally different matter. A lot of people don’t get clear enough about what the end result is going to be. You can’t be clear about how if you don’t know about what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s kind of a catch 22 in there.

 I would say if you’re going to practice agile you do it under the understanding that you have to be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve in the process.

 Yeah. I see that sometimes. I mean you could use one technology or the other, that’s the how. But what you’re trying to achieve is at times unclear when you start.


 That gets you into a lot of trouble later on.

 That’s correct.

 You also talk about self-mastery, you know in your blog, in your writings. How can self-mastery help project management? Can you give us some specific examples?

 One of the things that we all have to try and do is continuously grow and develop ourselves over a lifetime. We are in a competitive world and so there’s somebody out there waiting to take your job at any given moment. Unless you’re in the continuous improvement mode on a personal level that could happen. One of the things that self-mastery says is, first of all you have to be aware of where you need to develop.

 Then you need to focus on doing that. You also need to have balance in your life. You need to balance mind, body, spirit, and relationships. You can’t do that perfectly because we live in a very hectic world. But we all need to focus on trying to achieve that sort of balance because if we’re not balanced, we suffer performance deficits in some way. Can you just visualize an Olympic athlete trying to excel at whatever they do eating junk food all the time?

 Trashing their body with a poor diet, that sort of thing. No. They try to optimize all that stuff. I’ll also tell you that they’re under high stress levels they wouldn’t be able to perform because we know that biologically stress causes toxins to be secreted by the brain. The toxins go into the bloodstream, there little receptor points on every cell in your body to which those toxins attach themselves.

 When they do it the cell membrane shuts down because it doesn’t want that poison to get inside the cell. It stays that way until the toxin is removed from the outside wall. But if it stays shut to long of course no nutrients can get in. Eventually a cell will die if its emerged in toxins to long. In other words, stress will literally kill you. That’s not a figurative speech. That’s true.

 You need balance in your life to reduce stress levels because we’re under so much stress today it’s pervasive. Self-mastery aims at helping people perfect themselves in a lot of different ways. So they become better individuals and hence better project managers. I’m convinced that unless you do that you won’t be as good at project management as you could be.

 For someone listening, and they want to go down to self-mastery; what would you recommend as a first step? What should they do? Like starting tomorrow. What should they do to start the journey?

 Well, one thing they could do is buy Steve Covey’s books, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. They can start working on developing them. That’s not a book that you just sit down and read. That’s a book that you take one principal at a time and you practice it. There are retreats and things of that nature that they probably can find, and can go to, gain some self-awareness.

 Those among us, including myself, that sometimes you have blind spots. You’re just not aware that you do certain things or that you affect people a certain way. There are groups that meet and give each other feedback. It’s not fun. It can be very painful. I’ve always said, there’s no such thing as constructive feedback if someone is trashing you personally. You know you don’t change without feedback either.

 If I’m going to learn and grow, I need to be subjected to that sort of thing. When I used to do performance appraisals with my people, I would ask them to give me feedback. What am I doing that’s getting in your way? What am I not doing that you’d like for me to do? I try to take that feedback and grow from it. I would suggest that people can go a long way toward improving themselves by just openly asking someone and don’t get defensive when they tell you. This is where I think you might need to do some things.

 One last question. You alluded to hobbies and interest. What are your hobbies and interest?

 Well, I play guitar. I was just fortunate enough to attend a music academy this weekend by the Kruger Brothers. Who live in North Wilkesboro. This is two Swiss fellows and a New York guy who plays bass with them. They came over here from Switzerland about 20 years or 15 years ago. They play absolutely incredible music. One plays banjo, he’s probably the best banjo player in the world. They don’t just play Blue Grass. I mean they’re doing classical music on banjo, if you will. But they do play a lot of country folk Blue Grass kind of stuff. They’re really good. I went to their academy this weekend and learned some stuff from them about music. I’m into photography as well. That’s about all the hobbies I really have time for. I am a ham radio operator, although I’m not active at the moment. Maybe I’ll get back into that one of these days.

 Great, great. Maybe someday we get to listen to your guitar.


 Great. Well, Jim thank you so much and thank you for the time. We really appreciate it. I’m sure the audience will learn from what you told us. The audience who is listening wants to get in touch with you or look at your work. What is the best place to direct them?

 They can see my work from my website which is http://www.LewisInstitute.com. My name is spelled L-E-W-I-S. So LewisInstitute.com and they can send me an email at LewisInstitutieInc@yahoo.com. That’s all one word LewisInstituteInc@yahoo.com.

 Thank you for your time Jim. It was a pleasure talking to you after such a long time.

 My pleasure and thank you very much.

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