When we talk about old civilizations, the first name that comes to our mind is ancient Greeks. In two of his most popular novels Gates of Fire and Tides of War, Steven Pressfield takes you back in time but more importantly, highlights traits such as courage, discipline and sacrifice that made Greeks invincible for centuries.
With so many great philosophers, historians, scientists, mathematicians and artists being a part of civilization, it was a hub of learning and knowledge at that time. In this article, we will highlight some of the practical lessons project managers can learn from ancient Greeks that will help them in managing projects effectively.
1. Lead from the Front
According to ancient Greeks, if you want your team members to give their 100%, then you will have to follow “First to rise, last to bed” approach. If you put in the hard yards, your team members will leave no stone unturned in making sure that the project completes within the deadline and inside the budget. Always lead from the front and avoid hiding behind a desk or a room. Do not let your project team members raise objections on your dedication and work ethic.
2. Communicate At a Personal Level
In ancient times, when there were no means of communications, the Greeks used to write letters to communicate at a personal level. A project manager can also follow ancient Greeks today and achieve better results. Sending emails and using formal communication channels is good for professional communication but if you want to communicate at a personal level, a hand written note is a much better bet. Try to build stronger relationships with your team members through informal communications.
3. Stay Focused and Never Give Up
With so many things to take care of, it is quite common to see project managers divert or get distracted from the path. Ancient Greeks also faced similar issues on their long journeys to conquer the world. How did they overcome this problem? Instead of focusing on too many things at a time, they narrowed it down to a couple of things. Moreover, their never say die attitude helped them to overcome obstacles that came in their way. Project managers can also make their life easy by focusing on what matters most and eliminate unnecessary items.
4. Set a Good Example
Just like a child, your project team members see you as a source of inspiration. They will copy what you do therefore, you need to set a good example that they can follow. “Leonidas, the commander in chief of the Greek army, picked up a boulder and marched to a spot. There he set the stone in place. He lifted a second and placed it beside the first. The men looked on dumbly as their commander in chief, whom all could see was well past sixty, stooped to seize the third boulder.” [Gates of Fire, p. 219]. What happened next is that all the troops followed his example and started rebuilding the wall. This excerpt conveys the role of a project manager aptly who needs to set a good example for every project.
5. Stay Calm under Pressure
If you have any experience of managing projects, then you might be aware of issues that hinder a project and it’s progress. Whether it is poor planning and communication, inexperienced project managers, time or budget overruns, stay calm and work together to resolve the problem rather than showing signs of panic. Remember that your team will respond to turbulent times as you do. That is what ancient Greeks did brilliantly.
6. Hire Young People and Train Them
Although, project managers might be tempted to hire experienced professionals with formal training but the Greeks thought differently. Ancient Greeks preferred hiring young and energetic men and transformed them into leaders. Alcibiades:“The less you give a man, and have him succeed, the more he draws his achievement to his heart. Remember we may elevate the fleet in two ways only. By acquiring better men or making those we have better.” [Tides of War, p. 259]
7. Mind Your Manners
For ancient Greeks, ethics was a habit and an important component of their daily lives. In fact, the word used for ethics in ancient Greek language was same as the habit. If you want to be an ethical project manager, then you need to make it a part of your routine and practice it regularly. Studying ethics does not make you an ethical person. When things go wrong, do not insult or shout on your team members in front of others. Instead you should conduct a private meeting and tell them what is wrong.
8. Make Your Team Rise To The Occasion
Although, it seems a little harsh, but Greeks always believed on the philosophy that you should assign goals, not the means. Do not micromanage your team members and let them handle it themselves. “When Alcibiades issued a combat assignment, he imparted the objective only, leaving the means to the officer himself. The more daunting the chore, the more informally he commanded it. Always assign a man more than he believes himself capable of. Make him rise to the occasion.”[Tides of War, p. 259]
9. Risk Management
Minotaur, half man and half bull, is a famous character of Greek mythology who lived in a complex maze structure. When Theseus came to slay Minotaur in Labyrinth, he overcame the risk of getting lost in the maze by tying the thread to the door. Poor risk management is one of the key factors why projects fail. If you are one of those project managers that do not take risk management seriously, then its time you do. The more time you spend without proper risk management, the more the probability of project failure increases.
10.Have Fun and Be Happy
Soldiers in Greek army used humor to keep their fellow soldiers motivated. With project taking its toll on the mental and physical outlook of your team members, it is important to have some fun and give your team some time to chill out. A project manager could also learn a thing or two from the Greek soldiers and keep their team members happy and motivated throughout the journey.
After reading this article, you might have realized that Greek mythology is not all about fantasies and stories but it can also teach some important lessons to project managers. To begin with, lead from the front and set an example that your team members can follow. Secondly, stay calm and collected under pressure so that panic does not set in.
Treat your subordinates ethically and never take your eyes of risks. Lastly, do not micromanage, just set goals and leave the rest to team members. Let them find the way around it. Although, some approaches by ancient Greeks might collide with latest practices but these approaches worked wonders for Greeks and are still relevant in today’s dynamic project environments.