5 life lessons I've learnt and how they are applicable in business

1.        Trust!


I remember that early morning on a mountain in Indonesia; with a group of early-birds I climbed a vulcano to watch sunrise high above the clouds. On top, I sat next to a woman from Japan. When I asked her where she works she replied in an office in Iraq. Not quite the answer you’d expect. I asked her if she wasn’t afraid to live and work in a place so highly war and terror affected – she looked at me and said; “no, because I don’t die, I won’t die there. When they asked me to go there I knew I can do some important work there, that I will have a good team and that I’m just not going to die there.” She said it in total conviction. We both sat there in silence and blinked into the upcoming sunlight in front of us. That’s trust, I thought.


To dare the extraordinary thing you need to be fully, and I mean unconditionally and with no excuse or doubt, convinced of what you do.

In German we have a term, called “Urvertrauen”, it may likely be translated with “primal trust”. The trust deep inside you in yourself, in your environment – and most importantly in life itself. The trust that gives you the feeling of, no matter how harsh the circumstances are, that all and everything will finally turn out ok. The trust you need to dare and do things. No matter if you work in a dangerous environment, seeking for adventure as a mountaineer or traveller, or to start a family – to venture something new, something you have no idea how it will turn out or to indulge again and again in your passion as an extreme athlete you need to have this faith and trust deep inside you.

When I think back at the time as a road cyclist, where you speed down a mountain winding concrete on two tiny slim rubber wheels with a pace of 60-70km/h, cars overtaking you, in the end it was trust which allowed me to do it. You can prepare yourself well in advance; check the material of your bicycle, exercise your physical and mental state but finally you have to trust, to trust in the material, in your capacity – and in that simple fact – like the woman who said she won’t die in Iraq - that things will go alright. Otherwise you can’t do it.

Same with a difficult or complex project. You can compile a great project plan, collocate a great team around you and be supported with smart tools but in the end you need to be totally convinced that it will be manageable and turning out into the good – no matter how difficult or harsh the circumstances are or can become. No matter how limited the financial resources are or how many roadblocks may come in your way.


2.        Be grateful!


I wasn’t sure which of those two, trust or gratefulness, I shall put first when it comes to life guidance. Despite facing some adversity at the moment, as we may all have to in a certain stage of life, I am still extremely thankful for so many, sometimes so simple things in my life. I am absolutely convinced that the above mention primal trust is strongly connected to the ability of gratefulness and appreciation. Research shows that the ability to build resilience and finding joy is strongly connected to the ability of appraisal. When we start to practice gratefulness, life and its hassles automatically becomes less harsh. You can start and try it with a simple exercise; from today on try to think of each hassle that may occur at least of three positive things in your life and write it down. Alone to see the ratio in black and white in front of you will let you realise that things could be worse.

It might be a soft factor when it comes to business, yet I am convinced it’s an inevitable one to succeed either as a project leader or as any other project team member. It will help you through the tough time during a project, focusing on the strength of the team and available resources. A common problem to reach your milestones are often a) time (limited resources) and / or b) restricted funds. You may now think "well I won’t get any more headcount or financial resources by being grateful" – nope of course you don’t. But the simple, previously described exercise will make you immediately and differently aware of the resources you already have, especially also within yourself. Never forget: Necessity is the mother of invention! See what you wrote down on your paper – and make the best out of it. There is more in it than you think!


3.        Never forget on who you can count on (and who counts on you)!


No matter on how alone you may feel sometimes in life, there are always persons who you can count on. It’s either a stranger in disguise or an old mentor, a partner, a new colleague or a good friend. Maybe they are not always around you and not seldom we consider exactly these relationships as not so easy or don’t see one other in that way or very often. But when it comes down to the point you need unconditional help it’s these people who are there for you. Hence, be attentive and mindful what’s going on around you, know your network and see the little things someone does for you.

When it comes to Project Management, with this it is also very important to know your stakeholder. And I really mean KNOW them: First and foremost, know all of them, not only the board you report to. Second; learn and be aware of what is truly important to each individual of them. And KNOW your team, the individual members as well as the whole as a team. Listen carefully to each of them and be a great communicator.


4.        Do the maths but in the end listen to your intuition!


Like described under paragraph 1 you can prepare and calculate a lot in life and you surely shall make use of it. Especially nowadays where we have so many great tools and sophisticated technology to check and value facts and influences. But never underestimate your intuition! As someone who often travels off the beaten path individually on my own I had to learn that there is no computer or book which tells you when you have to leave a place or situation. It’s your gut feeling and your intuition that ultimately tells you if you are ok where you are or what you shall do or not.

Same at work. Make use of all the great tools and technology around you. Check fact and figures. But in the end; listen to that inner voice in you.


 5.        Be humble


Last but not least; be humble. From far eastern cultures and philosophies we can learn a lot about how to become humbler. Life is easier when you don't take yourself too serious. In Project Management it's all about the project, not about you. You are a good project leader when your team does some great work and your project succeed. Good leaders let the team win.