When leading their first project or the thousandth, a project manager’s number-one priority is always the same: getting the job done. But how can they make it happen, all while leading a team? In this episode, host John Laurito is joined by T2 Group Managing Partner Kevin Torf. They talk about project management, engaging teams, and empowering people as a leader. They also talk about Kevin’s book Getting the Job Done: Practical Advice and Real-World Anecdotes to Manage Successful P.R.O.J.E.C.T.S., which breaks down project management into eight core concepts that were key to T2 Group’s success.
Kevin is a co-founder and managing partner of T2 Group™. He developed the company’s hybrid-Agile methodology, which is used by T2 Tech program and project managers to plan and develop client projects. Many of T2 Tech’s clients have adopted this methodology in-house and are using it to manage all projects organization-wide. Kevin currently plays leading roles as the chief IT architect for extensive IT infrastructure projects and field operations. For example, Kevin oversaw the IT infrastructure design and implementation for a $636-million new hospital construction project at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He’s also acted as principal during the design and implementation of a redundant architecture and disaster recovery site for Sharp HealthCare.
In another large-scale initiative, Kevin directed the IT remediation plan for a multimillion-dollar restructuring of the enterprise IT environment for a merged six-hospital system. In addition to his leadership abilities, Kevin has been instrumental in negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts with crucial technology vendors for many clients.
How to find Kevin:
[1:49] What motivated him to write his book?
[2:59] The difference between a Project Manager and a Leader
[4:31] What does empowering someone look like
[7:31] Mistakes that leaders often make
[9:48] The culture he typically sees in a winning organization
[12:04] How should leaders handle an uncollaborative team member?
[16:32] What readers can get from Getting the Job Done
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership, obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leader so good?
John Welcome to tomorrow’s leader! All right, tomorrow’s leaders, I’ve got Kevin Torf, if he’s the managing partner of T-2 Group, also the author of the recent book “Getting the Job Done” on this episode. Really cool conversation. Great Guy. Really knows leadership. He’s lived in the project management world for most of his career. This book is all about how you engage a team and how you empower other people. So we talked, kind of went through a bunch of what if scenarios. I said, OK, what do you do in this situation, in that situation and kind of put him on the spot a little bit, and I thought he did a great job of really providing some great insights. So this, I think, is going to be one of those podcasts where you can take away some really good action steps. Maybe some of the stuff we talk about is relating to a challenge you’re dealing with, but regardless, you’re going to get a lot from this, and I think you’re really going to love it. Here’s Kevin.
John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dive deep on all things leader-related, related to leaving yourself and leading others. I’m John Laurito, your host today with a great guest. I’ve got Kevin Torf, managing partner of T-2 Group out in California, as well as the author of the recently released book “Getting the Job Done.” Kevin, it is a pleasure to have you on the show.
Kevin Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks, John. Thanks for inviting me. Looking forward to having a conversation and reaching out to your audience.
John Absolutely. Well, you know, we had a brief conversation, and I’ve certainly done a lot of research on you and I’m anxious to read the book. I want to talk a lot about the book, but let me ask you… This I know is your first book. It sounds like a very impactful one around leadership specific to project managers. What motivated you to write the book? What was the big kind of impetus to get the message out?
Kevin It didn’t start as a natural desire to write a book. I’ve always believed in finding different ways to get the job done. And as I bulked up different approaches, I started trying to refine them and make notes about them and put them down on paper as I thought through them. And I built this collection of different ideas and thoughts about the different ways of achieving these objectives and eventually decided that, you know, this might be something worthwhile putting it into a book and started then bringing it together. And up to three years later, I think it’s taken, we now have a book.
John Yeah, well, I love that. And it’s interesting because there’s a difference when you hear somebody like a project manager. I think of very different meanings of the words manager and leader. And you, I know, use and talk a lot about leadership. What does that look like? What’s the difference really, for the audience that might be thinking, well, what is a manager versus a leader or vice versa? What do you consider that to be?
Kevin Yes, I think the word project managers an old name for the new project leaders today. Maybe that’s what we should be calling them because it’s all about how to get things done and how to get people motivated in order for you to fulfill your objectives. And, you know, being able to do that in reaching out to people in a leadership style is going to be far more effective than, you know, telling people what to do. I think, you know, there’s some stigmas with old school project management being there to police the situation to make sure everybody’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And then there’s the new generation of leaders, which is all about empowering people and making people want to do things when you want them to get things done. So definitely, I think there’s a generational switch. I think there’s different styles now, different leaders are using to try to be successful, but very much today, the new project manager is a leader.
John Yeah, I agree 100 percent. You’ve got a lot of leaders that are listening in, and some of them by your description may be thinking, “Boy, I fit into that old model of that policing mentality and telling people what to do.” I get it. I understand it. So I’ll ask you… Maybe a tough question to put you on the spot a little bit, what does that look like to empower somebody and make them want to do something? What might be an example of that? Or what might that sound like to somebody who is not familiar with it?
Kevin I think, probably one of the biggest things is, asking somebody or telling somebody when you want to get something done. So a typical example of a superior, or somebody with power, in an organization or running a project would say, “you need to give this to me by tomorrow. I want this completed by the end of business.” or “I’ll give you until Friday.” Well, you’re defining and dictating a period of time that the person might not be capable of delivering. So if that person failed, they really failed you, they didn’t fail themselves, because they didn’t have a stake in it. So, the leader would do it very differently. He would go to that same person and say, “When do you think you’d be able to get this done?” Now when the person that you request in that from says, “Yeah, I think I can get it done by Friday.” They’ve now made the commitment. You didn’t force them to say Friday. Now they are much more invested. So you just turned it around and you’ve now got them. You empowered them to let them know that they are actually making the decision. Now with that comes responsibility and accountability, but that’s the difference in approach that a leader would take versus somebody that wasn’t interested.
John It’s a whole different approach, a whole different angle. And you’re right… That person is then vested in it. It’s their idea, they’re bought in. What about the situation when the leader needs it done by Friday, but the person says, “Yeah, I think I can get it done in a couple of weeks or a week.” How does the leader approach that? Is it just saying, OK, well, what would it take? What would you need? What obstacles do you need out of your way to make sure it gets done by Friday? Is that the approach or is there a different one?
Kevin Very much. Business, unfortunately, is dictated by getting things done in certain time frames, and some of those time frames might not be out of choice or might not be ideal. But they do require compromise and they require dialog and discussion. So very much the way you approached it would be, “Listen, guys, I don’t know if we can get this done by Friday, but that’s what’s being asked of us. Let’s actually think about what we could do and start creating that dialog and become collaborative” so that again, the decision of what’s going to be done is going to be something that everybody can believe in and support that way. Again, being a leader, you’ll be able to get far more from the person, or potentially the team, that might be responsible for getting what you need done.
John Yeah, great point. Is that the biggest mistake that you see leaders make, Kevin, is the lack of empowering people and more of a style? Or are there other mistakes that you see that leaders, whether they’re project managers or other leaders, make that are things that they can change and fix?
Kevin Well, I made the mistake. Definitely. I started my career being very aggressive and being very in control of what I wanted. And it gave me great success, by the way. I mean, I was fortunate enough to start a few companies that did very well and I was always in control. I was always in charge. But I realized the other ways you can actually do the same job, in a lot more pleasant of an environment, and get better results. So, it took me failing and burning people out, and people fighting back then I started realizing that there are other ways of being as effective, if not more effective, if you can build a team approach and leadership. So I think it’s natural for some people to just want to take charge. It takes a lot more, I believe, to step back a little bit and approach that in a different way. And I’m an example of that.
John Well, it’s interesting because I went through the same thing, I remember as a new leader. It’s all based on where you get your influence from. Sometimes it’s leaders that you have. Sometimes it’s even the movies. You don’t know what leadership is, and you see examples of it. And it’s more of that commanding leadership style, authoritative leadership style, that person that has to have control. And it’s changed a lot. I found that too. When I was more able to bring other people into the mix and empower them. I had a lot less stress. I had more fun. Results went up. And it was just a better culture of an organization. I’m seeing that a lot too now in the top organizations. It’s not what you necessarily think. When you look at the top performing organizations and you peel back the layers, you see a culture that’s sometimes different than you’d think, right? What’s that culture that you typically see in a winning organization or in an organization that has the right type of leadership?
Kevin It comes down to building teams. Allowing your colleagues to work together and be able to be transparent with each other in a manner that’s not about trying to judge each person’s ability or the role they perform in, but all about what is the objective. A good leader will define what that objective is for the team to be able to try and come together. But then how that team interacts with each other is a very important part of, where you see in some of these new organizations and some of the more successful ones, being able to reach heights that they weren’t able to reach before. It’s that collaborative approach of, we have a goal and we’re all in it, and it’s not about any one of us, it’s about the team. And you’ve got to change your vocabulary. You’ve got to really talk about, we did this, not Joe did this, or Pete contributed. We are too much into trying to reward people, and people want too much recognition as well. They want to be recognized as, Oh, it was me. But if you can get past that and you can talk about, we did this, it was the leadership of the company, you can reach another level of performance and productivity that I don’t even think people comprehend.
John Yeah, it’s such a great point. The vocabulary is really key. You see and hear leaders that talk about “I and my” versus “we.” That’s a great starting point. I had a question, interesting, I was talking to a leader recently who was at a dilemma. I’m interested in your answer on this. Where they said, “I kind of identified or saw an example of something that somebody was really not being overly collaborative. It was starting to become more about them.” What’s the best way for a leader to handle that if you know what environment and culture you want, but you see something, whether it’s in a meeting and it’s overt, something they say that’s clearly indicating that their buy-in is not on the team, it’s more around themselves. How does the leader address that and how do they fix it?
Kevin The leader needs to try, as best as possible, to get the team to try and engage with that individual. That individual is going to be far more likely to want to be part of the team if their colleagues and peers allow them to feel that they can be. A leader needs to really encourage that level of engagement versus trying to tell that person you’re not a team player. Again, now you’ve been authoritarian, as you say, you’re not doing your job. So you want to turn it around and you want the team to really start engaging people. I believe in the Montessori teaching system where they take kids of three ages and put them in a classroom, and you have kids of five, six, and seven that are very different from your regular classrooms. And the reason for that is because those younger kids learn from the older kids by example. The older kids learn by teaching younger kids because you learn just as much by teaching somebody. But if you can find a way for those different types of age groups to collaborate, a good team will find different levels of experience, different levels of excellence, and be able to come together. The teacher in a Montessori school is there to encourage that and build that comraderie. So, yes, there’s always going to be an outlier. There always could be a person that may be just it’s not working with. But your first approach isn’t to solve that problem, it’s a problem for the team to solve.
John Yeah, I love that. That’s such great advice, and I think that’s lost on leaders a lot of times. They’re thinking again, old school, if something’s going to change, it’s got to be from me. And in reality, today’s leader, it’s all about empowering other people, including course-correcting the culture that’s got to come from the other people. It’s like a sports team where you’ve got a player that’s not adhering to the philosophies of the principles or the values of the team or the standards of the team. And that’s got to come from the other players, not the coach, to really get the impact and the influence.
Kevin No, very much so, and that’s a very good comparison about the teams that have been more successful in their sport careers that really didn’t have superstars. There’s a few that come to mind. I’m a great fan of English soccer, English football, and Leicester City back three or four years ago, were just promoted into the Premier League. They had a salary cap of about 40 million pounds compared to the bigger teams like Man United and Chelsea that had 400 million pounds. There was not a single superstar on their team, and yet they won the Premier League. They won that by a team approach. They won this by working together as one single unit and you can overcome quite a lot of obstacles. It takes a lot to make it happen, but when it does happen, the results can be mind blowing.
John Yeah, I love that and I’m a big fan of Ted Lasso. You just made me think of and I’m going back through the episodes. There was actually an episode, I think was early on, where Roy was bringing to the coach Ted Lasso, an issue with one of the players, and Ted did not want to handle it for the reason exactly that you bring up. He said, “this has got to be something that you handle and the rest of the team handles.” And sure enough, he did it and it ended up the right way. Lots of leadership lessons in Ted Lasso.
Kevin I very much so. That’s why I love project management, because project management is a tool to manage your life. And the two, yeah, they are very similar in every aspect, and what I write in my book “Getting the Job Done” I practice in real life. I teach my kids that I do it when I go home, and it’s no different.
John That’s great. Well, speaking of the book “Getting the Job Done,” I know it’s out now, available on Amazon, on all bookstores and everything, which we will have everything in the show notes for listeners. What are readers going to get from this? What are their big takeaways from reading the book?
Kevin Well, the book was written about really trying to provide tips and advice. I didn’t want it to be a heavy read, an academic read. So the book, you can read it from page to page. You can just open up a single page and read one tip. It’s broken up into different categories of P for planning. R for reflection. E for empowerments. S for standardization. So I took the word projects. Used them as acronyms and categorized and grouped the tips accordingly. Each tip is no more than one page, so it can be read, as I said, in its own content. And then what I did to try and make it fun. I took a point in history where something incredible was done or there was an incredible failure, and I used that as an example to compare that tip too. So, if you look for things like Leonardo da Vinci, that love to get things started but never finished, never finished many things, didn’t get the job done, but he had great ideas, you know? So I look at that history and then I look at, well, how would you approach it differently? Communications – NASA had a massive disaster when their teams for one of the Mars landers didn’t work together. And the Mars lander, because it was off by a few decimal points because the teams didn’t communicate with each other, blew up and $30 million was wasted. So I use those anecdotes in history and then say, “How would you have done it differently?” or “What can you learn from it both in the good and in the bad?” And hopefully, that makes more lighter reading and puts a little bit more of a better framework around that versus having something truly just academic that’s a hard read.
John I love that. I think stories and examples really make certain points and lessons hit home. And it sounds like not only great content, but it sounds like a fun read as well. And that sounds like that was your intent.
Kevin That definitely was.
John Yeah, that’s terrific. I’m looking forward to get my hands on it. And again, just so audience can know who might not be going to the show notes, but listening, they can get the book. Where’s the easiest place for them to get the book?
Kevin Yeah, I think Amazon is the easiest for buying anything. It’s not just books. Good and bad. So yes, obviously, it’s on a Kindle. It’s on all the electronic readers. You can buy it in hardcover, softcover. We do have an audio version of it coming out, I think, in the next two weeks. And if you need more on it, you can even come to our website at T2group.us there’s a portal and a page called Projects.t2group.us and we’ll provide that to you as well, John, and they can click on it and they can get some different ideas. And then we have a YouTube channel as well, where we converted each tip into an actual video. So for those that aren’t big on reading like me, I’m not a big, big reader academically. I like reading news and other things. Just a really good way to get the message across in, you know, 10 minute pop videos on each one of the tips.
John Excellent. I love that, great stuff. Well, we will definitely put all of that in the show notes. For those of you are listening that want to get more of Kevin, as well as get the book “Getting the Job Done” and it’s available also on audiobook, did you say?
Kevin I did. It’s going to be out, I think in about two weeks.
John Terrific. Excellent. That’s how I love to read my books, so to speak, because I can multitask, but excellent stuff. Kevin, it’s been a pleasure. I could talk to you for much, much longer. I wish we had more time and maybe we’ll end up doing that and doing a Part two, but it’s been a real, real pleasure to have you on the show and having you share your insights.
Kevin Well, John, I love your questions, and talking about leadership is an art, I think. It’s something everybody can learn from. I’m still learning. I still don’t get it right. And I appreciate listening to your previous interviews that you’ve done. And I think this makes us hopefully better people the more we can understand how we can help each other be successful.
John You got it. The more we can learn, the more we can teach, the better we get and more we impact people. So. Excellent. Well, thank you everybody for listening and tuning in. I’m here with Kevin Torf, managing partner of T-2 Group, author of the recently released “Getting the Job Done,” available on Amazon, bookstores, Audible. All kinds of places. We’ll have all that in the show notes. Be sure to pick up your copy, and as always, I appreciate your ideas and suggestions for content, future guests, and appreciate you liking, sharing, subscribing, and of course, going down below giving a five-star review. And thank you for joining us today. Kevin, thanks again for joining us.
Kevin Thank you, everybody.
John Thanks for joining us for today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching. Reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Once again, that’s John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!