Stage 3: How-to Lead Teams (getting things done) when you are not the boss



How can you get things done when you are a project manager but not the line manager and you are working in a matrix organisation? How can you demand from people to change their behaviour, e.g.: deliver better results when you don’t have the formal authority to do so?

In any consulting firm, you will face situations where you need to work with others and request others to deliver their tasks without being their boss. In most cases, I have experienced that this is not an issue, as the team you are working with has a common goal: a client project or an internal project. Delivering to the client´s satisfaction is not only part of your job, but you get rewarded as part of your bonus. And you need good feedback both from your client and your colleagues to get this bonus. So, in principle, everyone should be motivated intrinsically to do their best.

However, priorities may change, and your colleague might work on a more important project or you colleague may always be below the quality that you expect.

Lateral leadership (getting things done, when you are not the boss) is about crystal clear communication, feedback and negotiation.

Crystal Clear Communication

  • Crystal clear communication means, your colleagues know exactly what your expectations are AND what the consequences are, when they are not met. E.g.: delay in the project, overtime, running out of budget. The most important element here is, that you DONT assume, they know, or everyone knows that (assumption is the mother of all fu_ _ups). If you assume, that your colleagues know or understand what your expectations are, you have the chance of minimum 50% that you are wrong. They may know something, but not, what you exactly wanted or meant, if you haven’t told them clearly.

Crystal clear communication is direct and respectful – and does not use phrases like „I am sorry to bother you, … sorry, sorry, … please do you think you might be able to do…). Better „I would like you to do …: please prepare xyz by tomorrow lunch time, else we need to communicate the client the delay…

Can we agree on a common working understanding? You could also create a project charter, where the team describes how they want to work/deliver and deal with conflicts…. – and everybody signs “. That would be a great element you then can refer to.

Giving Feedback

  • Giving constructive feedback when things don’t work as planned is absolutely crucial. You can create a respectful atmosphere and setting to allow your colleague to save his/her face. It is again important to be respectful and clear on what you want your colleague to change. Addressing clearly what went wrong and giving constructive ideas on how to improve is essential. It is also essential the everyone understand the consequences that the event/result had or is going to have if nothing changes. It helps everyone to understand „why” the change needs to happen.

Negotiating Your Way

  • Negotiating your way to your result is essential: you do this, I do that. How can I help you to do xyz. In the end, consulting is about teamwork and supporting each other in different phases provides a lot of opportunities to do favours and to request favours. Sometimes it needs the courage to as for a favour/help/support. Negotiation is about finding a good solution for everyone and sometimes it may be that you are taking a step back in one area, but also get a step forward in another.

I concluded that a lot of mistakes are based on everyone assuming things and not explaining clearly what the expectations are and what the consequences are, when these expectations are not met. People want to make a good job and want to grow and develop, in consulting. And being a good leader or a servant leader does not mean, that everything must be full of roses. Leadership is about supporting and demanding and ideally both are in balance.

stage 3 – haircut and impact


Would you cut your hair to get a job?

2017 was a tough year for me. I had finished handed over the biggest and most amazing IT project of my career. My client: a very traditional German engineering company with approx. 14.000 employees. My role: project manager for a global roll-out of an IT system to the engine engineering, plant engineering and after-sales business. I loved it and my customer gave me an amazing reference.

At that time, I had long blond hair and I was super confident. Then I started searching for roles and projects in Switzerland. Not so easy, as I didn’t have a deep network. Long story short, I had two interviews where the feedback was “we don’t believe, you can deliver” and the second “we don’t think that such a tiny person can deal with our engineering people”. The later one was for a project, identical to my client, with an company half the size and in the similar industry. So copy and paste to half the size.

This feedback was devastating to me. Even more, as I met the selected project manager and he confirmed, that I had been better qualified for that role.

Too feminine for IT Roles?

On my reflection, I seamed to appear too feminine and soft with long blond hair for IT project management roles in the engineering industry. This impression was confirmed by a well-known recruitment agent (female). My light ball moment was, when I realised, that I had one this big project at my client at a time when I had short black hair. So I cut my hair short and within a few months I had an exciting senior role at a big 4 consulting firm.

I am the same person no matter what hair colour, length or style – however my impression on others is different. I believe there are a lot of unconscious bias within us on how we see people and in which kind of boxes we put them. And I have them too.

Choosing your impression with power

Becoming aware of these bias is one step. And using these different impressions we have consciously, is another.

Our clothing, style and body language are the elements that draft our first impression. They are part of the message we would like to give to the audience. And the audience can be our boss, our colleagues, a client, people at an event.

We don’t need to become masculine in our roles within management consulting. This is one of the driving motivations behind the MasterMind Program “WomenLoveConsulting”.

AND we can choose to be more masculine and or feminine whenever we feel like it. It is our choice.

Think of it as a theatre play – You have

  • the audience (boss, client, colleague,…),
  • your message you would like to get across
  • The stage (the setting or situation where you will deliver your message) and
  • All the props you would like to have to make the impact you want (clothing, body language, accessories, makeup,…)

This is your power.

What is my learning?

  • I became aware of this bias and my impression
  • I am choosing my appearance deliberately
  • I am more assertive and speak up towards such b.s.
  • I am creating “WomenLoveConsulting” so that it will be normal to see successful women in leading roles in projects.

Stage 3 – Vacation and Work

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Sunshine, summer, free time…. how-do you honour you

… summer vacations, at least in the northern hemisphere, are around the corner. Maybe you are travelling somewhere or have plans for some special activities in your hometown.

Maybe you recognise the situation: your clients are working on an important project and no matter how well you planned out your vacation, just in the middle of your vacation, an important milestone is happening – because of a delay in the project. Or a super important proposal just came in a day before your vacation and you must work on this pitch. There is always something very important at work – during the vacations.

I think I have worked in more than 80% of my vacations and I would not see myself as a role model in this topic. However, I think I managed to develop a very satisfying balance between vacation and recharging and focussed working segments.

It took years for me to realise, that

  1. The sun rises every morning, regardless of me I working or not
  2. Clients survive without me
  3. No-one really thanks me in the long run, if I skip recharging
  4. I have one health
  5. I have one family

For me, there a 2 corner stones:

Expectations / clear communication:

If I tell my clients and colleagues, that I will be available during my vacations, they will expect it. And if I tell my clients and colleagues, that I will be available on 1 day during my vacation, they will able to work with it too.

If you tell your family and your partner that you need to read emails and work throughout your vacation, they might be disappointed – as they planned to spend time with you and planned to spend extra money on this vacation. And you can negotiate one day – if you really want to work – or if you think you need to work.


I communicate in my out-of-office message, the date when I will check my emails and when I will be available. And I de-activate my notifications on my phone. I realised, that I tend to check my emails on my phone, if I see the number of new messages. If I de-activate them, I am more disciplined to check them at the agreed times.

These two elements are a way for me to secure my space to recharge and enjoy time with my loved ones AND I am relaxed if I also have a dedicated but small amount of time to care about my clients.

This balance works for me. I also had a time, where I was working very close with 2 colleagues on different projects. Here we were able to fully hand-over task and help each other out. This situation is in my option by far the best, because you can leave work completely.


Interview with Tulia Lopez

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This is an interview with Tulia Lopez on the importance of communication and why I have created womenloveconsulting.

This Interview can be found on LinkedIn.