Watermark Learning

Preach What You Practice

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KS85347 An acquaintance was talking a few days ago about a company function at which a functional group had been brought together for purposes of learning, bonding, and growing as professionals, presumably to benefit themselves and the organization.

But when someone asked the CEO a question during the Q and A section of her presentation to the group, she turned evasive and ultimately dismissed the concern raised.

My acquaintance described his frustration and that of his peers who were perturbed at not hearing a much-needed response to an issue that was on the minds of many in the audience.

Yet, what was most offensive was that the executive’s response, or lack of response, seemed completely contrary to what that organization’s management claimed to value. They talk about openness and transparency, but they don’t seem to have the stomach for it when it’s needed most. “We don’t practice what we preach,” he said with exasperation.

Do you?

It takes courage to really ask that question of ourselves and those in our organizations.  Do we really do what we tell others they should do?  Do we do what we know is the right thing to do?

Those are tough questions for anyone.  They are certainly difficult for those of us who spend many of our days explaining to others how to implement the best practices in project management or any other discipline.


My students hold my feet to the fire when I’m talking about controlling changes on projects, or engaging stakeholders in risk identification, or conducting lessons learned exercises. I regularly hear the question, “Do you do that?”

I try to emphasize that all project management practices need to be scaled in order to make sense for the project and the organization. I am careful to explain that nobody does every best practice on every project.

But even with those qualifiers, I confess that I don’t follow my best advice 100 percent of the time. Ironically, especially when the going gets tough or the constraints are particularly onerous, I know I have skipped over the very steps I know should be done to prevent problems.

Maybe instead of “Practice what you preach,” we should be thinking about “Preaching what we practice.” How different would that sound? And would it be worth listening to?

There is certainly no shortage of people these days who are dispensing advice about how to do everything from managing projects to raising kids. There are so many people trying to find an audience for their message and so many more venues for delivering them. With so much competition for the attention of a finite audience, is it inevitable that in the quest for something fresh to say, pontificators have to dig deeper into the bag of best practices tricks with less attention to whether or not it’s something they actually do?

Whether it’s an organization, a team, or an individual, it’s worth remembering the response of my acquaintance to the disconnect between what one says to do and what one actually does. That frustration dwarfs any negative response to an honest failure to actually do best practices.

Practice what you preach — a lynchpin of parenting models, corporate mission statements, and political platforms since the beginning of time. It is also an important facet of developing our influence skills.

Those of us who are charged with evangelizing best practices need to be honest with ourselves and those listening to make sure we are also preaching what we practice.

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