In recent conversation with a PMI NYC leader at our annual chapter meeting, we came to the conclusion that “leadership” in the profession required more attention. Web-based listicles of ‘use these [X] techniques to be seen as a leader’ seem innumerable and likely have the same effect on your practice as acquiring additional Magic expansion packs. Instead of hyper-focusing on a short range of techniques, why not begin to consider leadership traits, and then — in quite the project manager manner, select your own techniques.
So: What is leadership?
Leadership is ephemeral. When you ask “what is a leader?” of those around you, a few things happen. One is, they quote famous lines: “Leaders inspire others to be the best version of themselves.” How does a leader know the versioning sequence? Is there a <self> owner’s manual with upgrades and maintenance schedule? “Leaders know the way, show the way, and go the way…” Ok, but who showed them? How do we know that the earlier teacher didn’t copy a flawed methodology? What if their way is not right for you? Are any of their quotes Project Management worthy?
For leadership philosophy, it is easier to start by examining a current leader. Following the World Economic Forum, Jack Ma’s Meet the Leader discussion percolated throughout the internet. During the talk, which I encourage you to watch, he repeatedly refers back to a personal philosophy. This is a key to the secrets of leading. It shines through enormous spaces given it during his audience interaction. After watching, ask yourself: what are five of his life philosophy points? What are yours? Can you succinctly describe them to others? Are they applicable to Project Management? Owning a central philosophy is a key leadership trait.
The PMBOK also says: “The astute project manager is acutely aware of the environment in which their project is operating.” This has an additional, deeper meaning to it beyond just your office space, software package, or department in which your project may be unfolding. What is the political influence on your organization beyond just internal seniority? Which larger levers are being pulled outside of tools and techniques you employ to produce the widgets (and are you comfortable with that)? What externalities (positive and negative) may results from what you are doing right now? Tunnel vision towards the task list is easy, but situational awareness of your project’s “environment” will help with your risk profile, and effective risk management is seen as a leadership characteristic.
Philosophy, risk management, and lastly: vision. What, precisely, is your answer to life, the universe, and everything(42)? Can you convince your team, your boss, and your known associates of your vision’s validity? Can you easily coalesce a group to follow you towards the apocalypse with a can do attitude? When you explain to people how a process, initiative, or the world at large should be, do people believe you? If not, is the vision itself salable? Are your vision communication methods needing support and development? Unifying others behind a vision — and planning your vision’s implementation — are recognized leadership quality attributes.
This article asks a lot of questions: what is your vision and can you express it? Are you situationally aware? What is your leadership philosophy? It’s important to recognize that if you find yourself in “leadership” and you lack answers to these questions, additional questions might require answers. As John Maxwell says: “If you think you’re leading, but no one is following you, you’re just taking a walk.”
(42) Thanks Douglas Adams