As we all know, leadership is one of the key areas of PDUs in the PM talent triangle (PMI, 2019). We all are called to lead in our role as PM's, and we all lead in different ways. It seems that the world today is polarized in many ways. There are methodologies that seemingly keep us on one side of a continuum, and it seems like we need to make a choice regarding what type of leader we need to be. Should I be extremely detail-oriented or should I delegate that function to someone else? Waterfall or Agile? Collaborative or Directive? etc.
I would argue that in this polarized world there is a third way. We all have to find our third way in between the poles. When you think of our planet, it is very difficult to live at the poles. The temperature extremes and harsh conditions are brutal. Also, there are long periods of light and darkness that are difficult to endure. I've never lived in the arctic or antarctic regions, and I don't want to. However, I have tried living at these "poles" of leadership, and I've found that they can be just as harsh, but in different ways. Living between the poles in a more temperate region is much more pleasant, and I would argue produces better project success results. So what are some of the tenets of temperance?
1. The Third Way
In his book "How to Lead When You're Not in Charge", Clay Scroggins explains that there is a third way to lead. He explains that the two extremes can be
- waiting until you are in charge and blaming others that you are not--passivity
- Fully embracing your ambition and bowling over others to meet your goals--aggression
His third way is simply to serve people where they are, and to help them achieve their goals. I tried the first two ways (the poles) and was not very successful. The third way has been much more effective for me. Plus, it's just more fun! A friend of mine asked me recently how my projects were going, and after a pause I said:
"I helped other people work toward their personal and group goals today, and that also helped the project". That leads me to the second tenet of temperance.
2. Align team and individual goals
It's not always possible, but you look for opportunities within the teams you lead to lift others up. Give somebody an opportunity to lead a portion of the project that he/she is passionate/skilled at executing. Most of us can recognize talent when we see it, but sometimes that talent needs to be developed. I work in a matrix organization (like most of us), and when I can work with a resource manager to help one of their team members work on a specific skill or competence--I embrace the opportunity to do so. Often that skill or new way of conducting a portion of the project can be assimilated into best practices. I'm not saying to be reckless in our approach to running projects, but continuous improvement through the empowerment of others can be powerful indeed.
3. Mentor without being asked
My title is Senior PM. That's not important, however, what is important is the fiduciary responsibility that I have to my team. The PMO Director pulled me aside recently and thanked me for my work with my peers. She mentioned that sometimes I can say things in a way that resonate differently than they do from her as the boss. These private conversations can be tailored directly to a specific person's learning style and situation. When you can develop a safe space to pass on some knowledge in private, the benefits can be greater than they are in public or more formal situations. I endeavor to help other PMs within my organization become the best leaders that they can be, and to help them see that it's cold and dark at the poles sometimes.
4. Be a generative leader
Generative Leadership is a style that produces new thought or processes on how to accomplish a task and run a project. The types of leaders that embody this philosophy are proactive, positive and see opportunities where others see problems. These leaders create and shape change rather than just responding to it, and are conscientious in their efforts for continuous improvement (Disch, 2009). The new approaches theses leaders are using include finding new answers to seemingly conflicting priorities, looking for commonalities and inclusion versus differences and exclusive behaviors, and the re-framing of situations to expand options in seemingly constrictive environments to generate multiple solutions (Disch, 2009).
True leadership is often a thankless job, but are we really doing it for the accolades anyway? Following these 4 tenets over the last couple of years have really helped me to live with joy and find satisfaction in my job. After all, it's a pretty lonely place at the poles. I lived there for awhile, and I'd rather live in the temperate zone. Best wishes for your leadership journey.
Disch, J. (2009). Generative leadership. Creative Nursing, 15(4), 172-177.
Scroggins, C (2017). How to lead when you're not in charge, Grand Rapids, MI, Zondervan Press