Project Management

Servant Leadership: Serve to Be Great

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This blog is about leadership as it applies to projects and project management, but also as it applies to society in general. The bloggers here manage projects and lead teams in both business and volunteer environments, and are all graduates of PMI's Leadership Institute Master Class. We hope to bring insight into the challenges we all experience in our projects and in our day-to-day work, providing helpful tidbits to inspire you to take action to improve—whether in your personal life, your business/work life or on your projects. Read, comment and share your experiences as we share ours. Let’s make the pie bigger! Grab a slice!

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Catalin Dogaru
Mike Frenette
Suzan Cho
Jonathan Lee
Tolga Özel
Graham Briggs
Cecilia Boggi

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Viewing Posts by Tolga Özel

Leadership for Collective Intelligence

Categories: Best Practices, Leadership

In our daily life, many of us have sometimes found that our individual efforts are not enough to find a solution or make a decision - that it is necessary to cooperate with our colleagues, friends or  family members. Such cooperation especially works well when you are experiencing some common challenges or have common interest in leveraging opportunities.  James Surowiecki in his book Wisdom of Crowds also reveals that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than one person or even experts.

To overcome today’s social and business challenges are getting more complicated and require the power of collective intelligence by cognition (sensing), coordination and cooperation of a group of people. Getting more connected every day also provides more opportunities to enable the potential of aggregated knowledge, insight and expertise of a diverse group by enabling its members to communicate, visualize, and diversify in virtual environments.

According to Surowiecki, the intelligence of the crowd can fail when the group is homogeneous,  centralized, divided, imitating and highly emotional.

Prof. Oinas-Kukkonen, in his book Knowledge Management: Theoretical Foundations, captures the wisdom of crowds approach with the following eight conjectures:

  1. It is possible to describe how people in a group think as a whole.

  2. In some cases, groups are remarkably intelligent and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.

  3. The three conditions for a group to be intelligent are diversity, independence, and decentralization.

  4. The best decisions are a product of disagreement and contest.

  5. Too much communication can make the group as a whole less intelligent.

  6. Information aggregation functionality is needed.

  7. The right information needs to be delivered to the right people in the right place, at the right time, and in the right way.

  8. There is no need to chase the expert.


Enabling and elevating the intelligence of the crowd is a new critical role of Leadership besides visioning, influencing and establishing the trust of followers. To demonstrate leadership for collective intelligence, leaders need to:

  • identify and build alignment around the potential benefits of cooperating to achieve the vision.

  • inspire others to contribute their best cognition (sensing), coordination and cooperation

  • create trusted environments where people can talk and think together across organizational boundaries.

  • create space for new insights to emerge.

  • catalyze creative thinking, innovation and wider perspectives among the people they lead.

  • inspire coordinated action, rooted in common purpose and shared commitment.

  • conceive, operationalize and facilitate transformational design.  

Dear Reader, the opportunities beyond collective intelligence are limitless and provide immense power for massive changes. With your leadership, you can enable the intelligence of a group in many situations, providing unique solutions to complex problems, and creating transformative innovative ideas,shifts of strategic thinking and cultural change.

What do you think? Is it worth a try?

Posted by Tolga Özel on: November 28, 2016 05:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Entrepreneurs As Leaders

Over the last two years, I met a quite number of entrepreneurs looking for investors to present their ideas. A few of them were successful in finding funds for their projects. The reasons are very much linked with their leadership competencies. I became aware that the journey of an entrepreneur shows quite a few similarities with the journey of a leader.

Entrepreneurs are, by nature, people who step forward to achieve an idea. This is a fundamental leadership skill. In addition, like leaders, they need to have a great vision, need to influence people and need to engage people to achieve their goals.

Great entrepreneurs, in both social and commercial domains, often start the journey when they are dissatisfied  with the present and develop a vision for a better future. The degree of innovation, business benefit and social impact will increase the chance of engagement with others around the vision.

Good entrepreneurs engage people to achieve their goals. They find partners, ask advisors, recruit staff, engage investors and, most importantly, engage customers. This requires, asin leadership, strong influencing skills to attract people first on their vision and later with  high rates of progress and excellent value delivery.

Good entrepreneurs are also good at performing.  They plan and coordinate tasks,  and are able to break the journey down into smaller sub-journeys. They cultivate people, mentor and delegate to bring the team to peak  performance. They walk with the followers (partners, staff, investors, customers and  society) to achieve the goal.

The journey of an entrepreneur is filled with uncertainties and risks. Like leaders, entrepreneurs need to have a sense for the unknowable and be able to foresee the unforeseeable.

I believe the success of an entrepreneur is very much linked to leadership competencies. What would you share on this?


Posted by Tolga Özel on: February 16, 2016 01:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

How to Unleash the Leader in YOU

On the 9th of October 2012, a schoolgirl was hit by three bullets, fired by a gunman on a school bus upon calling her name. One of the bullets was very devastating and put her into a coma under intensive care for a long time. She had to travel outside her country for medication in rehabilitation centers. The reason of this tragic attack were her posts in social media encouraging children, especially girls, to continue their education and about the challenges she was facing  in her country. The posts of Malala Yousafzai have been drawing the attention of society, institutions and international press. The attack increased awareness, attention and several awards were organized in her name.  Since then, several campaigns have been conducted. Government officials in her country started actions to develop the education system. And, Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize of 2014 -  the youngest winner of this prize at the age of 17. In the announcement of the prize it is stated that “Despite her youth, Malala Yousafzai has already fought for several years for the rights of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations. This she has done under the most dangerous circumstances. Through her heroic struggle she has become a leading spokesperson for girls' rights to education.”

Malala’s  thoughts and actions have created a global inspiration for the rights of children and  women and impacted the lives of many people. The conditions presenting Malala as a leader were more about her life experience than her education. Since the trust and support to Malala has increased after the tragic attack, many people followed and joined her in her journey to reach her goals.

Each one of us takes follower and leader roles at the same time in indifferent contexts. In Malala’s case, I define the leader as the one  followed to achieve a common goal while walking beside you while you reach for the same goal. Leadership can be defined simply as the set of competencies which influence others to follow.  These competencies may differ based on culture and context (family, school, company, club, region, country, etc), however, trustworthiness and initiative-taking are the fundamental assets to initiate the leadership journey. Without these, the journey does not start. But these are not sufficient for you to be accepted as leader. You need to influence and inspire others to reach for the goal, which requires another set of competencies on top of fundamental competencies. Engaging others, listening, strategic thinking, making sound decisions, managing cultural diversity, being open to criticism and feedback, coaching followers, and cultivating new leaders are some of those competencies.

There is an ongoing debate about whether  you can only be born as leader and if you are not, you can not become a leader later on. I can accept that genetic heritage impacts our behaviours very much and also our leadership journey. However, I believe that we can develop the leader inside us by learning, which mostly occurs through experiences, rather than in classrooms or through reading books. Leaders are not born as leaders. The leader appears while responding to personal and community challenges, taking initiatives, responding to failures, and demonstrating self criticism and ambition for development.

Learning of leadership through experience is not only about developing new competencies, it is also about putting old habits behind us and overcoming  knee-jerk reactions and poor assumptions.

The fastest way to develop/unleash the leader in you is to experience by taking initiatives to achieve a common vision, maintaining relationships with diverse cultures, improving self awareness and being trustworthy.

Today, one of the top global challenges,according to the report of World Economic Forum, is the lack of leadership, The issue is not about the weak competency of the leaders, it is that competent people do not (or can not) take the initiative to lead us.

Each of us could be leading or coming across leadership opportunities in different environments to solve problems and to achieve common goals.  You can only be a greater leader through experience. We should not miss those leadership opportunities to increase impact and to learn to be a better leader. So, “Take The Jump!” We need great leaders!

Posted by Tolga Özel on: January 06, 2016 12:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (13)

Leadership...The Impact

On August 17, 1999, a strong earthquake shook Gölcük, a city located southeast of Istanbul in Turkey. The 7.2 grade quake took 45 seconds and was felt in an area where around 20 million people lived. Almost 18,000 people died and many hundreds more were trapped beneath collapsed buildings across the region. Only three months later, a smaller quake caused another nine hundred deaths in Duzce, a one and half hour drive away east of Gölcük. During rescue operations in Gölcük and Düzce quakes, a volunteer rescue team, AKUT, almost unknown at that time, appeared in action earlier than any other organizations. AKUT worked with 150 permanent members. It organized over 1,000 people to work and was on duty when over 200 people were rescued from the debris. The public recognized the AKUT team , and the leader, Nasuh Mahruki, with gratitude. Turkish people chose AKUT as the most trusted entity of Turkey.


By that time, we knew Nasuh Mahruki as a mountain climber, who climbed the summit of Mount Everest and was the first ever Turkish Person to climb the Seven Summits. In interviews, he revealed that the story behind founding of AKUT was triggered due to another tragedy. In November, 1994, Nasuh and around 100 of the most competent climbers in the country were searching for two missing young climbers in Bolkar Mountains in Turkey. After 14 days of challenging searching, unfortunately, they could not find any of the boys - dead or alive. The body of one was found 8 months later by a villager and the second boy was still missing. Upon this upsetting event, Nasuh and a number of his, pioneering mountaineers friends thought about how search and rescue activities could be conducted in an effective and efficient manner.  In 1996  they formed the AKUT  Search and Rescue Association, a volunteer-based search and rescue team. The members received earthquake and flood training within the next year. It became the one and only Non-Government Organization that was organized on search and rescue, before the big Marmara Earthquake hit Golcuk in August, 1999.

Today there are more than 35 AKUT units and more than 1,600 volunteers all over Turkey and to date  more than 2,200 people have either been rescued or moved to safe environments by AKUT. In 1999, the organization became a member of United Nations' Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).  AKUT was officially recognized in 2011 as a "mid-sized search and rescue team" by INSARAG.  With the inspiration of AKUT, today there are several Search and Rescue teams in Turkey created by volunteers, military, private, and professionals which were all founded by following AKUT’s lead.

Nasuh created a big impact on society with his leadership of AKUT. He is a social entrepreneur and a leader in the citizen sector. AKUT is an innovative and much referenced organization among NGOs in Turkey with a powerful governance model and unique vision. Some personal lessons I learned  from AKUT are:

  • Don’t wait when you see a problem. Take the lead and influence others to join for the common purpose.

  • Take the lead to create positive impact. the impact lasts even when the leadership ends.

  • Engage others.  The vision can only be achieved with collaboration and teamwork.

  • Broaden the vision to increase the impact.

Nasuh still inspires others with his books, public speeches and sharing. His book, Climbing to Your Everest, tells us that a key leadership aspect is to build a vision of the Everest you need or must climb, and to keep the goal in the forefront of your mind. 

I will translate and share some quotes from this book to convey the messages to you.

  • Search for your place within life and find your own purpose, the life is not a rehearsal.

  • Be the leader to yourself: today’s results are causes for tomorrow. The future is shaped with your choices and decisions today .   Make your plans, develop a strategy, and implement.

  • Share your learning. Sharing complements the process of doing.

  • Show desire to achieve. Being successful  is a need satisfied when a person realized of his/her full potential.  

  • Be multidimensional: Be known as an expert in your strengths and try and develop in other areas as well.

  • Follow your own track: the prime factor for achievement is your internal desire and associated self-devotion, determination, endeavor and self-sacrifice. Achievement will only follow if you walk your own track.

I hope you enjoyed the story of Nasuh and AKUT, please share your thoughts.




Posted by Tolga Özel on: November 17, 2015 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

Leadership...The Purpose...

Categories: Leadership

The misconception of expecting leadership only from the people who have power and authority, or in other words, expecting power or authority to demonstrate leadership, prevents the potential of communities from being revealed. In order to understand how leadership is formed, I believe we need to consider those who come forward as leaders and how the followers engage with them.

With the experience of PMI Leadership Institute Master Class (LIMC), there was a “wow” point for us when we realized leadership is a journey, in other words, a process - initiated, executed and handed over. As a group of LIMC colleagues, we feel we need to share our thoughts with the community through this Servant Leadership, Serve to be Great blog.

I am part of this exciting blogger team mainly to encourage and inspire the readers to initiate their leadership journey and to discuss what tools they need to carry with them to achieve their purpose. You may expect that the colorful diversity of the bloggers will bring great examples of leadership from different cultures.  

Posted by Tolga Özel on: October 01, 2015 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

"Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."

- Mark Twain



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