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


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

Recent Posts

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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)

Be Fearless – Tackle the Big Problems!

Categories: Best Practices, Leadership

Have you ever been in a leadership position and ignored an important problem? This is something new leaders often do early on. Sometimes even experienced leaders can fall into that trap.

Why does it happen? Are you “cherry picking” the problems you will address, but focusing on those with easy solutions? Are you ignoring the tough problems because they involve confrontation with team members or maybe with those to whom you report? Or are you just so tied up in the day to day that things slip through the cracks because you are not paying attention?

If you are like many people, your instincts are telling you which are the important problems you need to deal with right now, but you are ignoring them and are taking the route of least resistance, dealing with other problems. Why? Maybe because it's easier that way. Maybe they are more aligned with the things you enjoy doing or the people with whom you like to work. Maybe because it's simply more fun. Important problems belong on your Get Done ASAP list, not your ever-lengthening To-Do list.

Be sure not to confuse urgency with importance – sometimes that looming deadline is not actually important, or the consequences of missing it are near zero. Is it an urgent problem with zero importance? Are you wasting your valuable energy on it when there are so many more important items on your list? Be aware and know what you are dealing with.

Good things happen when you deal with important problems you’ve been avoiding. Avoidance is often a signal that others see the same problem and don’t want to address it either due to the difficulty or absence of an easy solution. Be the leader who addresses those sticky important issues head on, taking an approach called for by the situation. You’ll be surprised how people will respect you for taking on those tough problems, and how open dialogue, if appropriate, will cause solutions to appear on the horizon where none existed before.

Brainstorm, use a “yes-anding” approach and reasonable solutions will turn up. Focus on the problem, not the people. Avoid negative words like no, but and however.  Use positive words like “yes”, “and”, and “also”. These words increase the realm of solutions instead of narrowing them. Filter out the solutions that will likely not work only after all they are all on the table. Avoid trashing before asking.

Avoidance may be a reasonable risk strategy, but it is not one for important problems. Follow those instincts, ignore the fear, and eliminate the procrastination. Deal with it now, because problems are not like red wine and cheese. They don’t get better with age. They invariably get worse… far worse.

So create a Get Done ASAP list and tackle those difficult problems. Mentor your team to do the same. You will soon feel a sense of relief in clearing an important item off your list, and most often will find that it was not as tough as you thought.  

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.  Don’t wish it was easier.  Wish you were better.”

“Don’t wish for fewer problems. Wish for more skills.  Don’t wish for less challenge.  Wish for more wisdom.”

   - Jim Rohn, Entrepreneur, 1930-2009

Posted by Mike Frenette on: March 29, 2016 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Leading With Stories

I’ve read many times that telling a story in a presentation is a compelling way to keep your audience focused on your every word. I suppose this is true as long as the story is, in fact, interesting, with a bit of a plot – you know – that beginning, middle and ending? Elizabeth Larson is a master at this. Her presentation “I Don’t Have Time for Requirements – My Project is Late Already” (a sort of Covey “Sharpen Your Saw” story) always gets rave reviews because she tells a story throughout the presentation.

A colleague of mine is a master at telling stories. I honestly don’t know where he gets them all, but they are usually related to the situation at hand. This particular gentleman is from Denmark, and refers to himself as a Viking. So, you know already that he has a very good sense of humour. I haven’t seen him wearing one of those helmets with the horns, and I don’t think he has asked to be buried along with his ship. But then again, nothing would surprise me!

A close Chechslovakian friend of my dear brother kindly taught me how to paddle a canoe many years ago. I was having trouble, of course, being only a young teenager. Instead of telling me “Hold your paddle like this.”, he would relate a story about how he remembered a person he was teaching who held his paddle such and such a way (strangely, just as I was holding it), and how this caused the canoe to tip, or another story would be the untold damage caused when he steered the canoe into another watercraft. Do you think I would remember what he said if he hadn’t told a story?

So, my premise is that if stories work for presentations, so too do they work for leading teams from behind. You’ve been there and done that. You have the battle scars and had the experience. Why not pass along those precious lessons learned to your colleagues by using engaging stories that will not only pass the message, but be memorable and entertaining?

Should all your stories be true and factual? Maybe. Maybe not. Sometimes facts get in the way of entertainment. But if they are focused and brief stories that make a good point, and sometimes even have a special twist at the end as a little hidden surprise… why not use them as a leadership tool?

Well… that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

What are your thoughts? Is storytelling in your toolbox?

I found the item below in response to Kristin Jones and Rebecca Braglio’s call for stories about why you love being a project manager. I thought I would repost this story here for your reading pleasure (I hope) to make it more visible. OK – full disclosure – I wrote it. ;)


A Story about an Accidental Project Manager

Once upon a time, there was a young man who began his career in technology – writing computer programs, analyzing business needs, designing and implementing computer software. He worked on things called projects, as a member of a team, or sometimes as a lone ranger on a tiny project. He loved working in technology, because he could exercise his creative cleverness and amaze the town folk with technological magic.

One day, a company with whom had just started working asked if he would move 3,000 kilometers away to manage a project to create and install a computer system for court staff so they could record offences, schedule trials, record results, collect fines, and … well.. you get the picture. Never one to say no to an opportunity, this young man, who had never managed a project in his life, said, “Yes! I’d love to do it!” Some might call this attitude foolhardy. He called it good fortune - and so began his career in project management.

He and his small team worked hard to figure out client needs, design and create a system a piece at a time, confirm it with the client, and then implement it. The project was very successful, providing what was required, and maybe a little bit more (which he later learned was called “gold plating”), within the expected budget and on time.

Since then, the subject of our little story managed many projects, always successfully. Then came a time when he noticed there was a professional organization called the Project Management Institute that had a body of knowledge called the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. He realized that his past success had been a matter of common sense (not so ubiquitous he always thought for a term with such a name) and to some extent, good luck and friendly clients. He was often heard talking to himself while holding the guide close to his chest, muttering “Where have you been all my life!” [OK… not true, but added for comedic effect]

Thus began the professionalization of our friend. After managing projects for fifteen years, he immersed himself in this warm body of knowledge, researched, studied, wrote and passed the exam known as the "PMP exam". He enjoyed rubbing shoulders with other beings who also managed projects or had an interest in the same. He liked what he read and experienced so much that he decided to volunteer with the professional organization locally and globally, never looking back, even another fifteen years later. In fact, he is still volunteering today.

He has also been spreading the good PM word within his organization and far and wide. I heard about this person one day through a sort of telepathic connection. He obviously loved what he was doing. Otherwise, why would he continue? I asked him what he loved about project management, and his answer surprised me. He said, “Project management is all about people. People who are your clients, people who are your team, people who hear about the project and are want to know more, people with their own lives outside the projects, and people working to provide for their families. People. It’s all about people.” I said, “What? It’s not all about projects?” “No, he said, without people, there would be no projects. There would be no organizations. There would be no important needs being met through projects. Projects are people. Just like life – it’s all about people. And that’s why I love being a project manager. Working with people to understand what needs to be done, to bring the team together to work toward a successful conclusion in a way that makes us proud of what we have accomplished and makes the client want to work with us again.”

And so ends this brief tale of the accidental project manager. He is still out there, an accident no more. Still being successful. But now, it is not a matter of uncommon common sense or even luck. Now it is a matter of knowledge, experience, making plans, working plans and…. well… most importantly – working with people. It’s all about people!

(Originally posted on as a reply to this item.)

Posted by Mike Frenette on: February 03, 2016 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

SERVE, but don't forget to LEAD

“A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” (Martin Luther King Jr.).

Once again, using a powerful and profound image, Dr. King summarized the right “posture” of a Servant-Leader: ready to “carry” the followers, to help them “reach” their “destinations” (their life goals). However, the quote has a very interesting approach, not so easy to spot: ONLY your back should be bent JUST ENOUGH to allow the journey. There should be nothing demeaning or humiliating in this gesture or in this posture for the Servant-Leader and it shouldn’t be considered as such by the people around him or her.

This is one of the challenges of becoming a Servant-Leader and, moreover, of implementing the Servant-Leadership model in different organizations. Due to its characteristics (listen and understand, show empathy, be aware, lend a helping hand etc), Servant-Leadership is seen as a “softer” approach than any other traditional leadership approach. Competitive times - like the ones we experience nowadays - bring strong prejudices such as a leader must be tough, maybe even aggressive (if needed), ready to impose and direct people (for their “own good”) to the right path. There is no time to “listen” and “understand” completely. Leaders should be (and this is one of the most common prejudices that I encountered) concentrating on actions and less on feelings.

The Servant-Leadership approach is contradicting this trend - taking care of the feelings and then getting to actions. This is why - as I saw on several occasions - Servant-Leadership is seen as a good and interesting thing, but not fit (in terms of “power”) for the cloudy world we live in.

And this is, actually….correct. Servant-Leadership is promoting authority, not power. It is based on the skill of getting people to willingly perform because of the leader’s personal influence. Moreover, James Hunter (in “The Servant”) describes the Servant-Leader more as a “pit bull”, who “hugs hard and spanks hard”. When “it’s time to appreciate, honor and value team”, the Servant-Leader is the “first in line”. But, when the team has to perform,  true Servant-Leaders “demand excellence and have little tolerance for mediocrity”.

So, we are not soft. Not even close. We, as Servant-Leaders, are ready to move things in the right direction, engage people and motivate teams. But, at the same time, we are not doing this using the “power” whip and, more important, we always have  in mind our followers’ best interest. We do serve, but we never forget to lead.

Posted by Catalin Dogaru on: October 28, 2015 06:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

I watched the Indy 500, and I was thinking that if they left earlier they wouldn't have to go so fast.

- Steven Wright



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