Are leaders born or are they made? That's a tough question, and probably as old as time itself. It's like wondering what came first, the chicken or the egg. I'd have to say there are some inherent traits that one needs to be a good leader, but many of these skills can be learned. If one has a propensity to read a lot, to be a good observer, to engage ideas with others, willing to have mentors around you, learn to be a good communicator, willing to accept failure and move on, then a great leader can grow from that. Persistence and fortitude are very important. And, you need an aptitude and a natural leaning toward learning.
Having an aptitude to want to learn and excel, and refining those skills over time through training and practice, helps immensely in becoming an effective leader.
Other elements at play are environmental and cultural. Can one resonate well with one's community? As a leader can one embrace these cultural expectations. Can one navigate well through constant change? Does one know when to be a transformational leader, a servant leader, an authoritarian leader, a laissez-faire leader? Can one delegate effectively?
There are so many factors at play for leaders to consider. It can be like playing chess sometimes. You need to train on the job, and even when playing the game, there is no guarantee one will win. Strategy, chance, hard work, and being at the right place at the right time can all be key ingredients in making a successful leader.
1. Established leadership qualities shared by some modern entrepreneurs
Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Ma all share some similar leadership traits which are worth examining. Most of all they are passionate about what they do, and they hold values which they want to posit to others within their organization, and to the world as a whole. They are not resistant to change, and irrespective of their initial low chances of success, they are resilient to move forward, and take a huge risk to bring their goals and dreams to resolution. And, their transformational leadership style motivates and inspires people to take on new challenges. Other common themes among Musk, Ma and Zuckerberg include:
a) Organizational Change and Emotional Intelligence
Effective leadership is at the core of any form of successful change. All these leaders share an aspect of emotional intelligence. They all possess the traits, disposition and ability to understand and appeal to the mindsets of those around them. This enables them to successfully facilitate thought and change, and identify crucial skills needed to help build their businesses. For change to occur, there needs to be confidence to build an environment of open communication. By communicating a need for change to employees they can pointedly focus, process social and emotional information, and apply it appropriately when needed, benefiting themselves, and those around them.
And, for any resistors to change, they can persuade and inspire them by building better relationships, and encouraging more participation within the decision making process. This is how these leaders skillfully inculcate in others the motivation and positive purpose for change.
b) Team Building
The three leaders are goal oriented. They all have a shared sense of enthusiasm, opportunity, and commitment, and are motivated to achieve excellence at all costs. And, they are all devoted to instilling and perpetuating these values into their teams. This contributes to successfully building and managing teams within an organization. Successful teams build successful companies.
c) Trust and Respect
Trust and respect is essential for team work and businesses to flourish. These three leaders embody these elements within their organizations and community. The trust and respect is reciprocated toward them, thereby creating a win-win environment for all parties involved.
2. Is this a new breed of leadership?
When compared to leaders of the past, Musk, Zuckerberg and Ma appear to focus on transparency of ideas, innovation at the forefront, constant adaptation to rapid change, and a conscious effort to make sustainable development all end-to-end elements of their businesses. It's not to say these ideas were not present in the past. However, there is more emphasis on them today than say decades ago. Part of this is due to a shift in the cultural milieu of our time. And, part because these leaders are acutely aware of the positive impact their ideas can have on the environment and world community.
Some fear the role of the Project Manager may be eliminated as the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) becomes more prevalent in the workplace. Others see the evolution of AI as creating new opportunities, allowing the Project Manager to transform their role to focus on more critical and crucial responsibilities.
Is "AI" just a new buzzword of the week? To some it may be so. Or when you hear "AI" do you envision the Terminator or iRobot. Or do you think of half human half machine like RoboCop, or Bionic Man? These overly intelligent machines are as mythical as the cyclops or leprechauns. Hollywood movies have certainly added to the myth of the super machine thinking and acting like a human, replete with human emotions; conscious, forgiving, understanding, and filled with empathy. Well, that's the world of make believe. The real world is far from this scenario, and probably will not exist within our lifetime.
AI in the business world is something more tame, and less threatening. It refers more to robotic functions such as operations, data collection, tracking and reporting; those repetitive tasks which hold far less value, but which need to be accomplished within business. In complex projects AI tasks save time and improve data accuracy, thus allowing PMs better interpretation of the data. Automating workflows, predicting risks, eliminating human bias, preventing cost overruns, or digging deeper into big data for real-time insights, these are all tasks which allow the PM to spend more time on the human side of a project: the business, stakeholders and customers. AI allows the PM to provide more succinct strategic advice to the business, to be a more substantial leader providing value outcomes, rather than simply being a manager. AI can more effectively guide PMs on where to focus their efforts, thereby more accurately increasing the potential for project success.
AI is not a threat to project management jobs, but a way to spend less time managing and more time doing those tasks that add true value to a business. Project Manager's soft skills like communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, leadership and understanding the needs of stakeholders, are more valuable and more marketable than ever, and very much in demand in the world of AI; skills currently void within any robotic AI machine.
Since the core of the project management profession is not easily transferrable to a machine, PMs should not be fearful of AI inadvertently hijacking their jobs. PM jobs differ widely in complexity, and encompass unforeseeable or taxing challenges which can not easily be tackled by AI. This is AI's limitation. It is relegated to recognizing patterns within data and making conclusions or forecasts based on those patterns. Therefore, AI is optimal for repetitive, predictive or computational tasks. In other words, AI is more like a tool to enhance the project management field, rather than to displace it. Imagination and adaptability is far more fluid within a Project Manager than within AI machines. If anything, the adoption of AI in projects will encourage the PM to embrace techniques which will sharpen our soft skills, making us even more marketable.
The introduction of automation during the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries gave way to faster manufacturing processes. This was enough to frighten many trades people during that period, who felt their jobs would be lost to machines. The automobile modified transportation, making the use of horses rather obsolete. The introduction of email forever changed the demand for posting letters in the mail. Each one of these transitions involved some form of mechanization, which altered the demands for certain jobs. Rightfully so, AI is yet another stage in this move toward more encompassed automation within the workforce. Like in the past, each time there was a dramatic shift in mechanization, new jobs were created, and many current jobs were enhanced, making them even more in demand. But, throughout this change there was always someone needed to plan, manage, monitor and control the work, and make crucial decisions on the job. The role of the Project Manager will continue to evolve, and will undoubtedly play a pertinent and pivotal role in the world of AI, just as it has done throughout the history of automation.
Peter Drucker was a well known Austrian-American management consultant. His ideas are highly regarded in the project management field. He wrote many books and articles, but one in particular that comes to mind is "Managing Oneself". Still a very popular article, it neatly and meticulously spells out a few practical tips on how to build a life of excellence. First, one must ask a few questions:
1) What are my strengths?
At first glance these questions might sound trivial. But with a closer look one can see how these questions help drive ambition, and motivate one to maintain a positive trajectory to elevate oneself to the peak of any profession. In essence it helps one become a chief executive officer of their own career. As the old saying goes, if you don't manage your career, someone else might manage it for you, and that may not always be pleasant. The above 5 questions help each one of us develop a significant understanding of ourselves, how we can work best with others, and make a significant contribution to increase our value within the workforce.
What are my strengths?
How do I work?
What are my values?
Where do I belong?
What can I contribute?
In short, it's this understanding of one's strengths and self-knowledge that enables us to accomplish rewarding and valuable levels of excellence within the project management field, by analyzing ourselves, and asking some of the questions listed above.
A Toastmasters mentor can bring immense value to the table, particularly with enhancing your public speaking skills. These skills are indispensable in career development, whether for a project manager, business analyst, or the like.
As a worldwide club, what a mentor does and what I believe Toastmasters provides, is a fertile ground for speakers and ideas to germinate. The mentor is not there to coax and cajole you to learn. You already bring to the table life skills, and the want and desire to learn, and to improve on your speaking skills. A mentor helps to hone in on those specific skills, to feed your appetite, to help those ideas flourish.
In other words, the Toastmasters mentor helps you stay on your path to enhance your public speaking goals, making sure you don't veer too far to the right, or too far to the left. The mentor helps to keep you on that middle road, making suggestions and recommendations on how and where to improve your speaking skills.
For those just starting out, the mentor helps to define and nurture your speaking structure, to give form, substance and meaning to your words. Always with the emphasis on the consistent flow of ideas from one subject to the next, unhampered.
For the intermediate speaker, the mentor helps you to draw out a stronger speech structure, with a more centralized meaning to your words, making the storyline sound less contrived. Maybe even adding a bit of dramatic license to help better convey your meaning to the audience. And of course, how you can use the stage to your added advantage.
For the advanced speaker, the mentor helps you to create a more refined and fluid speech. The emphasis is on subtle nuances of the language that help to pepper your speeches with verve, making them even more tantalizing to the audience. Here you want to be more cogent and coherent, more lucid, more flexible in how you express yourself with words.
At each stage you learn to better equip yourself in understanding your audience at a deeper level, which might influence the way you deliver your speech.
All these factors come together to encapsulate the gradual stages of how language can be learned, practiced and used to get your point across in an artistic and entertaining way, without losing sight of your message.
The mentor is not there to be disparaging, demeaning or deriding. On the contrary, it takes self-control and character to be a mentor, to listen, to provide constructive criticism, and to make the learning environment mutually beneficial to both the mentor and the mentee; making it a win-win for both parties.
In a sense, a mentor can be that personal or career growth coach for a short period of time. This is the optimal form of personal success, working in an environment to help cultivate that potential, allowing it to bloom into something bigger and brighter. And, as that seed of knowledge grows and blossoms, you learn how to pollinate it to others. This is in fact the best value we can learn from a Toastmasters mentor.