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Project Leadership, Episode 3: Natural born leader?

 In this series of posts on Project Leadership, I try to explore what it is, why it is worth and how to develop as a project leader – while not renouncing to the assets of a good project manager. Today : how focusing on your strengths will shape your authentic leadership style.

In most project management books and trainings, the orientation towards process is very clear and perfectly understandable – they are fundamentals that rely on decades of project management experience and research.
But I still have the feeling that project leadership is not adequately addressed with the needed emphasis in project management literature.

As an arithmetic illustration of that misbalance, just try to step in the shoes of a rookie project manager, learning what is managing a project with the help of the « Bible of Project Management », the PMBOK. In this 600-page book, Project essential Soft Skills are summed up in an 8-page annex (Leadership is one of those, adressed within half-a-page). The rest is processes. Even though PMI has well understood the need for more leadership in project management by largely restructuring the PMP credential system towards strategic and leadership thinking, the path to project leadership is still a long one.


Does it mean that it is impossible to learn or expand leadership skills, and that leadership is a gift given (or denied) by a fairy bending over the cradle of the project manager? Surely not, and this should even be a lifetime commitment for any project manager to act in order to grow as a leader. The question is then: where to put an emphasis?

Is it wise to work on not-so-strong assets?

In the previous post, I proposed to look backwards at your successes to increase your self-confidence. You can proceed in a similar manner and draw some lessons learned from situations or crisis that you may consider as not managed the way you’d like or even as failures. After all, project lessons learned are good practice, and why not do the same for self: it is a way to develop self-awareness (e.g. better identify which emotions came under pressure) and self-management (what could I do next time?).
However, you should by far not spend the same amount of time and energy developing your strengths and improving your weaker points. Experts in personal and interpersonal strengths say that 80 / 20 is a good balance of effort to develop strengths and work on weaknesses. I tend to believe that such rule-of-thumb should also apply when developing your emotional intelligence: focus first and foremost on successes, and choose carefully in which area you want to handle what you regard a weakness.
When finding such area for improvement (e.g. : "during the crisis of project XYZ, I was not good when it came to influence"), don’t feel obliged to frantically improve your shortcomings. You can indeed apply different strategies:
- delegate to others what is not your cup of tea (with a bonus effect: empower others will let them grow and boost your interpersonal skills);
- find a work-around when a similar situation arises again (e.g. adapt the process, or develop another one where your shortcoming is not so critical);
- balance (even surpass) your shortcoming with another skill / talent (e.g. : I was not good at influencing so I’ll deploy my strong empathy to feel what the stakeholder wishes);
- cosmetically improve this area;
- simply accept that this is one of your shortfalls and let it go: you can live and succeed with that shortfall.

Authentic leadership

At the end of the day, having boosted your sharp EQ areas and found strategies for the others, the result is what I call an authentic leader: somebody having leveraged his/her core values and talents, and developed around them a leadership style which is unique and authentic - because it is based on what he/she knows and can best.

I will leave the last word to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.



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