Are you a good leader?

The most effective project managers are also good leaders. They get their teams to excel, to go the extra mile, they extract every last element of synergy. But how do you know how you stack up as a leader?

Dilbert - leadershipDILBERT © Scott Adams. Used By permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.

You’re unlikely to get the sort of e-mail referred to in the cartoon, and it can be hard to spot signs that you are not doing as good a job as you could.


There could be some signs:

  • When you are putting a team together or recruiting internally are people queuing up to work for you?
  • When there is a deadline coming up how willing are people to do the extra hours to support you?
  • Do people seek your advice if they are having problems with a task or role?

But your leadership may be only one factor influencing this behaviour. Quite often you can be busy running your project without any real indication of how well you are doing. The level of feedback you get will often depend on the culture of the organisation as a whole, and of the team or function you are part of.


The bad old days of feedback

poor performance

Virtually every organisation of any size has a performance appraisal system of some sort in place. In the worst case, you’ll get an annual kick up the backside from your boss (or pat on the back if you’ve done well). One experience I had was even worse. My boss realigned my responsibilities, giving the most interesting part of my role to one of my team as the means to tempt them to move from contract to permanent employment. All of this was done before he told me (notice I didn’t say discussed it with me). When I opted to move to another role instead he then informed me he was a little ‘disappointed’ with my rate of output! We had never discussed any of this – role changes or potential performance issues – at any of my regular one to ones with him. I was left completely in the dark until it was too late. I may not have performed to expectations but those expectations had never been communicated. Nor was any support to achieve them forthcoming.

Getting recognition

Thankfully, many organisations now operate an open 360° feedback approach where your subordinates and peers have the chance to say what you’ve done well and where you could improve and not just on a annual basis. Some companies are even adopting formal recognition processes and systems for all members of staff to comment on anybody’s performance. One such system is Thanks & Recognition ( – an easy to use peer to peer recognition scheme that allows anyone to thank anyone for anything and also delivers a simple “pulse” on organisational engagement.


My approach

iStock_000019584605XSmall - successFor me personally, I learned my lesson from the example I gave above. No, I didn’t become a contractor immediately to avoid appraisal processes. I spent another 20 years as a permanent employee putting this in to practice and still adopt the same approach when leading a team as a consultant. What did I do?

  • I looked at the recognised good leaders I knew and set about getting to know the traits of a good leader. Here are some of the key ones I identified:
    • Catching people doing things right and rewarding them, even if only with a ‘thank you’
    • Dealing with performance issues early and in private
    • Balancing being inclusive and consultative with a degree of decisiveness
    • Protecting and fighting for my team
    • Developing, coaching and mentoring my team
    • Helping them make decisions rather than making them for them
    • Never asking someone to do something I wouldn’t do myself
    • Walking the talk
  • I decided to regularly self-assess my performance. Could I list things I had done congruent with the behaviour of a good leader. Could I identify things I’d done badly and if there were, could I correct them.
  • I deliberately set out to create an honest and open culture where constructive feedback, both good and bad, was welcomed by everyone, on everyone.
  • And I asked for feedback – not every month or every quarter, but at appropriate times and of appropriate people, making it clear I wasn’t seeking praise but was treating it as a personal development exercise.

Plenty of people end up as project managers, sometimes by choice and sometimes by accident. Whether they end up as leaders is down to them. What examples of good and bad leadership traits have you seen – leave a comment.

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