You don’t have to be a born leader to lead. In fact, I would argue there is no such thing as a natural born leader. Real leadership comes from knowledge and experience and a determination to apply that knowledge and experience to make a difference. So called natural born leaders have that determination in their genes and so appear to be ‘natural born’. Others learn or acquire that determination and become leaders through that learning.
Not all project managers are leaders. In fact, many project managers get the job by accident or because they have demonstrated a prowess in the technical aspects of project management such as planning, organisation or control. Some, for example in the world of IT, get promoted to be project managers because that is the next level up the career path or the salary scale. They suddenly find themselves in a completely alien environment where their interactions with other members of the team will have a much wider impact on the project than when they were merely performing coding or business analysis.
Learning to be a leader
So how do you learn to be a leader? First and foremost, by wanting to be a leader. Leadership isn’t something you can pretend at. It will become very obvious if you try. So pretending to be a leader is not something to do. If you find yourself in a leadership position and want to give it a try, then there are things you can do. If not, stop and get another job. Go back to what you are good at. You’ll be happier and so will the project team.
There are essentially 5 ways to develop leadership skills:
There are many good books on leadership in the market place. Just search on Amazon and you’ll get a list of over 100,000 titles. Choosing from such a vast array of titles can be daunting so look to you friends, colleagues and fellow project managers for recommendation. My own personal recommendation would be to read Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. It embodies much of my own philosophy towards project management. But don’t just read management education books, but read books by or about successful leaders such as Churchill or Branson. Broaden you knowledge and your outlook and keep an open mind. All good leaders have open minds.
Get you company to sponsor you to attend some leadership training. This could take many forms from team building days right the way up to INSEAD leadership courses. If your organisation is going to entrust you with the project budget they should invest in you to get the best return possible from that budget. Many larger organisations will have preferred courses and/or suppliers. If they don’t look to the rsources described below for advice and guidance.
There will be people around you that you recognise as good leaders. Observe them to try and identify what it is they do that makes them leaders. Ask yourself why you perceive them as good leaders. What makes you have that opinion of them. Then talk to them. Ask them what they consciously do to become better leaders. See below for a few of the things I do.
Learning in isolation, whether from books, observation or even training courses can be difficult. Are you interpreting things correctly. Are you reading the right material or studying the right people. Well firstly, there is no right or wrong that applies to everyone. OK, there are some obvious absolute no-no’s, but by and large it’s what works for you because we are all different and have different styles. But if you find yourself the right mentor, then you will have a sounding board who knows and understands you. Share your objectives, goals and even your fears around leadership with them and they can help you develop your skills in a balanced and tested way, avoiding excesses but also learning from mistakes and successes.
All of the above are great, but will be worthless unless you put what you learn into practice. Only by doing will the theory come to life in the reality of your own leadership style. Always seek feedback from you mentor, your colleagues, your boss and your team. And the best way to practice is to try things. Some will be spontaneous and driven by circumstance. Others you can plan by consciously deciding what you are going to do today to lead your team.
I have two or three things I either plan to do each day or that I’m looking for opportunities to do. Things like taking timeout to talk to one of the team about the work they are doing at the moment. Not a formal review or scheduled meeting but an ad-hoc, how’s it going sort of conversation. One I always keep up my sleeve is catching someone doing something right and then praising them for it or finding a way of rewarding it. Another is to always reward team members that go the extra mile. I had a young lady that worked really long hours including weekends to solve a problem. When the work was done I told how much I appreciated not only her hard work but also the sacrifice her husband had made in letting her work. I told her to take him to their favourite restaurant an put the bill on my desk. I knew should would take liberties. And I also knew that everyone would know that her work had been appreciated and rewarded. Not because I announced it, because I didn’t, but because should would tell her colleagues.
In summary, be there for your team. Stand by them, and do right by them and you well on the way to being the leader you want to be.
What are you going to do today to lead your project? What examples of leadership actions do you have? Leave a comment below.