What do inspiring Leaders do differently to other people? Think for a minute about the leaders that really grab YOU – and ask yourself what it is about them that switch on that light in your imagination, that bring words to life and help you see the world differently. What is it that they do differently to anyone else? Can we put a finger on those unique, defining characteristics that catch our attention?
Demian Farnworth triggered this idea in my mind recently and led me to think about whether we can somehow capture those unique attributes and channel them into our own personal Project Leadership journeys. If we understand what those unique attributes are and why they are unique to Great Leaders, then we have a wonderful set of signposts that will point our own leadership development in the right direction.
What are the unique attributes that set Project Leaders apart? What do they do that no one else does?
I love the way that Demian looks past the normal, generic Best Of lists and tries to define a unique “constellation of qualities” that differentiate remarkable writers from everyone else. In the same spirit, I also want to look at Leadership from a different angle and ask What are the unique qualities that set aside Project Leaders from other professions? What do they do that no one else does?
So, in the hope of causing intense disagreement and fervent discussion, here is my list.
5 Project Leadership Attributes That Stand Out
Every great leader has a vision that is indisputably theirs. Take a moment to reflect on ANY of the towering historical figures and you can see that their vision stands as their personal legacy through the test of time. Regardless of how history views a leader, one thing remains true – their vision served a central purpose – it brought their people together around a common, totemic view of how their world might be…one in which they all fit, they all have an emotional stake and they can all see their small role as part of the greater good.
This is the true genius of Leadership – to present a rich, multi-layered vision of the whole, while ensuring that that everyone, regardless of their role or position, can see a place for themselves.
Painting that all-embracing vision remains the cornerstone of great Project Leadership. In this respect, Project Leaders are absolutely unique. Regardless of the size, complexity, environment, industry or context within which their change is being managed, Project Leaders the world over must set out a vision for the future around which their teams and stakeholders can all unite and agree. They must paint that vivid picture in big, bold, colored splashes – no room for water colors here…we need rich, textured oil painting with different brushes and vibrant, complex textures!
All embracing…textured, nuanced, complex, layered…these attributes of the vision make it unique to Project Leaders. In the same way that a master painter produces an image that can be appreciated either as a whole, or by focusing on small parts that catch your eye, Project Leaders need to present the single, all-embracing vision that sets the broad picture, while also allowing everyone to engage with it and be drawn to it in their own way.
Leaders connect the dots – they look at a problem or issue in isolation while also cruising at 10,000 feet to see the wider context. This is important; it means that the leader doesn’t get sidetracked on issues that are of little overall consequence but rather, focuses attention on the larger picture and the more pressing priorities.
Again, Project Leaders are unique in this respect – while its true that other professions look at issues in a broader context, the Project Leader must work the contextual considerations through to a collaborative outcome that all stakeholders can support. They need to look at an issue, understand the detail, step back up to the 10,000 feet view, (here’s the important bit…) determine the broader contextual impact, then come to a collaborative outcome with what may ultimately be a far wider audience.
The best Leaders are able to spell out a complex message in terms that fit the audience. They understand the audience’s needs and are able to speak with clarity – they can present the message in a way that makes sense to each listener. Nothing is wasted, no words are lost and the listener picks out a message that reaches them.
Project Leaders are also unique in that they must respond to situations and present ideas with clarity. They need to have the 30 second elevator pitch down pat, in a different flavor for each stakeholder group.
In response to those unexpected, left-field changes in circumstance, Project Leaders rarely have the time to craft a written statement and fashion the words with care and panache…instead, they need to think quickly, assess the consequences and derive an alternative approach or response – often within that 30 second elevator time frame. This response needs to be pitched in different ways, to each different audience; it needs to engage quickly and kick off the process of realigning expectations and understanding. This can only be done where the Project Leader communicates with clarity. Clarity of thought, clarity of speech, clarity of written word.
Leaders bring people together – they create bridges that connect people and ideas around their vision. They look broadly, going beyond their immediate community to connect with the best advice and knowledge wherever it may be.
Project Leaders stand out in this regard – to get the best collaborative outcomes, they reach beyond the usual internal organization connections for ideas and expertise, to connect with people, ideas and resources that wouldn’t normally come together. They look beyond boundaries, they engage with experts and seek opportunities to connect with the very best available people, they embrace the richness and insights that come from cultural and geographical diversity. Project Leaders take a global outlook and connect their team into the wider world, looking for expertise and opportunities across their organization, personal and professional networks and industries.
Leaders consult widely, getting the best possible advice from as wide a circle as possible – they use this advice to stimulate debate, challenge their thinking and gain emotional commitment from their leadership team.
Again, Project Leaders stand apart here. Whilst all professions think about their issues in terms of context, in my mind, Project leaders thrive where they extend that thinking and find a way to engage all parties and gain their commitment to the outcome. This is unique. Whilst other professions make contextual decisions that impact other parties, Project Leaders must find a way to shape those decisions so that they bring everyone along for the ride – team members, vendors, financiers, Sponsor, partners, regulators and customers. They must consult, engage, collaborate and negotiate an outcome. They cannot leave anyone behind.
I am not saying that these are the attributes that the best Project Leaders exhibit…but I am arguing that these attributes set the profession apart and that anyone wishing to grow and develop their project leadership abilities should add these to their roadmap.
So what do YOU think? What do you think are the unique attributes of Project Leadership that set it apart? I hope you disagree with me – I’d love to hear your thoughts…are there points on which you agree? Or am I way off track? Lets talk!