Project Management: Leadership vs. Dictatorship

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1 Project Management: Leadership vs. Dictatorship Take a look at the business section of your nearest bookstore and you will find a plethora of books focused on developing leadership skills and managing employees. Book titles have varied over the years and the strategies may have changed, but the underlying questions remain the same: What qualities define leadership? What is the best way to use those qualities to get things done? This piece puts leadership methods under the microscope and offers advice for successful team-building. A common thread among how our company succeeded stories seems to focus on a leader who has dismissed the top-down management style of the past or the dictator personality, the my way or the highway approach. Even the words that define a dictator have little appeal: absolute ruler, oppressor, tyrant. Most of us (all of us?) have little use for a person with those qualities, much less a desire to work for one! And yet for some managers, that identity or role holds appeal.

2 Here are characteristics of dictator management. Secretive I know what will work, but if I keep it to myself and my employees screw up, I ll be able to jump in and save the day. Micro manager I can t trust the programmers to stay on task. That s why I make them check in twice a day and to let me know their progress. Egotistical I have a Harvard degree and 30 years of experience. These hot-shot newcomers think I should listen to them. How could they know anything? Biased Why should I listen to women [or minorities or young people or industry experts]? Close-minded I don t care what anyone says. I know what s best. Unwilling to listen I already know what my employees think. They think they know more than I do! Why should I waste my time? Dishonest No one has to know that last month s production report was a bit skewed. If I turned in the right figures, Smith s department would look better than mine. Inconsistent I know Jane expects a raise because I hinted at that when I gave her extra responsibilities this year and she knows that Kevin got his raise but there s just something about Jane that I don t like. Lacks focus There are so many facets to this new project. Some are confusing and I don t have time for all of them. Someone else will have to figure them out. Today s employees, many of whom have been brought up to reject the do as I say, not as I do approach to anything, will surely chafe under dictator-style management. What, then, are the qualities that differentiate dictators from true leaders? What enduring attributes enable men and women to successfully motivate, challenge, and keep everyone on course in other words, LEAD? First of all, leaders recognize that today s workplace can be a place of chaos, competition, anxiety, uncertainty and change. Leaders who can rise above these stressors and find ways to bring stability and reassurance to their employees have great success. They understand the need for clear direction and goals, and know how to model the characteristics that produce the results the company expects. Has unrealistic expectations I promised my boss that my department would raise its productivity rate by 25 percent in the first quarter. That hasn t happened, so somebody s going to have to pay! Provides I m not paid to be a counselor or a hand-holder. They ll just have to do it the best, with no guidance, if they can. Does not plan The Johnson project is due next week, but I ve been working on the Jones proposal. I guess Johnson will just have to wait.

3 A few of those effective leader qualities are listed here. Leads with integrity I conduct business ethically and treat my employees with fairness, and expect the same in return. Is a role model If overtime or working through lunch is what it takes, I m the first one there with my sleeves rolled up. Gives guidance How can people improve and grow if they are not guided by mentors who have their best interest in mind? Learns how to listen It s not easy, but I have to watch for nonverbal signals, as well as what is actually being said, by focusing only on the person in front of me. Is honest There can be no leadership without trust. That trust is earned every day by my behavior. Is a teacher Much the same as a mentor, I need to articulate a vision and inspire confidence in my students. Keeps an open mind I don t know all the answers and I m willing to admit it. Wisdom doesn t just come with age or years of experience; it comes from applying lessons learned. I am open to my team s insight and ideas. Is willing to learn Leaders get stale if they don t keep up with what s going on around them and what s going on in their industry. Is consistent My employees know they can count on me to give praise or discipline equally to each person. Given the list of leadership qualities to the left, and assuming that your company is fortunate enough to have leaders with those attributes, the next logical step is to put those qualities into action steps that will provide both senior and junior team members with the tools they need to advance the goals of the company. Always follows through I don t just show up, give orders, and leave it to everyone else to figure it out from there. I do what I say I will do. No excuses. Plans ahead There should be no surprises in business. We have to focus on the projects at hand, but we can never lose sight of what s to come. Has realistic expectations There has to be a healthy balance between aggressive wishes and what can be reasonably done given time and talent constraints. I apply this to my team as well as to the client.

4 Senior and junior team members need to be truly empowered to step up and take ownership, thus developing their leadership skills. The leader should not feel threatened by this, but instead see it as a positive outcome of a job well done. With few exceptions, the same tools apply to both senior and junior team members. One that is unique to the senior team member, however, is to learn to delegate and let go. Type A personalities, in particular, fear loss of control when asked to give up something that they have nurtured or designed or have worked on for a long period of time. They need to be reminded how they were mentored by others, and they need to understand their responsibility to mentor younger team members. Out of that experience comes trust. ( ) In direct opposition to the dictator traits, an effective leader has mastered a very different set of qualities. Junior team members, conversely, need to trust senior team members and not hesitate to go to them for guidance. When both groups engage each other in dialogue, they each grow personally and the company becomes stronger as a result. The list below illustrates the action steps that management must model for its senior team members, who in turn model for their junior team members. Setting expectations. Providing guidance. Providing training. Regular review of progress. Team building. Provide encouragement. Provide accolades when due. Expect regular status reports. Provide regular feedback. Provide constructive criticism. Assess risks and communicate. List and consider suggestions.

5 The old cliché that there is no I in team has to be believed by every employee in a successful organization, starting with senior management. Continuing the sports analogy, it should also be noted that the coach doesn t win the game the players do so the coach can t take credit for the win. The win comes with the development of people, allowing them to grow, and making sure that the organization is the beneficiary. The win comes not through a dictatorship, but through a team. Successful leaders build successful teams using a number of tactics. Each company is a bit different, but this list provides a starting point. 1. Conduct status meetings at least once a week. 2. Provide project plans with assigned tasks and expectations. 3. Communicate concerns. 4. Provide suggestions for improvement. 5. Assess risks and communicate them to the team. 6. Listen to team members. 7. Be open to suggestions. 8. Appoint project leaders to manage day-to-day activities. 9. Be available for questions and respond to calls and s in a timely manner. 10. Keep members apprised of schedules and availability when away from office. 11. Be understanding of members personal lives. If you notice a correlation between this team-building list and the chart of attributes of a successful leader, you have recognized the truth of this paper. Leadership qualities are built not when someone is promoted to the position of leader, but at the very beginning of a career. Leaders understand the importance of modeling characteristics that keep all employees focused on the results the company expects. Brenda Wagner is a Senior Consultant at envista. For more information, please contact envista at or via at envistacorp.com. e n V i s t a N. M e r i d i a n S t, S u i t e I n d i a n a p o l i s, I N w w w. e n v i s t a c o r p. c o m C o p y r i g h t e n V i s t a, L L C

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