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Project Leadership from the Inside Out

Brian McQuillan ‎05-24-2013 05:04 PM - edited ‎07-09-2015 08:26 PM

We're all human, and humans tend to clump into groups and elect or select leaders, or in some cases have leaders thrust on them by intimidation and force, but ...We have leaders and they need to figure out how to lead, and quickly, when placed in command.


Some leaders crave the power and the privilege it gives them, some balk at the responsibility and frankly wonder if they are even up to the job. This last case I know all too well. (Insert laughter here from those of you who know me.)


Let be me honest, as someone who has held the jobs of a reserve Air Force officer and Adjutant (2nd in command – like Spock, but without the green skin and pointy ears) in my last two postings, I’ve been responsible for the day-to-day operations of my squadrons.  I have seen it all when it comes to leadership styles.


 You might ask, “So what does this have to do with project management and this blog?” Well, again to be frank...Everything.


At the Gartner PPM and IT Governance Summit in Washington, DC earlier this week, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting one of my heroes, General Colin L. Powell.  Powell has counted ‘Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Services’ and ‘Secretary of State’ as just a few of the many titles he’s held during his staggeringly impressive career.


General Powell gave a great speech, which he aptly titled “Leadership- Taking Charge”, his delivery of which ‘took charge’ of the audience.  His words validated a lot of what I learned in the Service, and reading his latest book “It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership” reinforced those lessons even more. If you’ve not already, I do encourage you to read it. 


General Powell says that leadership is, at its essence, all about how you take care of the people who work for you; how you guide them, reassure them, when necessary coerce them into doing what needs to be done, aid them in getting it done and finally, help them deal with the aftermath.   Oh, and of course, you must also protect them if anything goes wrong that was out of their control.


So as a project, program or portfolio manager, think about what this leadership lesson means for you. How do you take care of your people?  How do you inspire them?  How do you step up and protect them when needed?   Of course, it’s about accountability – yours and theirs. Command and control is everyone's business, from the guy doing development, to the Project Manager to, ultimately, the CEO.


We all have a responsibility to make sure we deliver the right thing, on time and on budget.  But to really achieve that, good projects need great leaders. In fact, a good project needs great leaders all over it (not just the ‘official’ Project Manager). I believe that everyone needs to be a leader, regardless of where they serve or the role they play. They need to lead, through example, conviction and the knowledge that they will get the right results.


I leave you with this, my personal perspective on leadership. I learned it a long time ago, and try to live it wherever I am.  I was incredibly happy to have my perspective validated this week by a man who is a great leader and has inspired a generation of leaders. We agree on what it means to lead.  Leadership is a privilege, an honour, and ultimately a responsibility to serve others.


How are you leading your projects?

Click here for more food for thought on leadership.

About the Author

Brian McQuillan

Brian is a Product Marketing Manager for Application Development Management Solutions with and previously for Project and Application Portfolio Management, with extensive experience in presales and implementation roles.

Barbara Lewis
on ‎05-29-2013 07:39 AM

Completely agree with this post.  Leadership is an element in everything we do including project management.  I have worked for some very strong leaders and some less that stellar leaders.  I have also left positions when the leader was less than stellar.


For the individual contributor it is your own reputation and the quality of your work that represents a type of leadership.  When you do well and set an example, others tend to follow.

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