Chrismon Nofsinger, author of The Shift from One to Many: A Practical Guide to Leadership, says that there are 4 steps on the journey to being a great leader. Unfortunately most people only get as far as Step 2.
Project leadership is promising to be a hot topic for 2012, so project managers will be asking themselves how they can be better at leading. Nofsinger’s 4 steps are:
- Letting Go
Let’s look at each of those in turn.
This is the first level of leadership, so I’d hope that everyone was already at this point. In fact, people at this step don’t really show much leadership at all, in my opinion. "People with a Me focus are concerned with knowing exactly what is expected of them," writes Nofsinger.
The telltale signs to look out for are people using the word "I" a lot when they talk about activities and tasks. They may not be very good at using other people's names in discussion.
In project management terms, people who are at this step on the leadership journey accept ownership of tasks and are able to often perform very well. That’s good news for project managers, but the downside is that people with a Me focus are so concentrated on their own input and effort that they struggle to listen to others. Sometimes they won't take other people's opinions into account, so expect project team meetings to be noisy and full of conflict!
This is the stage where leaders are fully part of the team. Many project managers will be operating at this leadership step. They talk about “we” and the value of teamwork. The team works collaboratively, and while the leader is in charge, the group operates with some degree of autonomy. The leader delegates appropriate tasks, everyone knows what is expected of them for the project and praise is given where appropriate. All stakeholders are appropriately involved, and there is consideration given to their styles. Perhaps, for example, some would be more comfortable using Seavus Project Viewer or an alternative planning tool than simply getting high level milestones on a slide, although that might be suitable for other stakeholders.
In short, the Us stage is what most of us would recognise as a fully functioning project team led by a competent project manager.
This is the first stage where the leader is not actually part of the team. This is a big shift for many project managers who move into a programme management or general management role. In this role you could be a coach or a line manager. People operating at this leadership level (and remember, Nofsinger says most people never make it here) look for the strengths and weaknesses in each of the team members.
Project and programme managers who are at this stage of the leadership journey are objective. The project work is distributed between the team members based on their skills and abilities. There is no option but to trust others to do their jobs, as you can’t be involved in the day to day management of every detail if you are operating with full delegation at this level. It’s a vision-setting job; one that enables others to do the right thing and to understand the overall framework in which they work.
What could be more leader-y than Letting Go? Nofsinger says that the next level of leadership development is where you share your knowledge. It’s more than just being a coach, it’s a full commitment to supporting and developing others, and Nofsinger believes you have to spend 50% of your time doing that at this level.
I think you could operate at the Transferring step while still being a project manager, but I imagine that people who have reached this pinnacle of Nofsigner’s leadership model are in more senior roles. A Head of PMO may fall into this category, as that role could involve a lot of knowledge transfer, coaching and development.
It would be important to operate at this level while not be condescending, so leaders would need a lot of experience in the soft skills of project management to ensure that their knowledge is transferred to willing recipients.