Growing up, my favourite Star Trek Next Generation character was Commander Will Riker. And I’ll admit it, I may have modelled my own beard on Number One’s impressive facial hair. But apart from the trendy beard, here is why Commander Riker should make you rethink how your leadership style is affecting the projects you sponsor.
‘Command and Control’ style leadership is something many of us grew up watching on television and in movies, and it’s still the approach many of us encounter and expect today in our organisations. But in a modern dynamic digital world, ‘Command and Control’ leadership is killing projects.
Statistically 32% of projects fail to meet expectations, and the leaders sponsoring those projects are the number one issue. So here are the four ways your leadership is killing project success, and how you can change it:
First, you are only human and like all humans you have insecurities. So although being a project sponsor demands a different approach, it’s common to default to your ‘business as usual’ way of working because you are afraid to fail. But the leadership approach that works so well in your day job as Sales Director, Account Manager, CEO etc. doesn’t transpose to the project world. In that world as a project sponsor you must be the team’s champion, not their captain. It is your job to set out the vision, and get the team fired up about bringing it to life. Your biggest achievement is not getting started, it is binding together as a project team to work through issues together as they arise. Plan for some setbacks, accept the team’s support, and persevere for success.
Second, avoid the HIPPO effect. The Highest Paid Person in the Office is the one people usually defer to, rather than listening to the most capable person in the office. Your project team have special skills and responsibilities in their roles, different from their ‘business as usual’ functions. Just because you have more stripes on your shoulder doesn’t mean you have the right answers. Unnecessary hierarchy constrains innovation and project delivery success. So if you run into one of the project team in the corridor and are tempted to over-reach your sponsorship role by acting as the high commander, remember that dictatorial decision making is almost always counter productive.
Third, embrace the fact that projects can often be seen as a disruptive and loss making entity at the start. This can be very confronting and stressful for an executive leader used to running a profit making unit, especially when this costly project is changing core business. I have seen leaders lose sight of the overarching vision amidst all this change, and interfere with the project plan causing chaos. Stay focussed on the vision and benefits of the project, and facilitate the unlocking of your project team’s immense skills so they can deliver successfully.
Fourth, be willing to release control and take a ‘belly of the beast’ approach. Support self managing teams because they will be more innovative, more empowered and will deliver change faster. Traditional top down ‘command and control’ is disproportionate, time consuming and less effective. I have supported leaders to release control, and those project teams having failed to deliver their KPIs initially, went on to exceed them. There is no situation where control becomes irrelevant however. Instead it’s about the boundaries to that control and how those are interpreted. Good governance, agreed responsibilities, and inclusive ways of working are the key to productive dynamic project teams.
Follow my four recommendations to relinquish your ‘Command and Control’ leadership style, and make the move to a more people-centred project approach. You may not satisfy all of your requirements, but your organisation will evolve to become more nimble and more innovative, and better able to respond to rapid technological change.
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Author: Peter Ryan, Managing Director, Aspira-Europe