Leadership to drive projects to effective change, lead like a maestro
twirl the baton; good losers shall win!
HOSSAM A. MOHAMMED
Procter & Gamble
Think of leadership as a light orchestra's ear-catching melody. The perfect harmony and unique combination of the seemingly compatible sounds produced by utterly different instruments is profoundly appealing and striking to the audience; nevertheless, behind the flawless synchronization of the sounds, lies a unique combination of science and art, a formula called “Leadership!” It's not rocket science and it's not talent alone, it is a broad-impact, complex phenomenon involving not only the leader himself, but also the followers and the situation. In a successful organisation, project managers play the role of the Maestro di Orchestra, who seamlessly synchronizes the flow of work within any team using his magical baton in order to deliver the project with excellence while helping the organisation bring out the best in the people.
Keywords: good losers, maestro leadership, effective change
You don't get HARMONY when everybody sings the same note. – Doug Floyd
Leadership remains one of the most researched, analysed, dissected, and complex—yet, least-understood phenomenon. No organisational or social topic has been explored more intensively and obsessively than leadership. An organisation with (true-to-its-goal) strong leaders will step up in order to achieve success in a linear relation. On the other hand, no failure earns more heated opprobrium than a leadership failure!
In modern business environments, the relation between organisational effectiveness, change management, and having the right leadership skills has become very clear and profound. Therefore, so much effort has been dedicated to raising up talented future leaders by nourishing their leadership skills—aiming at consequently developing the right calibers that can contribute greatly to the success of the organisation. As a consequence, a strong need for a measurement tool arose, in order to be able to evaluate the success or failure of a leader.
Therefore, a project management consultancy organisation has been assigned to carry out changes needed to turn out challenging training programmes for middle-level management, staff, and the organisation to help promote future growth and support the achievement of programme goals.
The challenge was to revise the culture of most of the stakeholders into a proper way of collecting data, analyzing the inputs, developing and adapting effective reporting systems, highlighting the critical areas, delivering the programme reports and presentations, and making and implementing the right decisions.
The main steering wheel for any project or programme's successful change is the mid-level management.
CREATING THE FAILURE BASE
Do organizations create losers, failure, and futileness? Or do losers, failures, and futileness create failing organizations? Who is authorized to decide if you are a loser or not?
Whatever the answer, the eventual result of creating a domain full of people who are not doing their work properly for any reason will lead the organization and the project or programme to definite failure.
Let's imagine that there is a bleeding wound within a large organization—be it in the organizational system itself or in a counter-corporation or government department—that is slowly undermining society. Soon, this wound will grow, and will impact good leaders and capable CEOs. It demolishes good institutions within societies because it diminishes trust in the organization and trust between people. These organizations with wounds can then generate mistrust and suspicion because of systemic faults. However, we can redesign organisations based on [project requirements or market requirements through the concepts of change management. This would increase trust in the organization and people, and create a healthier and more productive workplace.
On the other hand, creating a failure base could be a potential risk for projects, programmes, and organizations. A failure base is a pool of professionals holding mid-level management positions, key operational positions, and worker bee positions.
With the bottom-up concept of this type of human resources, the main concern of this paper—a failure base—will be established, leading to the above-mentioned, definite failure.
LEADERS AND FAILURE BASE
Amongst all the different reasons for a project, programme, or organisation failure, vulnerable leadership is on top of the list. It is very common for leaders who export negative energy to their subordinates to also be the main generators of the failure base.
In our case study, the common reasons concluded from the surveys and experiments conducted for nearly a year were the three root causes:
1- Ignoring the need to build relationships: Leading is all about relationships—growing trust, building teams, and utilizing excellent interpersonal skills. Leaders pay a high price for ignoring the important process of building healthy relationships. To create these relationships, leaders need to pay attention to their teams, keep learning, and never assume anything.
2- Failure to listen: “Listening is the access to understanding one another” (Julian Treasure). Leaders tend to think they have or need to act like they have all the answers—the truth is, they don't! And they shouldn't act like it. Listening is not a strong-suit for many new leaders, and too often, they jump in too quickly, rather than listening, learning, and building upon what they see.
3- Insufficient Understanding of Leadership: Leadership means understanding that the factual basis of the organisation continues to change. In other words, the thinking that made an organisation's success possible yesterday is the same thinking that can result in its failure tomorrow. Technology will never be able to replace leadership.
It is dangerous to believe computers and technicians can replace leaders. This requires looking beyond the horizon. It means acknowledging that success can blind an organisation. Leadership skills encourage leaders to watch for changing trends, needs, potential devastating occurrences, and possible problems that can hinder an organisation's progress. Leadership is about looking beyond the surface, since the greatest dangers and the biggest opportunities reside there, hidden unless searched out. Leadership also means seeing employees as an untapped resource that can collectively identify some of the best ideas and solutions to an organisation's problems. Leaders in this role look to workers for ideas, identification of problems, and possible solutions.
CHANGE CHALLENGES IN ORGANISATIONS WITH LOSERS
It has been observed that the root cause of failure is not simply inadequate communications or poor training. Success is not to be found in excellent project management alone, or even in the best vision or solution to a problem. The secret to the successful change desired lies beyond the visible factors that surround change. Successful change, at its core, is rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate changes with persons in order to reverse failure base reaction.
Combining the three observed leadership behaviours above and the culture and the maturity level of the organisation, the project, and the change management team could classify three types of failures consistent with the organisation failure base:
1- Failures: Professionals who are trying to achieve their professional goals with disappointing results, as they have the wrong direction, training, or professional assignment.
2- Losers: Professionals who are not paying enough attention to achieving their professional goals, as they don't have the clear, organisational strategic objectives and vision. The vision has not been successfully communicated with them, thus, they have been blocked into the norming-level or below.
3- Futile: Professionals who stopped trying and lost confidence in the effectiveness and goals of the organisation for any reason—those are the real challenges to any change management leader who is implementing an effective change management process or project.
EVALUATING THE ORGANISATION‘S MAIN COMPONENTS
Project management and change management, as mentioned above are mainly about individual professionals; thus, the first step to change the culture—and consequently, the performance of the organisation—is to take a deep dive into the main issues within the basic pillars of the organisation (the individual). The change management team found out that it's possible to cure the failure base that was accumulated year after year within the organisation and to turn the failures, futileness, and bad losers into “good losers” (losers now, but a winning material later) who can use their failure as a driving force to success.
GOOD LOSER WINS CONCEPT
The main reasons why the failure base was established in the leadership methodologies were:
1- Start without having a goal
2- Over-estimating team abilities
3- Under-estimating your abilities
4- Relay on myths, history, or reputation
5- Lack of appreciation
Most of the leaders in the organisation have never conducted a career, and personal evaluation of the individuals fails to build the right communication, missing many of the targeted professionals. Thus, the steps the change management team adapted were individual, driven methodologies as follows:
1- Career evaluation for organisation components: How to understand yourself and then determine your goals; a sample of one of the tools of evaluation is shown in Exhibit 1.
Exhibit 1: Evaluation of a professional career.
The main challenge of implementing the sails is to drive the professionals to be transparent in their evaluations. It has been implemented through a training designed by the change management team through a game and competition.
Studying the culture of the organisation, the project management change team learned that the professionals within the organisation are interested in training and are highly interested in the out-of-the-box subjects of training, thus the evaluation was conducted as part of a training titled, “How to improve your career.”
2- Changing the leadership style. The leadership style and methodologies implemented within the organisation were categorized under theory “X” with many indications towards a lack of ttransparency and clear goals.
Leaders who can successfully lead in times of change are those who are comfortable with ambiguity—the unknown. The only certainty about change is that it is uncertain. Leaders who prefer to work in environments where the status quo prevails—and they know exactly what to expect from one day to the next—will struggle during times of change as they attempt, generally unsuccessfully, to control their environments. On the contrary, leaders who can remain flexible and open to new inputs while attempting to navigate in unfamiliar territory will be better able to move ahead.
2.1. Types of leadership in an organisation Generally, the main types of leadership style are:
- Charismatic leadership
- Participative leadership
- Situational leadership
- Transactional leadership
- Transformational leadership
- Quiet leadership
- Servant leadership
In the organisation subjected to the change management project, the negative styles observed were:
- Post-hoc management: A poor, but common style
- Micromanagement: Controls every detail
- Seagull Management: Flying in, leaving its droppings and flying off again
- Mushroom Management: Drop them in the dirt and keep them in the dark
- Kipper Management: Two-faced approach
2.2. Creative Leadership
Creativity is the ability to pull information from a wide range of sources and apply that information in new and innovative ways to create value or solve problems. Creative leaders can effectively manage during times of change because they are open to inputs from internal and external sources and are able to use those inputs to help chart a new course for themselves, their employees, and their organisations.
TWIRL THE BATON; GOOD LOSERS SHALL WIN (THE CONCLUSION)
Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Seuss, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey are just few of the famous examples of initial failures that have ultimately turned into legendary success icons.
The maestro conducts smooth music with seemingly incompatible instruments that, if played alone with no synchronization, would produce nothing but provoking noise—what does he or she offer to orchestrate in such perfection? And how can he or she coordinate between different individuals, instruments, and situational elements? What would a master do if there was a so-called loser on his team?
How do great leaders inspire unpredictable brilliance?
1. Be a role model: A leader should be an icon of discipline and integrity, a maestro is looked up to not only as a master of the game, but also as a guard and as living examples of maintaining principles, values, or purpose. Therefore, great leaders should first define their own gaps and work hard on improving themselves in order to pull out all the stops and push good losers towards success.
2. Set clear goals and directions: Sometimes we lose a marathon only because we've lost the way to the finish line. Hence, a maestro should provide awareness about the desired outcomes and goals.
3. Listen to understand: Activate a safe environment with regular one-on-one sessions where two-way feedback is appreciated.
4. Search between the lines—fetch the talent: Discover their underlying strength and opportunity areas; figure out their hidden talents and passions and ignite their passion for success.
5. Utilize diversity—place it where it fits: This is a key winning card; reallocate the tasks and assignments between the team with respect to talents, passion, and points of strength.
6. Connect and follow through: Don't let critical remarks/mistakes go unmentioned; constructive feedback along the way protects against failure rebound.
7. Promote a culture of innovation: In an orchestra, some conductors train the musicians like they are training dogs for a circus. The musicians learn to play on direct command with no room for interpretation. When a conductor does this, he has become the limit of the group when, in fact, the players can do better than the limit put upon them. The key to success is to provide enough structure and direction for the players that they are able to change and mold the idea to become something different. In this way, the orchestra can develop their own sound, just as businesses can develop an organic culture.
8. Recognize the good work: Appreciate improvements, even slow ones.
Creating those leaders by training, after finding them, was the main effort paid during the project. The use of career evaluation and demo team games helped identify the potential leaders in the organisation.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Hossam Eid Mohammed Kandeel
During 15 years of project and programme experience, Mr. Kandeel has been assigned to major projects with a total value of US$24,584 billion in five countries. As a professional project management consultant, he has delivered training and implementation for projects, built project control teams, and has established PMOs for many clients. He has personally trained over 2,300 practitioners. He was invited to be a technical presenter at the PMI® International Scheduling Conference in Orlando, Florida in 2013, AACEI's Western Winter Workshop in Lake Tahoe, Nevada in 2014, and the PMI®-Global Congress 2015—EMEA in Dubai, UAE, the 3rd International Engineering Conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2013, and The Big Five International Building and Construction Show in Dubai, UAE in December, 2015.
Ms. Ahmad is currently a Category Supply Planning Manager with over 10 years of experience in topnotch companies in FMCG and pharmaceutical fields. She has been rewarded with the most prestigious CEO and Simplifications awards by P&G after leading simplification efforts across the organisation and being a member of the Simplification and Innovation MEA PSC horizontal programme board.
CONNECT WITH ME!
Kandeel, H. A. (2015). Change management project plan. ProLEAD. Retrieved from http://www.prolead-eg.com/
Maxwell, J. C. (2005). The 360 leader. (2nd ed.). Nashville, TN: Nelson.
Maxwell, J. C. (2008). The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership. (10th ed.). Nashville, TN: Nelson.
© 2016, Hossam A. Mohammed, Reem Ahmad
Originally published as part of the 2016 PMI® Global Congress Proceedings – Barcelona, Spain