Project Management Institute

Do you really "get" your job?



“Good enough” leadership shouldn't be the norm.

My experience is that most “leaders” don't understand their jobs, roles and responsibilities. They think they do. They mean well. But they don't quite “get it.”

And because so many leaders truly don't understand what is expected of them, they fail to consistently achieve the level of success possible, the one that is increasingly required. Instead, they eke by with marginal leadership:

  • Providing just enough to get by
  • Working mostly on those problems within reach, the ones that are the least complicated and easiest to solve
  • Taking the paths of least resistance
  • Relying on others—often blindly—to perform their perceived duties
  • Avoiding the toughest battles, even though they may be the most important and urgent for the overall success of the project, organization or mission.

How can marginal leadership be so pervasive with so many successful products and companies in the world? Because it is often the norm. It's viewed as “good enough” leadership. It gets the job done—albeit marginally.

Relying on marginal leadership is not good enough anymore. The global competitive environment we all find ourselves tied to demands the bar for effective leadership be raised.

Let's look at some common examples of marginal leadership:

  • A project manager who doesn't visit problem vendors to ensure that schedules are met and quality processes adhered to so that the project comes in on time, within budget and is of high quality
  • A business analyst who believes that her job is to give the client what they want, instead of what they need
  • A team member who doesn't understand the burden of tracking dependencies doesn't just rest on the project manager, but is also the responsibility of the person dependent on the deliverable
  • A quality assurance manager who believes that the mission is only to deliver product to requirements, rather than to ensure that the development organization builds and delivers a product of acceptable quality into the test phase
  • A human resource manager who sees his primary role as providing skilled resources to the project managers and does not continuously work with employees to help them reach their potential in the company
  • A project sponsor who, while working with project managers, does not practice two very important tenets of leadership: Define what you expect from others and routinely inspect what you expect from others.
You must define your own roles and responsibilities and negotiate expectations with your boss.

These people all think that they “get it,” that they are operating within an acceptable level but they all fall far short of the leadership required to be truly effective.

As a leader, you have the duty to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of those who work under your direction and within your domain of responsibility. But you have the same responsibility to those who work alongside and above you. You must define your own roles and responsibilities and negotiate expectations with your boss.

People will perform to your expectations only if they know what those expectations are. Don't assume that people understand their jobs—even if they've been in their positions for years. People do not know how to be held accountable for something that they fundamentally do not understand.

Demonstrating marginal leadership, up to now, has often been sufficient. But tolerance for marginal leadership is declining—and rightfully so. The best leaders define the jobs of those that can affect their domains of responsibility. Then they work alongside them to coach them to greatness. PM

Neal Whitten, PMP, president of The Neal Whitten Group, is a speaker, trainer, consultant, mentor and author. His latest book is Neal Whitten's No-Nonsense Advice for Successful Projects.

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