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Do we need a new leadership approach for projects?

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Last week I joined a discussion on LinkedIn, triggered by Dr. Marcus Raitner, Agile Transformation Agent at BMW, who pulled together a “Human Leadership Manifesto”. The discussion was based on the assumption that in an agile world, traditional leadership approaches do not suffice anymore. Project teams need to organise their work more on their own, not waiting on somebody to tell them what to do. Leaders need to provide guidance on the overall direction, they should provide the framework in which the team can operate and be more servant (“servant leadership style”), helping the people to perform their tasks…

The manifesto highlights in its introduction the belief in the creativity and motivation of human beings and the “human leadership” as pivotal in a highly networked and complex world. The manifesto concludes that the task of leadership is serving life and striving for conditions in which people can contribute in the best possible way, in which they can develop themselves and work effectively together.

The values applicable according to the Human Leadership Manifesto are:

Unleashing human potential

over employing human resources;

Diversity and dissent

over conformity and consensus;

Purpose and trust

over command and control;

Contributions to networks

over position in hierarchies;

Creating leaders

over leading followers; and

Courageously exploring the new

over efficiently exploiting the old.

Let´s have a look at the first statement “Unleashing human potential over employing human resources”. Everybody is motivated to engage and do something special. We do not need to “command and control” people, they are adult… We just need to “find the right people to do the right job”, they will perform it through intrinsic motivation, they may need guidance regarding the overall direction but find their own way towards an innovative solution. Especially in a context where success depends on flexible work arrangements, innovative solution finding and mutually-beneficial cooperation, less leadership as well as work autonomy is necessary. Or the last statement of the manifesto: “Courageously exploring the new over efficiently exploiting the old.” People are excited of getting a chance to explore and learn new things. This may result in an increasing effectiveness, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. Leadership needs to encourage people to explore, to spend time on new solutions, to allow them to fail and not just find solutions for an incremental improvement of existing processes.

You could argue that this leadership does not work in all project settings, and I fully agree. However, in the dynamic world of today with complex challenges of projects and programmes, we need to adopt a different leadership approach. The Manifesto may cause us to think different and vary our leadership style.

What do you think of the manifesto?

- Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.

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3 responses to “Do we need a new leadership approach for projects?

  1. Like many things its a “horses for courses approach”. Unfortunately I think we are still a long way from just letting go – there are still way to many people who can not manage there time, deliverables (which other groups are dependent on to do their work etc). While I have worked with many clever smart people the ‘magpie distraction’ (oohh that’s bright and shiny and new) is way to prevalent for me to really agree that we can kill off command and control. Still the phrase “over leading followers” gives me some hope that we are actually not too far apart!

  2. @Mark: This is why it says “over command and control” and if you look at the manifesto in its original there is this sentence below: “That is, while there is value in the items on the bottom, we value the highlighted items on the top more.” I had several discussion on LinkedIn an Twitter whether there is really value in “command an control” (or as well in “employing human resources”).

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