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Introduction to Leadership

Leadership versus management

Program managers have a tremendous impact on the culture, the work environment, the project management style, overall team member satisfaction, and success in achieving the program objectives. The style of leadership adopted by a program manager can influence the level of communication between teams, individuals, and project managers as well as how conflict is resolved and the ability of teams to reach the state of being an HPT. Effective program managers demonstrate a leadership style that blends into the culture of the organization but creates a healthy and safe environment for teams to operate in without fear of reprisals, negative conflict, or backstabbing. This healthy environment encourages team members to contribute to success and enables open channels of communication should the project or initiatives not go as planned.

With the extensive literature on leadership, discussions on the subject should start with a clear description or definition of what effective leadership is. Topping (2001) offers that when evaluating leadership, it should be recognized that not all individuals are capable of becoming true leaders. Most will not advance beyond the single skill of being a manager rather than a leader simply because of training, education, empathy, or personality-related issues. The whole package of a leader requires a much more comprehensive model that can leverage inherent abilities in the individual while utilizing learning and history to improve upon the process. Every month there is a new set of books on leadership and various approaches. So why do we continue to buy these books? If so many smart people have been studying leadership for all these years, why don’t we have the answers? The answer, of course, is that there is no answer—at least no one right answer” (Topping 2001, 3). Most books on leadership have some value that can be useful to a particular individual in his or her professional style. The driver of these books is that leadership ability can be learned and is not inherently found in a minority of individuals. To date, there are more than 150 definitions of leadership, but one definition of leadership is relatively standard: “Leadership is the reciprocal process of mobilizing, by persons with certain motives and values, various economic, political, and other resources, in a context of competition and comfort, to realize goals independently or mutually held by both leaders and followers” (Burns 1978, 425).

Effective leader pools individual team members into a more comprehensive team that when working together can achieve more than individual efforts would be able to. Leaders don’t manage or mandate actions or tasks; instead, they motivate and empower staff to identify and complete the work necessary for the established outcome. Teams led through effective leadership minimize risk, transition conflict from negative and unhealthy to positive and innovative, and as a general rule are capable of exceeding expectations through joint efforts, open communications, and clear lines of responsibilities. It is through leadership that a vision can be established to ensure that team members understand the outcome, product, or result that the team is trying to produce (see Figure 6.1). This vision is a clear, concise statement, easily understood and repeated often so that individuals, stakeholders, and teams can work toward a common objective avoiding the consequences of ambiguity and confusion

Summary

Not too long ago, I walked into a program based in the software development division of an IT department where the chief product manager was eventually fired for failing consistently on programs and projects. Although this leader felt that he knew project management, he was neither versed in project management methodology nor leadership, and his software development knowledge was outdated. When failure was looming, he would heap insults, accusations, and blame on the team members involved. He would consistently report that while he told the team what to do, they just didn’t get it right. Unfortunately, because of his position as an officer of the firm, only a few people complained to the company about his bad management style and his abusive and derogatory comments to employees. I mention this only because it created an overall hostile environment where derogatory comments and personal attacks were acceptable and common. These negative approaches were inflammatory to the staff and increased the hostility level, further decreasing morale and leading to reduced communication and distrust among team members.

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