10 Tough Truths About Project Leadership

I read a lot of books about leadership and self-improvement. I just read a pocket-sized volume, 6” by 4” and 101 pages, which offers project leadership wisdom in a condensed format. Tough Truths: The Ten Leadership Lessons We Don’t Talk About, by Deirdre Maloney, is short, direct, and will make you think.

Yes, I admit that every successful project leader is different. And, it is unlikely that successful project leaders have 10 characteristics in common. With that said, it is still worth considering Maloney’s 10 points.

Here is a summary of Maloney’s 10 tough truths:

1. Politics are everywhere.
Whether we want the team members on our project team to collaborate more effectively or to persuade the CIO to expand our budget, we must influence and persuade others to get what we want. Even situations that don’t appear to include traditional politicking do involve relationships and how we maneuver them.

2. Great project leaders aren’t liked very much.
Making changes in an organization can make people mad. So do performance evaluations and decisions made without a consensus. Successful project leaders “sacrifice being liked in order to focus on achieving concrete goals,”  Maloney believes that project leaders should be prepared to lose friends as they move forward.

3. Nobody will find you as interesting as you do.
Effective project leaders keep their stories short. They express curiosity about the people around them. They are genuinely interested in what other people do and think. They listen and they learn. Wise project leaders get people to follow them by editing themselves and expressing interest in others.

4. Every single person, even the the most successful project leader out there, is afraid.
All project leaders are afraid of failing, of screwing up, of looking stupid, writes Maloney. So are we all, she says. But what sets successful project leaders apart is that they act anyway, despite their fear.

5. Someone is always watching.
Prudent project leaders know that they have to contain their emotions and not act out, even if they have just received terrible news or had a fight with their spouse. They are always being watched by someone, which is why it’s important to have a small group of trusted friends and family, to whom you can vent.

6. Successful project leaders diligently protect their energy.
Which tasks in your daily schedule give you energy, and which leave you drained or beaten down? “Great (project) leaders know what gives them energy and they increase it,” Maloney writes. They free themselves of obligations that sap their drive.

7. Celebrated project leaders possess supreme, undying confidence., It is possible to be frightened while also knowing you are good at your job. Maloney says great project leaders “know how to stand up for themselves,” and don’t take it personally if someone levels an attack.”

8. Notable project leaders never, ever talk trash
Most project team members would rather talk about themselves than hear about you, and if you gossip about others or your company, they will remember. It’s always better to keep your criticisms to yourself.

9. Skillful project leaders know what they want and go after it relentlessly.
Top project leaders take risks because they know what they want. They fill out a report once and then realize it’s more effective to do it a different way, so they change the report. They also tell others explicitly what they want and how to achieve goals.

10. Remarkable project leaders insist on excellent, pristine communication
E-mails should be short, friendly, and get directly to the point. Verbal communication should be focused, not rambling. Great project leaders also proofread, and make sure every document is attached before hitting “send.”

Read more about the book and Maloney here.

James L. Haner

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