Ultimately, the path and the results of any project are the responsibility of its leader. Project leaders lacking the ability to lead others is a recipe for underperforming teams and projects, for project failures and, in 17% of projects costing $15 million or greater, for jeopardizing the company’s existence.
Every project has its challenges, such as organizational constraints, strategic alignment issues and technology breakdowns. For example, in a previous role of mine, the greatest thing continually inhibiting my projects were organizational issues. We worked within a matrix organization that, project after project, didn’t have testing resources aligned to our project needs. We operated with the mentality of, “We’ll take what we can get and if necessary QA can lag a sprint or two behind us in our agile delivery methodology.” As you would expect, looking back in hindsight, this led to underperforming projects. This was poor leadership on my part. I caved to the demands of my stakeholders and my supervisor demanding immediate progress. A better approach might have been to simply reschedule the effort for when the testing resources we needed were available. It may seem like a simple solution, but it takes a strong leader to have those conversations. They need to convey the issues impeding progress, the risks involved in progressing and hold their ground and not compromise the success of the project and ultimately the success of the team. Leaders’ ability to foresee, prepare, prevent and respond to these challenges are what differentiate them and often determine the fate of their projects.
Technology leaders of today need to have a comprehensive view of their organization’s strategy, technology, organization and delivery methodology so they can understand the interdependencies that can threaten the success of their projects. Experience is most certainly the more strenuous approach to honing one’s leadership abilities. However, learning from others’ experiences would be much more efficient.
If you are just beginning your journey into leadership or perhaps taking another look at your ability, I encourage you to focus first on the foundation of every great leader: character. Who you are will come through regardless of what you say or what you do. Oftentimes, people try to build a façade of themselves or a face they present to those they lead in an attempt to lead better or be seen as a great leader. What they don’t realize though is that it’s obvious. Also, the value leaders place in others or simply if they even like the people they lead comes across in time. Take a hard look at who you are. Figure out what you don’t like about yourself. Maybe there are a few habits or addictions you’ve formed over time that you need to break. Get some close people you trust and talk to them about it. Form your own ensemble. Allow them to help you figure out how to change and to hold you accountable to do so. Iron sharpens iron.