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"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership." John Kenneth Galbraith

Leadership is the ability of a project manager. It is also a "black-box" ability that is so hard to define that at times it would seem to be a code for whatever the person talking about leadership is really on about. I therefore discuss it with reservations as I have seen elusive traits like "leadership" used as a way of praising or complaining about someone without actually describing behaviour.

I deal with leadership because it is as good a term as any to discuss the ability, skills, or traits that you (a project manager) need to develop in order to manage. Obviously leadership varies with context, but there are still some general traits worth talking about, even if they are not all necessary to the successful completion of a project (which is what project management is about.)

Above all, don't confuse leadership with successful projects. Leadership is not an end in itself. Successfully completing a project is the end (of project management) whether anyone was a leader, follower, both or neither. All sorts of digital projects are completed happily by people who would never consider themselves leaders or followers (and who don't bother with the leadership fetish.) One of the less savory characteristics of some business cultures is the unquestioning belief in magical leadership which, to me at least, seems to be a form of self-congratulation of the successful. "We are leaders so we are successful and we are successful because we are leaders." Such circular congratulation doesn't help understand what works.

Having warned you, here are some thoughts on leadership.

Leadership Traits

Kirpatrick and Locke in "Leadership: do traits matter?" argue that there are some recognizable traits to leadership that are supported by the literature:

  • Drive
  • Leadership Motivation
  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Self-confidence (including emotional stability)
  • Cognitive Ability
  • Knowledge of the Business

Readings and Links

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