G2G Project Management (Part 1) – Key Lessons Learned From Level 5 Leadership

Posted on May 29, 2009


Level 5 LeadershipSeveral years ago, I have the chance to read Jim Collins’ book – “Good to Great” (G2G), that has changed the way I was approaching performance in Project Management. I suggest to share with you my learnings in applying the different concepts raised in this book into the management of Strategic Projects.

The 5 key idea sets of G2G are: Level 5 LeadershipFirst Who, then WhatConfront the brutal factsHedgehog ConceptThe Flywheel and the Doom Loop.

level5Level 5 leaders channel their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It’s not that level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed they are incredibly ambitious – but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution, not themselves.

Which Ambitions For The Project Manager?

Prior embarking in any strategic project, election of the project manager (by extension the project team) is a critical step. In most cases the PM is selected based on his/her previous assignments, organization knowledge, leading capability, and potentially his/her level of expertise in project management.

Usually the acceptance of such position by the PM is the result of having a new experience in her/his resume, enabling the access to a higher position, or “I do not have something else to do”. Here is certainly where resides the problem. The PM will focus on the completion on time, on cost of the project and might try to appear as the leader who makes the project successful.

The essence of L5 leadership conveys success way after the finalization of a project, and implies a focus on the future organization’s performance rather than short term objective of implementation. When selecting the PM, an organization should identify individual who will care about the future outcome and the one who goes beyond personal renown as an element of his/her motivation.

Managing The Level Of Expectations

Jim collins’  article in the Wall street Journal “High Returns Amid Low Expectations” highlighted “How sky-high expectations become the seeds of decline.” The fact that an organization is expecting a lot from a project creates extraordinary pressure, especially in term of time, which might drives to some spectacular actions to show that the project will be delivered at D-Date.

That is the role of the PM to tune down some of the expectations of senior management and don’t let the panic impact the ultimate deliverable of the project, which is  – improved organizational performance. We should see the case of ATT CEO, Michael Amstrong in the late 90s, as a key lesson learned.

Ambiguity Of Controls

Jim Collins argues that if you assemble a team with the same core values and core purpose and you give them the freedom of choice along with some commitment mechanisms, the level of controls required to operate should be minimum. Temptation to micro control a project is always present, especially because their are great tools to do so out there. However relying on a strong team commitment will free up the execution of some combersome reporting mechanisms. The level 5 leadership knows how to balance these controls and develop the commitment of the entire team. As a rule of thumb “If you want to control your project, focus on the team commitment”. Again like the PM, it all starts by its own selection: “Put the right people on the Bus”.

Learning As A Key Performance Driver

I’m always baffled by the amount of opportunities missed in a project because some information are not shared on time, not share at all, or not easily accesible by the entire team. When assembling the team, people are selected for their expertise, and they will act in the project as knowers not as learners. But here is a great opportunity to learn even more by people who will be exposed to their expertise. It is important whilst kicking of the project to understand the learning goals of every players, and make learning a central practice to the team. For instance a weekly meeting to share the team learning could create opportunities to avoid wrong decisions and accelerate the overall planning.

Leadership Versus Power

One of the key finding of G2G is that there is an inversed relationship between “Exercicing Power and Exercicing Leadership”. Project Management is the ideal place to practice Level 5 leadership, and provides the foundation to move from good to great for anyone wishing to go beyond his personnal agenda.

The Great Project Manager Serie: Level 5 LeadershipFirst Who, then WhatConfront the brutal factsHedgehog ConceptThe Flywheel and the Doom Loop.

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