It seems that in most of the leadership lessons that we receive, whether in the shape of mentoring or training, emphasize personal behavior almost at the expense of group dynamics. It is my impression that too much focus is given to what we should do or not do in terms of interacting with others, and little thought is given to other people’s behavior. We often talk about the leader’s ability to motivate others, and his/her ability to attract. However, leadership does not happen in a vacuum as it assumes that an individual must have others to lead, otherwise that person is not considered a leader. Most will in fact agree that for an effort to be successful it requires not only strong leadership but effective teamwork and the willingness of the team members to follow the leaders. It is these ideas that have got me wondering if discussions of leadership need a paradigm shift in the sense that we should examine more greatly the followers.
Let’s look at this in the context of project management. Throughout my career I have come across hundreds of situations where the project manager is thrust onto the stage and asked to perform heroic acts with a team that he/she has had little to do with shaping, let alone selecting. It has almost become conventional wisdom in the profession that the successful PM must be one who is able to “tame” the team. While there are instances where I see this skill is critical, unfortunately I find that we are often too quick to condemn the project manager who is not able to succeed in this context despite the fact that this person may be an excellent professional and a skilled PM. The danger in this type of thinking is that its gotten us to the point where we expect that the project manager will not have a say in formulating the team. We see situations where the scope is defined, the timeline requirements are articulated, the budget is built, and the team is brought together, then the project manager is on boarded. By then I would say it is too late to expect the project manager to be able to make a positive contribution to help in the success or failure of the project. If we were to take advantage of the skilled professional that is the project manager, we need to engage that person early in the process, otherwise the return on investment is likely compromised.
Additionally, from a leadership perspective, successful leaders are ones who are able to choose their team members, not simply react to those individuals who are thrust upon them. Does that mean that there should not be situations where the leader has to make do with what he/she has, absolutely not. However, we need to refocus the conventional wisdom to position leaders for success. In this paradigm the leader must have a say on who the followers should be.