Project managers rely on their leadership skills to get work done. But what exactly is leadership? The author and public speaker, John C. Maxwell, puts it this way: “leadership is influence.” That short definition pretty much simplifies the complexities of leadership.
To become more effective, you need to increase your influence. Consider these four avenues to develop your leadership. All of these ideas can work alone. For the best results, combine them!
1. Adopt A Strategic Approach
What is the “big picture” goal of your organization? What makes your organization different from other firms and organizations? Understanding the answers to these questions are a key to understanding strategy. Once you understand the strategy, you can lead strategic projects. A strategic viewpoint makes it easier to influence people to increase their contribution.
Even if you already feel knowledgeable about your organization’s strategy, it makes sense to refresh your understanding from time to time. As you work through these items, keep asking yourself how your activities connect to the organization’s strategy.
- Read your organization’s annual report: what went well and what are the plans for next year? Is your work contributing to the strategy?
- Read a strategy book: Michael E. Porter’s “Competitive Strategy” is a classic strategy book that is widely used in business schools.
- Review your activities from the past week for strategic relevance: Go through your email sent folder and calendar and ask yourself whether you are spending enough time on strategic matters.
2. Dedicate Time and Resources to Learning
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers” – U.S. President Harry Truman
When Bill Gates ran Microsoft, he would often depart from the office for a week or two each year to study new ideas, read books and come up with new ideas for the firm. If Truman, Gates and other extraordinary productive people can find time for reading, then you have no excuse.
To develop leadership skills and capabilities, I suggest two approaches:
Read Biographies and Autobiographies of Leaders
This fall, I have been reading “Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.” by Ron Chernow. The book is a literary feast – It is a long and detailed book: the main text runs to over 650 pages. Yet, the book is filled with insights about the challenges of building a company in an infant industry (oil in nineteenth-century America) and other insights.
To stretch yourself even further, I suggest reading about a person in an industry unrelated to your own. I have never worked in the oil or energy industry, so reading about Rockefeller was a whole new world for me.
Learn A Specific Leadership Skill
According to the author and consultant Brian Tracy, “All business skills are learnable.” Choose an important leadership skill – such as making presentations or delegating works – and work steadily at improving it. Remember that it may take you weeks or months to see progress if you are embarking on an unfamiliar skill.
3. Provide Feedback
Feedback is a powerful force for change and it is up to you to harness it effectively. In some cases, feedback may take the form of angry complaints. In other situations, feedback can take the form of flattery and praise. The key is to view feedback as information to enhance your leadership, as a constructive comment that enables you to develop both personally and professionally.
Here are some strategies to improve your feedback:
Take Feedback Notes For A Week
It is easy to lose track of feedback as you work through each week. To use feedback more deeply, take five to ten minutes each day in a notebook about the feedback you have received. At the end of the week, look through your notes and ask yourself the question, “How can I use this information to improve my leadership?” There are great mind mapping tools you could use that could help you organize your thoughts.
Consider a 360 Degree Review
For managers and executives, a 360-degree review provides a way to systematically gather comments and information from your staff, your superiors, and peers. If this opportunity interests you, speak with your organization’s human resources department for further information.
4. Leaders Listen For Insight and Relationship Building
Deeply and carefully listening to others is becoming a rare skill. Our environment of “always-on technology” makes deep listening challenging. However, leaders do not blame technology in this situation – they turn it off.
Fortunately, there are several practices you can do to improve your leadership through listening:
Take people to lunch
Sharing a meal with another person is an excellent way to bond. That is why the classic book on networking – “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi and Tahl Raz – references this concept. Not sure who takes to lunch? Start with people you already know: a friend in another department, a friendly customer or someone you met through an industry event.
No phones in meetings
Do you remember the last time you were in a meeting and someone started looking at their phone (or computer) while you were speaking? Avoiding this faux pas is easy – simply turn off your phone for the duration of the meeting.
Combining all these strategies to improve your leadership skills will provide long-term benefits both for you and the others around you. Consider applying them in your business environment and see how things will positively change.
About the author:
Bruce Harpham writes about leadership skills for project managers at Project Management Hacks. Do you want to work better with executives, managers, and others who can sponsor your projects? Get the free report – How To Start An Effective Relationship With Your Project Sponsor – and get to work improving those key leadership relationships.