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Project Managers Learning to Be Leaders

by Hal on June 8, 2009

in PM practice, books, leadership, lean

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I get a lot of requests to review new books. I'm sitting on 5 books at this time. I try to read them in the order I receive them. I make exceptions for friends. I'm writing today about a book that I moved to the top of the list and I'm pleased I did. Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain Science, by Charles S. Jacobs, is a book about transformational leadership. There a lot of fine books on leadership1 so why another? Hasn't everything already been written? Not quite.

Jacobs calls on neuroscience (the study of how the brain works) to explore what works and doesn't work with leadership behaviors. His conclusions are both reassuring and surprising. I've read many studies that say for most of us, performance-based incentive plans don't work. It's not just that they are ineffective, incentive compensation — rewards and punishment — often produces the opposite effects. Jacobs explains our brain adjusts our behavior to managers who put themselves in a dominant role. On the surprising side, Jacobs says that traditional performance appraisals including the 360° reviews don't work. So what does work?

Transformational leadership is far superior to transactional leadership. He shares five behaviors of the transformational leadership:

  • Shift the paradigm
  • Make it participative
  • Convey an aspirational vision of the future
  • Tell the story
  • Create focus and urgency

What else works? Have people set their own goals, review their own performance and when necessary put their own corrective action in place.

Management Rewired isn't just an essay. Jacobs backs up what he says with a full set of endnotes. He takes his own advice to leaders by introducing this neuroscience-based approach by telling stories…both stories about famous leaders and his stories. The book is readable, referenceable and actionable. To get a peek at his thinking download the ChangeThis manifesto A Mind for Selling: Brain Science Is Turning Management on its Head.

  1. 49,124 leadership books available at Amazon on June 9, 2009 [ ⇑ back ]

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Schmaltz June 9, 2009 at 6:13 am

Interestingly, these principles look suspiciously similar to the original principles accompanying Scientific Management, which was at the time more of a social movement to democratize industry than simply a means for systematizing throughput. I recently read After Virtue by Alasdair McIntyre, a moral philosopher. In it, he claimed that the behavior beliefs commonly held within organizations—from the belief in bureaucratic skill to behavior-based performance appraisals—cannot work from a logical perspective. The causes and effects so created require a lot of squinting, or a lot of tenacious belief, to even appear to work. So, thank heavens for this latest threat to the commonly held beliefs. One caution, because we don’t actually understand how the brain works, conclusions drawn from brain scanning can best be described as tentative. Sure, the technology gives us another perspective. Whether this proves anything is a whole ‘nuther matter. As for 360 degree feedback, anyone observing its effect on performance would have to conclude that it’s a net negative, except it provides the appearance of democratic concensus. It’s actually, in practice, a quite insidious form of autocratic control.

2 David Green June 9, 2009 at 10:24 pm

Going out on a limb, I think that ALL forms of performance appraisal, pl management, p. review and other manipulations that disrespect the human relationship between manager and worker destroy trust. This basic to people working together and developing productive communities once gone will bring down performance too. The company that trusts, exhibits trust and acts like it trusts its employees is likely to go places.

3 Dike Drummond MD June 12, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Another way of saying all this … and one that is perhaps more simple to understand … is to think of leadership as having two sides.

One is the CONTENT of your team’s activities. The “WHAT” they are doing.
Many Leaders assume their leadership role because of their status as a Content Expert … which is often the worst reason to put an individual in charge. (Read the “E Myth”)

The second parallel universe of Leadership and the most important is the CONTEXT the Leader creates for the Team. All of the transformational leadership principles have a final common pathway of creating a supportive and inspiring CONTEXT.

Leadership is the ability to create a CONTEXT that allows & supports the team in exceeding their goals. With rare exception … when the Team fails it is a call for the Leader to look in the Mirror.

My two cents,

Dike Drummond

4 Joe Ely June 15, 2009 at 2:59 pm

Not surprising that Dr Deming said this a long time ago in his point 11 and 12 of the famous 14. Eliminate quotas, eliminate numerical goals.

5 Cost Accounting June 15, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Transformational leadership can add value but there is always going to be a need for transactional as money motivates the majority and the time spent trying to transform and include works can cost more than a slight increase in monetary reward for the people that you are leading.

6 Hal June 16, 2009 at 8:03 am

The research is just the opposite on money motivating. The vast majority are only motivated to the extent that basic needs are addressed. After that, intrinsic values take over. Most people with jobs are able to take care of the basic needs. Therefore, get rid of the carrots and the sticks. Turn over the job of establishing goals and assessing performance to the people doing the work. Spend time as a leader-manager creating the circumstances that inspire.

7 Veronica Brown June 23, 2009 at 1:29 am

For agile project managers it is more important to try to be “servant” leaders.

8 Peter Taylor July 6, 2009 at 6:49 am


Science behind the laziness – being smart (www.thelazyprojectmanager.com)

Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke (1800 – 1891) was a German Generalfeldmarschall. The chief of staff of the Prussian Army for thirty years, he is widely regarded as one of the great strategists of the latter half of the 1800s, and the creator of a new, more modern method, of directing armies in the field.

In 1857 Helmuth Moltke was given the position Chief of the Prussian Großer Generalstab (military staff), a position he held for the next 30 years. As soon as he gained the position he went to work making changes to the strategic and tactical methods of the Prussian army; changes in armament and in means of communication; changes in the training of staff officers; and changes to the method for the mobilization of the army. He also instituted a formal study of European politics in connection with the plans for campaigns which might become necessary. In short, he rapidly put into place the features of a modern General Staff.

Moltke had a particular insight to and approach to categorising his officer corps, something which lives on to this day within many armed forces, and something which can apply to all forms of leadership.

If you consider the two ranges of individual characteristics, those that go from diligent through to lazy, and those that go from non-smart through to smart (yes I am being politically correct here) then you end up with the four character types in the diagram above.

General von Moltke divided his officer corps into these four distinct types, depending on their mental and physical characteristics. He ended up with (and he never had to be politically correct being born in the 19th century and being chief of the Prussian army) type A: mentally dull and physically lazy, type B: mentally bright and physically energetic, type C: mentally dull and physically energetic, and type D: mentally bright and physically lazy.

Type ‘A’ officers, who were mentally dull and physically lazy, were given simple, repetitive, and unchallenging tasks to perform. They had reached their career peak in the army. That said, if you left them alone then they might just come up with a good idea one day, if not then they won’t cause you any problems either.

Type ‘B’ officers who were mentally bright and physically energetic were considered to be obsessed with micromanagement and would, as a result, be poor leaders. Promotion was possible over a period of time but not to the status of commanding officer of the German General Staff. These officers were best at making sure orders were carried out and thoughtfully addressing all the detail.

Type ‘C’ officers who were mentally dull but physically energetic were considered to be somewhat dangerous. To Moltke, they were officers who would require constant supervision, which was an unacceptable overhead and distraction, and because they would potentially create problems faster than could be managed, these officers were considered too much trouble and were dismissed. No career there then!

Which brings us to type ‘D’ officers; these were the mentally bright and yet physically lazy officers who Moltke felt could and should take the highest levels of command. This type of officer was both smart enough to see what needed to be done but was also motivated by inherent laziness to find the easiest, simplest way to achieve what was required. Put in a more positive way they would know how to be successful through the most efficient deployment of effort.

So, smart lazy people have a real edge over others and are most suited to leadership roles in organizations. The Lazy Project Manager is all about applying these principles in the delivery and management of projects. It is assumed that you are not stupid so you are already on the right-hand side of the diagram, what you now need to do is hone your lazy skills in order to rise to the top right hand side of the diagram. Do this and not only will your projects be more successful, you will also be seen as successful and a safe pair of hands for future leadership roles.

‘Whenever there is a hard job to be done I assign it to a lazy man; he is sure to find an easy way of doing it.’ – Walter Chrysler

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