The revered management guru Peter Drucker differentiates leadership from management like this: Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things. When we introduce our clients to the right things that should be done during project initiation, we often feel them push back: there isn’t time to do all that, they say, that’s all very well in theory, but in the real world it just isn’t possible.
We respond with two key points, the first is that our courses are developed from our own research into what works in the real world – it is practice based. So the people who lead great projects actually do these things.
The second point is one of scale. If you are leading a project of national importance, that impacts millions of people, that carries a high degree of risk, and which starts in a measured way with a clear timescale, then you may feel comfortable in doing all the right things. However, if you are leading a small project that is under pressure to get started and to demonstrate progress, then you may feel justified in only doing some of the right things.
Let’s look at an example from a military context. When soldiers are preparing for an operation, they are given orders. Every set of orders covers the same things – these have been proved to be the right things in the military world. If the battle ahead is significant, if it involves thousands of people then preparing to give these orders will take days, weeks and sometimes months, depending on the scale of the operation.
If the operation is smaller, if it is hasty, perhaps in response to an unexpected enemy attack, the leader may prepare to give the orders in minutes – but importantly, the same right things will be done – just at a pace to meet the demands of the environment.
So when you take on the role of project leader, consider the importance of doing the right things, particularly during project initiation, and consider the time available to plan how much concurrent activity and sense of urgency are needed to be successful.