“Jake, hi, how are you? Would you have 2 minutes for me? I have good news I would like to share with you!” A business-smartly dressed man talking on his phone just behind my back had suddenly caught my interest. In my experience, airports are wonderful places when it comes to learning about the behaviors of our species. I will not say that I was eavesdropping, but I do have a pair of well-working ears, so I simply could not help it.
Soon I was fully immersed in enthusiastically making notes for myself. That quick and to-the-point phone call, that I happened to overhear, had been pure gold!
As a leadership coach and mentor, I had to contain myself from stepping up and congratulating the man, clearly a CEO of his business. What a great communicator! He freely expressed his appreciation. “I’m very grateful for the preparation work that you had done with your team. Thank you, the material was top-notch.” He stopped to listen and made sure he understood correctly what Jake was worried about. One sentence especially made me proud of this leader, “Yes, you are absolutely right! Good point! Let’s have a chat with HR. I’m sure they can find a suitable Spanish tutor to come and help us improve.“
All in all, that short two-minute call led me to think that this CEO has a natural inclination for honesty and efficiency, he is a great communicator and values everybody’s time. He is appreciative and wants to evolve as a person and a leader. I don’t know who that CEO was, but I was proud of him! He even clearly understood that for him to have an energetic, healthy, inspired, and dedicated workforce, there needs to be a work-life balance. “Well, not taking more of your time! Share the good news, and we’ll talk more on Monday, 2 pm! Now home! Thanks again, and enjoy the weekend! My best to Carol, too!”
And so, thank you! That quick incident at the airport prompted me to write about authentic and efficient leadership style, which is the root and base for successful project management – among other very good things.
What Is Project Management Really?
To manage a project is to implement processes, methods, skills, knowledge, and experience – all to achieve specific project objectives in accordance with the project acceptance criteria and agreed parameters. People, time, money, and materials are arranged in a “purpose-built flow.”
It involves identifying and defining the project’s scope, setting goals and objectives, allocating resources, and developing a timeline and budget. Monitoring and controlling the project’s progress is crucial.
The ultimate goal of project management is to deliver, within the given framework, a successful project that meets or even – in the best-case scenario – exceeds stakeholders’ expectations. This requires authentic, strong leadership and effective project management. Followed by excellent communication, swift and good problem-solving skills, and the ability to manage risks; all of these are vitally important. When the leadership is agile and adapts to changes in a timely manner, collaboration with diverse stakeholders becomes smooth and well-managed.
Let’s dig deeper into the following topics:
- What is authentic leadership, and what characteristics does an authentic leader possess?
- What is effective leadership, and which are the key traits of effective leaders?
- The power of authentic and effective leadership in project management
- How to develop an authentic and effective leadership style
The Benefits of an Authentic Leadership Style
Authentic leadership differs from other leadership styles in several ways. Authentic leadership is an approach that, first of all, emphasizes honesty and openness in all communication. Under that umbrella, we also find a realistic and up-to-date perspective, healthy self-awareness, and consistently sound and ethical behavior. To understand the contrast, other leadership styles may focus more on maintaining power and control, keeping a sense of distance, and a hierarchy that supports a self-important authority. Such a power-driven leadership style prioritizes achieving success at any cost. Inevitably – and sadly – the same unhealthy pattern will seep into the company’s decision-making from the top down.
Authentic leaders prioritize self-awareness and are committed to both their own personal and professional development and that of others. They are effective leaders who are genuine, sincere, and true to their values and beliefs, thus building trust, respect, and commitment in their employees. Through a realistic perspective and open communication, authentic leaders create an environment where people feel safe to share their ideas and concerns. The importance of empathy is emphasized since it is clear to them that the employees are the company’s most valuable resource. What would a company be without its workforce? Authentic leaders also prioritize and encourage upholding ethical standards and accountability for themselves and others.
Sir Richard Branson is an excellent example of an authentic leader. He founded Virgin Group and is widely known for his charismatic and authentic leadership style. His priority is to build strong relationships with his team members and to empower his people to take risks and be innovative. Needless to say, these are essential traits in successful project management and leadership in general.
Key Traits for Effective Leadership
Effective leadership is the ability to inspire, motivate, and guide a group of individuals toward a shared goal and/or vision. A keen and insightful own-field expertise, sensible interpersonal skills, and emotional intelligence, are great power-tools for the task.
Effective leaders have a clear and compelling vision for the future. They are strategic thinkers and skillful communicators who can, in a comprehensible way, articulate their visions. Equally, effective leaders clearly communicate goals, expectations, timelines, and gained progress, to all involved. Such able leaders actively listen to their team members and can provide and receive feedback and guidance in a constructive and supportive manner.
They can analyze strategic information and swiftly make informed decisions leading to positive outcomes. Effective leaders adjust and adapt strategies to changing circumstances or unexpected challenges. These “super-leaders” look for continuous improvement, which requires excellent problem-solving skills.
Their high emotional intelligence makes them skillful team-builders, and they manage their high-performing teams well. But before everything, an effective leader understands and manages his/her own emotions and always strives to react and respond in a supportive, empathetic, and constructive way. They are committed to a strong sense of healthy ethics and integrity and treat others with respect and dignity.
Effective leaders manage their time and resources wisely to satisfy stakeholder expectations and strive to build strong relationships with them. They deliver updates and progress updates clearly and transparently while also addressing potential concerns or issues that arise.
Jack Welch was the CEO of General Electric for 20 years (1981 – 2001). He was known for emphasizing efficiency, innovation, and continuous improvement on all levels. Welch is credited with transforming the company into one of the world’s most profitable and successful corporations.
Successful Project Management Achieved by the Powerful Combination of an Authentic and Effective Leadership Style
Both authentic and effective leadership styles should be integrated into project management. Combining and balancing these two traits will create a powerful leadership style that inspires and motivates teams while smoothly and repeatedly achieving project goals.
Authenticity helps inspire and motivate teams through open communication. It creates a sense of purpose, trust, meaning, satisfaction, and confidence among team members and stakeholders. Effectiveness, again, helps motivate teams by skillfully setting clear goals and expectations and recognizing and rewarding team members for their efforts. By including authenticity and efficiency, a leader funnels and ignites all resources toward unique innovations and creativity, seamless cooperation, and fantastic outcomes/results.
Effectiveness helps foster innovation by creating an inspiring environment and atmosphere which support experimentation and controlled risk-taking. Authenticity opens doors to “innovation-incubators” by encouraging team members to share their ideas and perspectives. It is clear that every leader will massively benefit from utilizing these two “power-tools” (authenticity plus effectiveness).
These two elements help create a leadership style that enforces commitment and is both supportive and goal-oriented, leading to stronger relationships with and in-between the team members.
Nelson Mandela is a very good example of an authentic and effective leader who, despite immense personal hardship, led his people through difficult periods in South African history. His leadership style was characterized by humility, integrity, and a deep commitment to his vision and principles. Mandela’s leadership inspired people to work toward the end of apartheid and the establishment of a democratic government.
How to Develop an Authentic and Effective Leadership Style?
Developing a powerful leadership tool-kit and additional complementing skills takes time and practice. Building an authentic & effective leadership style and environment, is a challenging task. Developing the necessary skills requires a balanced combination of self-reflection, learning, practice, and building strong relationships with team members, mentors, and all stakeholders.
Your life values are the foundation for your leadership style. Rely on your core values and use them as guidelines when making decisions and taking action.
Every so often, spend time reflecting on what’s important to you, your company, and what you stand for. Self-awareness is absolutely critical for creating an authentic leadership style.
Understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and seek constructive feedback from others. Be open to criticism and use it to improve your leadership style. Develop your emotional intelligence as by it; you will understand and manage your own emotions and those of others. Please do not underestimate this as a critical skill in creating effective and flourishing leadership!
Practice empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution. Remember that authentic leaders lead by example. Time and again, effective communication gets highlighted here, as it truly is essential for building trust and inspiring your team and company as a whole. Therefore, be clear and concise in your communication and open to feedback. Effective and exemplary leaders are constantly learning and growing. We all evolve and grow every day. Life is forward.
Remember to keep yourself updated and alert on your field of expertise, and read books and articles on leadership and project management. Courses and workshops are great, but the best and most lasting transformations are created through mentorships and coaching.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
The winning combination of authentic and effective leadership styles is crucial for successful project management.
Authentic leadership builds trust and inspires confidence in team members, stakeholders, and clients. Team members who trust their leader are more motivated, engaged, and productive.
Effective leaders foster teamwork and collaboration among team members, leading to better and quicker project outcomes. When team members work well together, they share ideas, solve problems, and support each other. Effective leaders communicate clearly and with reason with team members, stakeholders, and clients. This brings everyone on the same page, and the risk of misunderstandings is reduced. Effective leaders can swiftly adapt to changing circumstances and are able to make quick decisions if/when necessary. All of this ensures that projects stay on track and get completed on time and within budget.
Authentic & Effective leaders hold themselves and their team members accountable for their actions and responsibilities. A culture of responsibility and ownership is created, which leads to better project outcomes.
Implementing authentic and effective leadership practices is a continuous process. It requires commitment and constant reflection. You must take the time to reflect on your leadership style vs. results and identify areas requiring improvement. Be honest with yourself and seek and embrace feedback from others.
If you can visualize it, you can make it! Best of luck!