The five 'flavors' of project management leadership

BY H. KENT CRAIG MECHANICAL CONTRACTOR JUST AS THERE are five primary flavors we can taste that combine to create literally millions of potential food flavors, five essential project management styles define our own leadership style. We are products of our genetic heritages as well as our experiences. No human being is as simple or as complex as psychologists, politicians, sociologists or evolutionary

BY H. KENT CRAIG
MECHANICAL CONTRACTOR

JUST AS THERE are five primary flavors we can taste that combine to create literally millions of potential food flavors, five essential project management styles define our own leadership style.

We are products of our genetic heritages as well as our experiences. No human being is as simple or as complex as psychologists, politicians, sociologists or evolutionary biologists try to make us out to be.

We all embrace one of the five following primary leadership styles and simultaneously have traces of the other four that come to the fore when our primary leadership game plan isn't working.

By recognizing these paradigms of how we manage projects and lead team members, we can enhance our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. We also can recognize these traits in others and use that knowledge to our advantage as well.

The developmental leader. This leader uses formal and informal learning as a tool to maximize potential, in both himself and his charges.

Strengths: By emphasizing continual reinvention of himself through never-ending education, he keeps fresh eyes on the target of profitability and is aware of all the latest methods of how to achieve it. Constant review of marketplace conditions means that new so-called "niche" opportunities will become available to your company before most of your competitors are aware of them.

Weaknesses: He can often become lost in the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake without regard to day-to-day reality. The never-ending quest for knowledge can detract from the daily tasks at hand at the expense of job profitability.

The character-based leader. This leader uses longstanding personal habits, principles and behaviors to get things done.

Strengths: As long as these traits are positive ones such as honesty, attention to detail and punctuality, consistently profitable job performance can be expected. When the chips are down or he is assigned a job that otherwise is headed toward disaster, these positive personal character traits can be inspirational to those around him and enhance the chances for potentially pulling a bad job out of the ditch.

Weaknesses: A character-based leader sometimes has an overblown sense of self-importance and a stubborn streak that tells those around him that he thinks he's always right, even when reality indicates otherwise. When these types possess any character flaw, they are usually reluctant to try to change for the better, even when it's clearly called for.

The situational leader. He uses maturity and the recognized capabilities of fellow project stakeholders to get the project accomplished.

Strengths: He usually takes simultaneous macro (the forest) and micro (a single tree) views to analyze the totality of the project and choose the best course of action. Modest to complete lack of ego allows him to let fellow team members become more fully integrated within the project's scope, allowing all involved to do their jobs better by playing on their own strengths.

Weaknesses: He lacks attention to detail at times or lacks focus at times on necessary day-to-day goals and project milestones. There's sometimes a mild streak of laziness because he's empowered others to do much of the actual work that another leadership style would have taken over. Delegation and assignment of authority on the project also can lead to wanting to be liked too much by fellow team members and can result in avoiding conflict or discipline that's often necessary to control a job.

The functional (expert) leader. He uses personal knowledge, experience and personality to get things done.

Strengths: He has hard-won insights and "insider knowledge" of ways to accomplish tasks on time and on budget that others might think impossible. He usually remains calm and focused in the most dire of project management situations, because he's seen worse and not only survived but thrived.

Weaknesses: Ego and inflated self-importance to the point of hubris can be downright objectionable to other stakeholders. This often will negate what other positives he might bring to the table because nobody wants to work with him. Stubbornness and sub-sequent outright refusal to follow company policies and procedures can manifest itself in increased liability exposures for the company.

The responsive leader. He uses his wits to survive and respond to project problems and to develop solutions.

Strengths: An uncanny sense of self-preservation usually drives a similarly uncanny ability to take any job in any state of disarray and close it out profitably. Fellow stakeholders often respond positively to his understated sense of quiet self-confidence and leadership by positive action more than mere words or orders.

Weaknesses: Frequently distrustful of other stakeholders with whom he doesn't have a track record from past jobs. That can lead to eventual mistrust from those stakeholders not included in "the clique." Tendencies to take shortcuts and bend the rules in order to show job progress — which makes for messes that will be discovered later that somebody else will have to clean up after the project is completed.

In the end, it really doesn't matter what style of leadership you possess or that possesses you. You have to recognize that you operate day-to-day with one primary style and bits of the other four in varying degrees. So, when you're getting ready to do something brilliant or, conversely, equally stupid, you'll know it and can act on it (or not), as the case may call for.

H. Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master's licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached by calling 919/367-7488, or via e-mail at hkcraig@ yahoo. com. His Website is www.hkentcraig.com.