Your Critical People Roles: Leader, Manager and Coach

by Jason Questor
EVP Learning Systems and
Lynda Keating
EVP Culture and Leadership Practice

As soon as you move into a formal or informal role where you are expected to be the point person for a group of people, you will be faced with the expectation that you will somehow, automatically, understand the many hats you have just assumed. This can be tricky, because the titles associated with the roles may be deceiving. You are called a Project Leader, but is the expectation that you will, in fact, think and act as a leader of your team? You have been promoted to Business Manager, but does everyone expect you to coach teams and individuals towards success and professional development?  In many organizations, the distinctions among these words and the roles they imply are used interchangeably, causing confusion for all concerned. It gets even more complicated when you move into the realm of executive designations such as Director, Vice President or C-Suite roles.

What exactly are the differences? What organizational needs are met by having people in these roles? What does it mean to you and your people regarding the expectations everyone has? And what about all those skills you have amassed as a subject matter expert and contributor? Are you expected to shelve them because of your new title?

Let’s start by comparing some essential key concepts. Management, leadership and coaching encompass distinct sets of responsibilities that address different – but equally important – types of organizational needs. The behaviours are driven by the defining elements, viewpoint, priorities and expectations of the role.
 To be effective in any of these roles you have to start by looking at yourself. What motivates you? What are your priorities? What does success look like to you? These are important questions, because what each of these roles have in common is a focus on people. Are people important to you, or are bottom line results the only thing that matters in your universe?  Do you really see people as the most valuable resource, or just as arms and legs that get things done according to financial expectations?  Do you understand that investing in the engagement of talent is the key to long term business success, or do you see staff as fungible objects that are easily replaced?  Think about this and be honest with yourself.
To be great at any of these roles you must sincerely care about the feelings, thoughts and professional development of your team members, as a group and as individuals. In so doing you will gain the ability to achieve both financial success and the enviable reputation of being with an organization that is a great place to work. While much has been said about the importance of this for attracting and retaining the Millennial generation, it is equally true for all.  How this fundamental truth plays out in attitudes and behaviour cannot be faked. People will see right through artifice.

The best leaders, managers and coaches know how to engage and leverage the natural abilities and learned skills of their people, balancing organizational achievement with the professional and personal needs of those who make it possible in the first place.

Leadership, management and coaching effectiveness can be measured, compared against your ideal view, and enhanced through our full complement of professional development programs. See our website for details and call us today!

The Project Charter and Effective Delegation

by Jason Questor
Founding Partner and EVP Learning Systems

Isn’t it amazing when, as business and project professionals, we continue to do something that we know is inappropriate and counterproductive, even when we are fully aware of what we should be doing. Delegation is one such issue, one that, if mishandled, can cripple not only project activities but the sponsoring organization itself.

Within a project, the core vehicle for delegation is the Project Charter. A well done Charter provides two things:

  1. The name and purpose of the project, the latter often taking the form of a brief product scope statement
  2. The granting of referent authority by the Project Sponsor to the Project Manager, and by extension, to the project team.

Referent authority? There are two types of authority commonly wielded by business professionals: persistent and temporary. Persistent authority is tied to rank and position within the organizational structure. Temporary authority is based on task delegation and is known as referent authority. Referent authority is the only type of authority that can be wielded by the PM and the phase group leaders within the project. This group includes the Business Analyst, Systems Analyst, Technical Lead, Quality Analyst and Implementation Analyst.

Granting of referent authority is comparable to the situation in old Hollywood westerns, where the sheriff would deputize citizens of the town when the outlaws were riding in. This was a temporary empowerment that said, in effect, “I cannot be everywhere at once. You represent me when I am not around. This means that if you say something or do something, it is as if I was saying or doing that myself. Also, I will back you up on any decisions or actions you deem appropriate, within the boundaries of the law.”

Since projects frequently interrupt normal business process, and since project stakeholders and users are almost always 100% occupied with their process activities, the presence of a strong charter with clearly indicated referent authority is the only way project personnel can legitimately interrupt normal business process. Without this, a Business Analyst must beg for user time to capture requirements.

To fully understand this, we need to understand the nature of delegation, and its impostors. True delegation has two components, both of which must be fully documented and formally accepted by the delegate:

  1. Accountability for the performance of a task towards the creation of a specific, visible and measurable deliverable.
  2. Authority scoped the nature of the delegation.

When things go wrong with delegation to a properly qualified individual, it is the Authority part that is most often missing in projects and in business in general. As humans, many of us like to hold onto power but give the responsibility to someone else. By artificially retaining power without accountability, we become the bottlenecks in our own endeavors: people who are given tasks to perform without the necessary authority to make operational decisions must check with us repeatedly and frequently for everything.  People in these situations are not delegates, they are appendages.

Which leads us to the delegation impostors. All of them issue accountability but not authority. Leaders must be cautious when delegating, and be aware of the attendant risks.

  1. Assignment is the most common impostor to delegation in business. It is the classic situation where an authority figure sends a non-voting proxy to a meeting, but no decisions can be made until the assignee reports back to the authority figure. This hamstrings the decision making power of the meeting, slows down progress, and is reliant on the accuracy of the report made after the meeting
  2. Giving Orders has a proper place: in true crisis situations. If the ship is sinking and on fire, the captain does not give the passengers the option of interrupting that fascinating game of canasta in order to don their life jackets and get in the lifeboats. The risk occurs when, realizing the huge productivity increase and absence of dissent in a true crisis, a leader may opt for a continuous culture of crisis management. In this situation, information is withheld until there is no time for reflection and discussion.
  3. Dumping occurs when an authority figure, who has all the information and authority to complete a task, summarily dumps the assignments (usually several at once) on someone else, interrupting their scheduled work.

Beyond the immediate grief to the assignees, the long term effects of assignment, giving orders and dumping include unnecessary levels of negative stress, high attrition rates among staff, failed projects, a sweatshop reputation in the industry and lost business.

So why do so many find it so difficult to delegate properly? The central issue in delegation is trust. Authority figures may worry that they can’t delegate because they can’t trust their people to get it right. On the other hand, how can the people earn that trust if they are not entrusted to perform. The answer is clearly documented delegations, with formal feedback mechanisms at a frequency proportionate to the risks. Delegates must be consulted to ensure that they believe they have the necessary knowledge, time and resources to complete the work. The limits of their authority must be carefully scoped out, so that they know when they may be “in over their heads” and need to appeal to you for a decision. They must also not be afraid to come to you should they be having difficulty with the delegated work. In this situation, you can maintain progress and dignity by engaging them in solution options, which may include scoping back the work or adding additional resources.

A leader who delegates properly creates strong, effective teams. One who does not may create problems of a far greater scope and tenure than the original delegation.

from Alpha Guerilla: The Project Leadership Lessons
(c) Jason Questor. Used by permission.