What defines a Leader over a Manager??  There are many definitions that float around, and many books that all share how that author defines and classifies Leadership.  Everyone seems to have a different flavor, a different definition of success, and will happily share that information with you.  I  have read many of these books, and find nuggets of wisdom in many, if not all of them.  While they add value to my abilities, I don’t believe they are the root cause of successful leadership skills for me.  Let me try and explain.

I have been lucky.  Very lucky if I am honest, in that I have had, and still do have several people in my life that I look to as leadership examples, as well as personal mentors and friends.  These individuals have had more impact on my life and career than any book I have read during my career.  They are the source of the “core” of my leadership skills or style.  They have all had an important influence on who I am, and who I hope to become.  Many times these mentors come and go for a short period of time, others for a longer season of my life.  And even some, I am hopeful will be a friend for the rest of my life.

With this said, I will share with you some of my leadership beliefs.  I don’t consider myself a great leader.  While I know I am a better leader than I was 10 years ago, I also know I will be a better leader 10 years from now than I am today.


Recognize that “Leadership” is not a license to “Dictatorship”

It’s been an interesting year for me.  I left a position that provided me an opportunity for more leadership growth than any role I have held before.  It provided me with relationships that allowed me to be mentored, and to be a mentor.  It allowed me to develop relationships and establish what I still define as the greatest team I have ever been a part of.  It was not easy when I left this position, but I have learned a few key leadership principles as a result.

  1. Effective leadership is the key to success.  A truly engaged and effective leader can make or break a team or an organization.
  2. Mentors are the true path to leadership success.
  3. Understanding the real difference one person can make within a team, in both a positive and negative fashion.  This is a conversation in itself, and not for this article.

So I started this section with the header of “Recognize that “Leadership” is not a license to “Dictatorship”.  If you know me, you know that I would never be referred to as a “Yes Man”.  I believe that I have an obligation to share my opinions with the leaders that I support.  It is part of the agreement that is the result of being hired by these leaders.  You hire someone because they have skills, abilities, and talents that you believe have value, and are needed for the success of your team or the specific endeavor they are involved in.  As a result, a true “Leader” expects these members of their team to express their knowledge, opinion and abilities in an open forum.  They recognize that each member of the team has a voice at the table, and is part of the conversation.  The team is stronger and more successful if everyone brings their knowledge to the conversation, and decision and direction is arrived at, and everyone moves forward in support of that decision and direction.

One of the ways to think about this is a true leader will surround themselves with a team of people that compliment their weaknesses.  This creates a stronger team overall, and the team grows as a result.

On the other side of the coin, you have the “Dictator” scenario.  They don’t want to hear anyone else’s opinion.  They work hard to hire people who think like them, or are timid and don’t want to express any opinion that is contrary to the leader’s opinion, usually for fear of reprisal.  Teams with a dictatorial leader don’t seem to meld or mesh into a high-functioning group.  They experience high turnover.  Sometimes the leader moves on, sometimes the team members move on, but it normally turns into a very toxic environment that can potentially have a negative impact on a large variety of people.

A Dictatorial leader will surround themselves with a team of people that compliment them with no regard for the team’s growth or success.  It really comes down to how a member of the team benefits the leader, not how they support and build up each other.

Here is what I do know.  I have worked for both leadership styles multiple times over the life of my career.  The true leader, someone who allowed me to have a voice at the table, and be engaged in the decision-making process, ended up receiving unrestricted support in achieving the desired goal.  The dictatorial leader eventually got to hire someone else.

A key component of leadership is also trust.  I recently wrote an article on “Your PMO Should Be the “Trusted Source of Truth”” (LINK).  Follow the link for another quick article that extends this topic.


Tell me your thoughts in the comments and let’s open a dialog. I would be excited to hear other opinions on this topic.

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Don Clarke

Don Clarke

Co-Founder: Project Management for Today

As a Co-Founder of the pmfortoday.com website, Don Clarke has over 20  years of experience in the Project Management / Program Management space.  Having worked for a variety of companies over the last 20 years, he brings a strong base of knowledge in the industry.  Establishing or helping redefine multiple PMO's during this time, there is a unique perspective to his approach to developing the value of a Project Management Office (PMO), as well as his approach to leadership development within the organization.  Having been privileged to have multiple career defining mentoring experiences, Don realizes the importance of sharing that experience and giving back to the organizations where he is engaged.


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