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Shallow Leadership: When Projects Succeed in Spite of You


It is nice to see project leadership is discussed more and more. It is becoming known that tools and techniques are not sufficient to succeed on any project with a minimum level of complexity. Project managers will need to demonstrate good leadership skills to successfully manage their projects. Leadership enables you to achieve better results, reach goals, and inspire people along the way. Strong leadership skills help the project manager in numerous ways:

  • Ability to develop and inspire vision
  • Ability to lead other people toward a specific goal
  • Ability to develop relationships
  • Motivating your team
  • Influencing stakeholders
  • Better strategic thinking
  • Improved decision-making
  • Higher resilience, courage, empathy, and self-awareness

Management can be sufficient for simple projects, but in any project with some level of complexity, leadership will be essential.

In all cases, it is an excellent thing that we are talking more about project leadership than before. Actually, we were not even really talking about leadership in project management until recently. The profession used to prefer the oversimplification of thinking that project management is only a matter of tools and techniques.

Risks of Shallow Leadership

The caveat when talking about leadership is that it must be authentic. Unfortunately, I have seen my share of abuse of the word leadership. There is a type that has put too many projects in trouble. We could call it shallow leadership. What is that? Shallow leadership is an empty form of leadership, based mostly on perception. How can you recognize shallow leadership?

A shallow leader will be:

  • Disconnected from the reality of the project, team members, and the organization
  • Floating above or outside the project team, instead of being part of the project team
  • Disconnected from issues
  • Have a low understanding of the complexity of the project
  • Unable to contribute to the project vision
  • Unable to provide support in resolving issues

Many will be tempted to respond that a person demonstrating the above behaviour is not a leader. Such a description does lead naturally to that conclusion. Unfortunately, shallow leadership can nonetheless be found far more often than we would have thought. Why? Let me guess that it is because it is far easier to provide shallow leadership than be a true leader. All you have to do is play the role well and convince the crowd with image and perception. You need to talk smooth in front of the group and stakeholders. A timely use of leadership words and clichés will help position you as a leader. Of course, you would delegate a lot, and empower your team, which is a good thing. However, it becomes shallow if it becomes a way to:

  • Not provide any strategic contribution to the team
  • Not contribute to the success of the project
  • Act only as a mailbox: pushing tasks down and report up
  • Dedicate only very limited time to a project

It becomes toxic leadership if the person takes ownership of all successes and blames others for all failures.

In the end, a shallow leader only succeeds thanks to the strength of others, and despite his or her contribution. The project team would succeed even better without him or her. The shallow leader only has the role, or the position. It is all only an optical illusion, even if the shallow leader has learned to use the proper leadership words and play the part. Shallow leadership is simply abusing of a role, and it never achieves the best.

Your project requires authentic leadership.

Real leaders lead a team to achieve a specific goal during both the high and low of the life of the project. It requires being part of the team, able to steer the team in the right direction, make decisions, and inspire others. It requires empathy and a high level of self-awareness. It requires an ability to understand and deal with the reality. Leadership bring clear vision while staying connected to the reality of the project.

Be a real leader, someone who is a fundamental part of team, who understands, can inspire, and leads successfully to the end of the journey.


For more brilliant insights, check out Michel’s website: Project-Aria

About Michel Dion

Michel Dion is a CPA and PMP, living in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and 2 kids. He also has a certification in Internal Audit (CIA), Risk Management (CRMA) and Fraud (CFE). Michel has managed in his career many projects, including special initiatives and emergency projects. He is developing a website called Project-Aria, and is very active in the project management community on the web. The key areas of focus of Project-Aria are project management, leadership, productivity, mind and health, and career and training. He has loved technology since the moment he played on the TRS80 a while ago. Despite that, his two sons insist that they know more about technology than him. Sometimes, he will comment on other subjects, as he likes fitness, travel, chess, photography, and music. He also has a goal of mastering four languages: English, French, Spanish and Swedish. Pay Michel a visit at Project-Aria by clicking the button below.

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