If You Won’t Follow Me, How Can I Be Your Leader?

Become a Project LeaderI caught this quote the other day on one of my kids’ favorite shows, “Peep and the Big Wide World.” Seriously, it’s one of the best shows on TV if you can find it.

Quack, the big blue duck, says, “Ducks are natural leaders, but if you won’t follow me, how can I be your leader?” That statement cracked me up because it is so applicable in some many areas of life…including in the project management world. Quack’s statement implies that a leader should be followed just based on their position or reputation or what they think of themselves. How many times do we encounter this? I even use this on my kids sometimes…. “Respect me because I’m your father!” Ha. If we are demanding respect and a following, then our actions and leadership need to show that. True following, true obedience comes from seeing an example in action.

So, if that’s what we need to do in order to become ‘leaders’ of our project teams…leaders that are ‘worthy’ of the following they command….what do we need to do? How do we need to act? What examples must we set?

My take on this is a list of a few items that we need to show as characteristics in ourselves and daily conduct and who we are as leaders. At a minimum, we need to show:

Integrity. Be ethical and consistent in your actions, values, methods and principles. Be above board on everything – above reproach. Your team needs to see you as a stalwart leader of the project, the team, and the project client. They should be able to expect that you say what you’re going to do and then do it.

Honesty. Be honest. Show it in how you conduct yourself with the project customer AND with the team. The team needs to see you admit wrong to the customer or ask the customer for help or inform the customer of issues on the project. Let them see you take an issue to the executive management team. Be upfront about problems and work through them. Your honesty and openness will rub off. Expect it of yourself so that you can expect it of others.

Confidence. When giving direction, asking team members to follow, and assigning tasks, be confident. Act like you know you’re making the right call and that you believe in what you’re saying. If you don’t believe in it, no one else will either.

Stubbornness. If we are going to lead a team and an implementation, then we need to not be wavering in the decisions we make and the way we orchestrate the project. Make good calls, good decisions…and go with them. That doesn’t mean we blindly push ahead even if we know we made a bad call. That goes back to the integrity thing mentioned earlier. Recognize your own screw-ups and miscalculations. Everyone admires a leader who can call themselves out on a mistake (as long as it’s not daily), but no one wants someone who will lead them down the wrong path over and over again. Make wise choices, and be stubborn about those.


This is relatively short list – I could go on all night on this. But the characteristics I’ve listed here are a good start. Stick to these and it will be easier to get project team members – and project customers – to follow you when you’re trying to lead them and assign tasks and expect action. And it will especially help when you’re fighting for their time and attention with other project managers on the other projects your matrixed team members are working on. Exemplify leadership and they will follow.

Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland

Noteworthy accomplishments:
*20 year provider of successful technical project management leadership for clients across nearly every industry imaginable
*Author of more than 4,000 expert professional project management and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos over the past decade
*Articles/professional content receives over 40,000 page views monthly
*Named #1 in the 100 Most Inspiring People in Project Management
*Named a Top 10 Project Management Influencer to Follow in 2016
*The most read author of expert project management content on Project Times/BA Times for 2015
*Named most prolific provider of project management content over the past 5 years
*Noted for successful project management and financial oversight for $50 million Dept. of Education financial contract/program
*Chosen by the Dept of Defense as a subject matter expert (SME) to help select IWMS software provider for the largest IWMS implementation ever awarded

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