So you have a new project in mind—a major undertaking, a shift in direction, the kind of thing that will put your company on the map or reaffirm its dominance in the market.
And you are feeling a little... overwhelmed.
This leadership thing is not for the faint of heart. Even after all of these years, a new venture gives me both a rush of excitement and a flutter of nerves. There’s a lot at stake, after all: money, time, reputation.
That’s why today we’re going to rethink the project cycle, simplify it, and focus your energy on the time periods when strong leadership is most critical: in the beginning and the end.
I call it my 10-80-10 rule. You give 100 percent of your attention to the start and end of the endeavor, and let your team drive it—with an occasional tug on the reins—during the long middle. I’ve adapted this from the Pareto principle, the idea that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your input.
So let’s start at the beginning, where leadership will either set your team on a road to success or leave it stranded with no GPS and only a vague notion of where to go.
To get started, they need four things from you: vision, direction, creativity and empowerment.
What do you see? Why is this undertaking important? What could it accomplish? How could it benefit the organization or its greater goals? Where does each team member fit into the equation?
I emphasize the last one because many emerging leaders forget to address it as they lay out their ideas. If team members don’t know their roles, how can they feel invested? If they don’t see themselves in the picture, why should they buy into it? Trust me, your project will go further if your team is fully engaged.
When you cast the vision, you need to come behind it with concrete directions. Your team members can be inspired by an idea, but they become secure with direction. This is where many leaders come up short. They have the vision but they don’t know or don’t articulate what it takes to get there.
“The value of an idea lies in the using of it,” Thomas Edison once said. Don’t let your ideas linger indefinitely with no means of making them real.
When I say to offer direction, I’m not talking about step-by-step instructions. Chances are, after all, that you’ve wandered into uncharted territory. Your team needs to know their destination, who is driving them at each stage, what deadlines they’re expected to meet, what resources they have and what limitations (if any) you set.
How they arrive at that end point is a different conversation. A project’s first stage is its most creative one. Now is the time for unconventional thinking, for exploring every possible means of achieving the vision. Once you get into the heart of the project—the 80 percent—creativity might impede progress. But at the inception, let imaginations run wild. The best ideas don’t just appear; they evolve. Give them wings.
Leaders who insist on micromanaging will quickly find their overreach slows workflow, squelches creativity and deflates people’s confidence.
Give your team the tools they need: materials, training, research, time and money. Gen. George S. Patton famously declared as he surged through France, “At the present time our chief difficulty is not the Germans, but gasoline. If they would give me enough gas, I could go all the way to Berlin.” Fuel your staff, and then get out of the way.
I have to admit: This is tough. I’ ve learned the hard way that trying to oversee all aspects of a new project is simply too daunting, too complicated and too frustrating. During a project’s middle phases, I transition from project manager to chief cheerleader. This stage is messy, filled with flops, setbacks and unanticipated detours. I’m there to breathe into my team’s spirits and encourage them to persevere.
So that brings us to the project’s end phase, and time for you, the leader, to jump back in, full throttle.
Add your voice.
There’s a reason you are the leader. You’ve lived the hard knocks, tallied the successes, learned from the rise and fall of others. Give the project your unique stamp. Your experiences have given you the wisdom and insight to elevate the creation even higher.
Acknowledge the contributions.
Find opportunities to openly praise and publicly celebrate the work of your colleagues. Your acknowledgment will validate their work, fuel their growth, inspire them to offer even more to your organization—not to mention earn you additional respect as the leader.
Seek additional opportunities.
You’ve birthed a creation for a predetermined purpose, but what else can you do with it? I worked for years on creating my Maximum Impact Club lessons, amassing a library of audio recordings. One day an associate suggested we bundle and sell my top 100 lectures. I confess: I scoffed at her idea. Who would want to hear me for that long? But she convinced me otherwise, and she was right. That collection generated about $1 million. You’ve opened one door by simply breathing life into your creation. How many other knobs will you turn? Remember: No business opportunity is ever lost. It’s just if you fail to see it, your competitor will surely find it.
Etch the 10-80-10 equation into your mind and let it guide—and simplify—your next endeavor. By channeling your energy into a project’s beginning and its end, you’ll focus your skills where they count and pull them back when it’s your team’s time to shine.