Issue Number 28: Leadership: Footprints in the Snow

There are a lot of footprints in the snow when it comes to advice on leadership. Many people have written and spoken eloquently about it. The techniques I have used are based on a lifetime of learning, and the practical experience of an ordinary person leading a large organization to an unparalleled record of success. They apply to large and small organizations, businesses run for fun, where success is celebrated with balloons, or for profit, where success is celebrated with bonuses. They also apply to people who are leading an organization of thousands or a team of five.

I am speaking from experience. The Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMIWDC) is the largest PMI Chapter in the world. It is approximately the size of the World Bank, with over 11,000 members as of this writing. The position of President and CEO, which I was proud to hold, came with an interesting set of challenges.

• The first challenge was the sheer size of the organization. While the employees of the World Bank are paid to work, the 11,000 members of our organization pay us to work for them. Practically speaking, each of our members is also a client. That means we have nearly 11,000 clients – and 11,000 sets of demands.

• The second challenge is leading and motivating a large group of people. To meet the needs of all these clients I had a staff of approximately 255 people, of whom 250 were volunteers. Our job was to keep all of them involved, engaged and on the team.

• The third challenge is that we could not use any of the traditional means of motivating people. We could not hire anyone, fire anyone (without a lot of pain), promote anyone, demote anyone, or give anyone a corner office or company stock. Being volunteers, the entire staff could leave at any time for any reason without any consequences.

If you can successfully lead an organization in these circumstances, you can successfully lead nearly any organization in nearly any circumstances.

And succeed we did! Among other things we increased the size of the organization an extraordinary 25 percent and doubled our total revenue. If we had been a for-profit organization we would have had a larger profit margin than Dell, Xerox, Walmart, or Target.

To give you a sense of perspective, PMI is the largest project management organization in the world, with over 500,000 members and credential holders and over 250 Chapters in 180 countries as of this writing. During the two years I was President and CEO of the Washington DC Chapter we were selected PMI’s Chapter of the Year, we won more awards than any other Chapter in the world, and I was named PMI Leader of the Year.

Lest you think I am taking credit for this, let me state as clearly as I can that nearly all of the credit for these accomplishments goes to the leadership team and the other members of the organization. According to a long-time member of our leadership team, we accomplished more during those two years than in any comparable time in the 32-year history of the organization. Another said he had never seen us work so well together in the nearly 20 years he had been involved in the organization’s leadership.

Our success was based on the realization that leadership is reflected in the words and deeds of the people you are leading. By learning to unleash the talents of those around you, you can lead with dignity, grace and purpose, and become the kind of leader others will admire. It is challenging, it is fun, it worked for us – and it can work for you.

Time now for the shameless plug. I have captured these techniques in my book, Leadership: Stories, Lessons and Uncommon Sense, which is available on Amazon.

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