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Personal Credibility

Dale Carnegie wrote in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Few people are logical. Most of us are prejudiced and biased. Most of us are blighted with preconceived notions, with jealousy, suspicion, fear, envy, and pride” (Carnegie, 1936). Sandy Allgeier, author of The Credibility Factor, wrote, “It can be very difficult to value others. Some ‘others’ are downright difficult people! A few are nasty, mean-spirited, and truly seem to enjoy hurting or harming others” (Allgeier, 2009). Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman used geekspeak to express a similar sentiment in Team Geek, in which they wrote, “People are basically a giant pile of intermittent bugs” (Fitzpatrick and Collins-Sussman, 2012). All of these authors recognized that people at every level—team members, colleagues, senior leaders, and stakeholders at large—are subject to human character frailties. These people make leadership challenging and sometimes perilous.

In Chapter 3, I discussed the importance of providing senior leaders with the ground truth concerning the actual circumstances of IT projects. The ground truth is unadulterated reality, delivered free of fear. The ground truth is what senior leaders need to know, not what others think they should know. It contains the facts in their purest form, not watered down by politics, misinformation, intentional ambiguity, or hidden agendas. Senior leaders with the ground truth have the facts and understanding they need to make decisions that lead to successful projects and organizations.

As project leaders, we may encounter another type of senior leader—those who who enjoy shooting the messenger. They are armed and dangerous, hunting the very people who everyone needs to deliver the ground truth. They load their quivers with arrows targeted at the truth-tellers and are eager to advance their contemptible agendas at the expense of the honest and the innocent.

Some might say that to expect leaders to lead is to expect too much. Th is puts program and project managers in a precarious position. We expect projects and programs to be successful as a result of sound processes and best practices, even in spite of poor leadership. IT project leaders are expected to achieve success regardless of organizational and political obstacles. They are expected to deliver the ground truth even at their own personal peril.

We can’t make the mistake of assuming that those who operate in leadership positions actually do lead. We can’t assume that those who have oversight responsibility are effective and responsible leaders who are concerned about your best interest and the best interest of the organization.

Leaders who lack personal credibility impede progress despite processes and practices.

Personal credibility is the seed that yields a harvest of competent leadership and oversight. Zig Ziglar said, “Your children pay more attention to what you do than what you say.” In the same way, team members expect their leaders’ actions to be consistent with their words. Do you trust a leader whose words and actions are inconsistent? Are you willing to follow a leader who has demonstrated a lack of credibility? The leader may follow established processes, such as developing project management plans, but a leader who is not credible lacks the ability to effectively and consistently motivate team members to follow his or her plans and directions. Leaders without personal credibility are unable to inspire others to trust and believe in who they are and what they do, and this lack of trust becomes a barrier between leaders and team members (Allgeier, 2009).

Leadership and personal credibility are processes, not destinations. They are processes that require continuous improvement, like tending a garden. They are personal struggles with outcomes that have interpersonal and organizational consequences. Success is not measured by how far you’ve come or by how many miles or kilometers you have left to go. Instead, success is measured by the quality of the harvest—by how effective you are at obtaining the benefits and the valued and required outcomes that projects and programs are designed to achieve.

As IT leaders, our challenge is to persevere in spite of these challenges, to resist imitating incompetent or corrupt leaders, and instead to behave credibly and ethically in the face of clear and present danger, to improve our leadership acumen and deliver the ground truth without wavering or flinching. Equipping ourselves to perform in this manner requires stalwart personal credibility fueled by self-leadership. Most geeks are not interested in such pursuits. Researchers have found that IT professionals scored below the norm for conscientiousness, which includes dependability, reliability, trustworthiness, and the inclination to adhere to company norms, rules, and values (Lounsbury et al., n.d.). But those who are—those bold enough to break from the geek culture in pursuit of leadership with credibility—can expect to increase their value to their organization and reap rewards for taking such risks.

The personal credibility of IT leaders impacts the credibility of the organization and the credibility of the IT industry as a whole. As discussed earlier, the IT industry has a reputation for poor delivery of IT projects. Although several factors contribute to this issue, researchers have found that organizational and social factors, including leadership, have a profound impact (Thite, 1999). The credible IT geek leader can directly impact or influence these factors and, consequently, improve the success rate of IT projects and the credibility of the IT industry.

In this chapter, we begin with a case about a leader facing a personal credibility challenge. We then explore the concept of social styles, including the Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical styles. We examine the characters in the case to demonstrate how social styles can impact personal credibility. We then build on this knowledge of social styles as we discuss the Four Steps to Mindful Credibility: Know Yourself, Control Yourself, Know Others, and Do Something for Others. After the conclusion, there is a

Leadership Assessment Questionnaire that can help you mindfully improve your personal credibility.

Let’s begin with a case about a manager with an incredible reputation. Th is story was inspired by actual events.

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