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We need to raise capable leaders; yesterday

We Need to Raise Capable Leaders; Yesterday.

We in the Project profession must rethink what leadership means.

The textbook dictionary definition of “leader” is a person or thing that leads or a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group. “Directing hand” is close but doesn’t quite exemplify what we need in order to raise capable successors.  We need mentors.

There is a wealth of wisdom that over the next 10-20 years will be lost unless we focus on raising capable people and in order to do so, we have to focus on a true mentorship model. Why?

We work in a world where people age 60 and over will soon outnumber children aged five and under. Demographers predict that in countries that are ageing well, more than half the children born today will live to 100 – and some researchers believe that the first person who will live to the age of 150 has already been born. Wow!

Therein lies both the challenge and the opportunity.  We must imbue tomorrow’s leaders with the wisdom of this generation and in order to do so, we must eliminate what causes leadership failure. Mark Moses a CEO Coach at CEO Coaching International listed seven problems with leaders today.

  1. Failure to Communicate —Effective communication is so hard because it takes commitment. You have to make effective communication a priority and that takes discipline, consistency, clarity of message, and a willingness to keep at it day after day.
  2. Lack of Accountability — Not enough people Build the systems they need to support accountability and get distracted until they are a part of your operations.
  3. Fear of Firing — Self Explanatory… Essentially constantly looking over one’s shoulder.
  4. Lack of Alignment — make sure that when the decision is made, your team is behind it and they move forward in unity to make it happen
  5. Lack of Clear Vision — Real leaders create a compelling vision for the future that ignites a fire under their team and keeps them working hard and doing the right thing even when nobody’s looking.
  6. Poor Execution — First, they don’t follow their own plan with discipline. Second, they fail to keep score on what matters. Third, they don’t have the right people in the right jobs to make it happen.
  7. A Company Culture by Default — Did you create your culture by design or did it just happen by default? When you consciously think about and design your culture to foster your desired behavior, your culture becomes a competitive advantage that attracts top talent and drives massive results.

What can we do?

We must become better mentors and focus on servant leadership.  In Buddhism, there is a concept called shitei funi  (師弟不二) This is the relationship between the mentor and the disciple (mentee).  Also called the oneness of mentor and disciple.  In this mentor-mentee relationship the functions of the mentor and mentee may vary, they share the same goals and ultimately the same responsibility.

I want to outline the relationship and how it is relevant to the style of servant leadership that is needed today.


Progression of Mentor and Mentee Relationship
How Mentors and Mentees progress in working towards shared goals.

Phase 1
At the beginning of the relationship, the goal is the focus and both the mentor and mentee are focused on it. In project management, think of the PM as the mentor and a team member or Junior PM as the mentee.  Initially, in the relationship, the mentor does slightly more heavy lifting than the mentee.

Phase 2

As the relationship progresses, the mentee’s role is set slightly at the forefront while the mentor has assumed more of a supporting role.  The mentee seeks out support and receives feedback from the mentor.  Notice though that both the mentor and mentee are both focuses on the same objective however the mentor has an added responsibility of sharing the wisdom of their experience.

Phase 3

As the diagram shows, the mentor has completely fallen back to a supporting role and has entrusted the mentee to lead.  The mentor is still accountable for the realization of the goal and through their leadership, has supported the development of the mentee to the extent that they are more capable than the mentor.

Why there is no time to waste

Today, with a population of 1.2 billion young people between the ages of 15 and 24 (the largest differential in recorded history) the potential for powerful, youth-driven change is unlimited; but only if we arm them with the knowledge and wisdom of previous generations.  The goal isn’t to create carbon copies of ourselves, but to give them what they need to innovate and lead us into the future.

All too often, rather than being seen as essential partners in innovation and solutions, young people are too often viewed as a problem to be solved. Depictions of young people as reckless, or self-obsessed – adding a negative connotation with millennials for example is dangerous and does a great disservice to the vast majority of young people who are hardworking, solution-oriented, and community-minded.

Even when not viewed as problematic, young people are sometimes regarded—even in the development space—as passive beneficiaries. This is why we need bold young leaders. The voices of the next generation, your voices, need to be included in important decisions that directly impact your future.

What’s more, we need to arm you with the knowledge from our generation as a foundation and provide you the tools you need to do important work, because there is important work to do.  Project work accounts for more than 30% of global GDP which is roughly 24 trillion us dollars.  As a profession, we have the power to create positive change and as Uncle Ben in Spiderman says “with great power, comes great responsibility”.

If you are a senior in the profession, we need your leadership to support the next generation, as they will have monumental problems to solve and we must do our part.

For more on servant leadership, check out our online self guided workshop and rate your abilities!


Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni has over 24 years of experience in project, program, and portfolio management, having led Aerospace, Finance, Government, and Technology initiatives. He has a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment, is a Certified Senior Project Manager (IPMA Level B®), and Certified Green Project Manager (GPM®). He is the founder and president of GPM Global and the President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association USA (IPMA-USA) He is a medal of honor recipient from Universidad Autonoma Lisboa, AI Media's Leading Advisor Award 2017, the 2015 World CSR Congress Leadership Award, 2014 HRD Leadership & Training Award, and 2013 IPMA Achievement Award. He has lectured on or taught sustainable project management in 50 countries worldwide.

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