Almost everything non-trivial that happens in the business world, and in many other walks of life, is the result of a project. Projects have a well-defined beginning, middle and end. They always require a project plan. The plan not only defines the stages of the project but also drives its execution. I prefer the word mission because it implies motion and carries a greater sense of urgency. Given the importance of population health initiatives to their respective stakeholders, I can assure you that there better be a sense of urgency, or this initiative will wither and die on the vine.
You usually either sign up for the mission through pressure from your current employer or preferably, you volunteer on your own. However, signing up for a population health initiative is, for me, a much deeper commitment than is apparent on the surface. It means that you will do almost anything within your power to achieve the end game. It may make the difference between your organization thriving and prospering in the rough and tumble world of 21st-century healthcare, or becoming roadkill on the information highway.
For population health initiatives, signing up does not necessarily imply consistently working 60 hours a week for the duration of the mission. However, it does imply that you will go above and beyond the call of duty, which often entails some overtime, and/or other personal sacrifices at critical junctures. Signing up is a binary proposition, you’re either on board or you’re not. There is no acceptable middle ground. It is a contract with the rest of the team members. It is mutually binding and cannot be broken without putting the mission at risk.
Getting all team members signed up is the responsibility of the mission’s Natural Leader. On projects where I have assumed this role, I always look for opportunities to shoot on sight any team members caught sitting on the fence. They usually die a very slow and painful death, often from multiple wounds. I would rather reduce headcount than risk the mission by having to carry wounded combatants iteration through iteration. This is hyperbole of course but you get the drift.
No One Gets Left Behind (the WIIFM)
While Signing Up ensures that everyone on the project commits to everyone else by signing the same mutually binding contract, the Natural Leader also signs a personalized contract with each individual. This contract is a promise that individual, and specific, benefits will accrue to each (and every) team member in return for his or her effort during the mission. It answers the question “What’s in it for me?” This contract is implicit between the Natural Leader and an individual team member and is not shared with other mission comrades.
Would you persuade, speak of interest not of reason.
In Black Hawk Down the movie’s powerful punch was delivered not by outstanding performances from Hollywood’s elite, but by the graphic representation of the brutality of war, and the poignant relationships that are manifested in the middle of life and death situations. The motto of Delta Force is, “No One Gets Left Behind,” and I guarantee you, if the film is to be taken at face value, this is no gung-ho marketing campaign. It is a mutually binding contract that is honored at all costs. Notice that all this contract talk does not involve an organizational abstraction outside of the project team. It is widely known that soldiers in the heat of battle fight harder, and often until no one is left standing, not for God or country, but because of the personal relationships they have with those in nearby fox holes. It is the shared experience of the mission that brings out the best in us.
Natural Leaders own the mission. By definition, there is only one Natural Leader for any given mission. They can coexist with a leader that derives authority from position power but are obviously more effective when position power and natural leadership are aligned. Natural Leaders create team magic. Magic is not a by-product of serendipity. It is clear that renowned movie directors do not rely on serendipity to create the cast chemistry required for a great movie. The creation of cast chemistry is premeditated.
Good fellows are a dime a dozen, but an aggressive leader is priceless.
How do Natural Leaders do what they do? Does it require charm, superior social skills, above average intelligence, empathy, and love of humanity? Well, the truth is that no one knows for sure. Probably a Natural Leader possesses all the aforementioned qualities and still others that remain unnamed. The nature versus nurture argument is relevant, and like so many other cases where this argument is raised, the only plausible answer is that natural leadership requires some combination of both. That said, it is clear that leadership skills can be improved with practice and grow with experience.
It must be noted that leadership skills are not immutable. Change the mission context in a dramatic fashion and/or within a different domain and you are unlikely to see the same Natural Leaders emerge. Leadership is often fleeting. It is extremely context sensitive and occurs within certain space and time boundaries. That said, within a given context and domain, leadership can certainly be maintained across a relatively large number of missions. As previously mentioned, there are no scientific principles of leadership, and perhaps there never will be; yet there are some rules of thumb that have worked for me and I will share them with you in subsequent posts. These always seem to apply, despite the composition of the current team and the context of the current mission.