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Management closely trails leadership as the presumed one-size-fits-all prescription for danged near everything. When a project fails to satisfy expectations, we immediately commence to blaming the absence of either 1) leadership, or 2) management, then set about securing more of these apparently indispensable elements.

The BriefConsultant might receive a panicked telephone call about this time, when the earlier projected lifecycle threatens to become an absolutely unanticipated death spiral. Being a skeptic by nature, I almost half-listen as the prospective client recounts the many surprising L and M shortcomings so recently and shockingly uncovered. I’ve heard the story so many times before, only the reported color of Goldilock’s shoes varies from prior tellings.

Could I help get this errant effort back on track? Back on what track? The one formerly falsely projected to be the track that would inevitably lead to success? No, I don’t think I could help regain that particular delusion because almost everyone’s already seen through the originating sleight-of-hand; it just won’t produce believable magic anymore. The client usually responds by imploring for an even more believable form of leadership or management magic.

Depending upon the size of the sponsoring organization, this dance can continue for eons, discrediting whole generations of prospective leaders and managers, each proven false prophets in practice. The BriefConsultant doesn’t subscribe to the false prophet motive as much as he does the false prophecy one. Faced with clearly impossible objectives, human nature deploys a cognitive endorphin called projection. Whether labeling it hope, faith, or something more scientific like ‘quantitive risk management’, humans seem endlessly capable of conflating projections and perceptions, losing the otherwise clear distinction between the two. What we believe should happen silently slips over some boundary to become what we firmly believe will happen. When what’s supposed to happen, then, doesn’t happen, we go looking for a booster shot of leadership or management, probably because we believe that’s supposed to help.

It won’t be anything like an overstatement to claim that in the history of the world so far, no project has been well-managed. None have been adequately lead, either. Each, whether deemed success or failure, peg-legged it along. After the fact, the winners and losers sorted out their stories creating legends and fables. Only the color of Goldilocks shoes varies.

This is small consolation for someone who’s convinced themselves that their career absolutely depends upon some form of magic. My client would never dream of characterizing their life-threatening difficulty this way. They just want to identify someone with the skills to properly manage this effort to success. How my client might ever recognize such an individual will make an interesting conversation which might result in vaporizing any interest he might have had in a follow-on chat.

I’ve long insisted that there’s really no such thing as project management, though I might readily admit to believing in something rather closely though subtly related: Project-ionManagement. While project management focuses upon controlling out-there stuff, Project-ionManagement attends to the in and the here. It seeks to make clearer distinctions between should and will to make otherwise impossibilities possible. It mostly trades in disappointment, understanding that no amount of wishful willfulness ever transforms the probably delusional into the absolutely attainable.

Those projects threatened with death spirals usually have some secret unspeakables weighing them down. Sometime in their past, some belch got squelched and now threatens to blow out the other end. Aspiration over-reached to stranglehold progress. We’ll talk, my prospective client and I, and somewhere in the first few minutes he’ll decide whether I’m gonna be too much of a pain in the ass to invite inside. We will probably catch ourselves giggling some, which is always a good sign. I will certainly disappoint when I freely admit that I have no leadership or management skills that might extricate this errant excursion, but that he probably does.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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