Office of Culture and Experience

Project Management vs. People Development – Tempting Leaders

September 20, 2017 • Coaching, Leadership

Early in my career, I was promoted to lead an industrial innovation team. The Vice President of Research in the company said, “I am promoting you to develop people, not to manage projects. If you develop your people properly, you won’t need to worry about projects.” I wish I could say I listened to him right away. It was so tempting to try to manage projects, science and outcomes. I fell for that because it was easier than being a leader.

It took some time, but I eventually learned the significance of my mentor’s words. However, the same temptation still teases me today and that is why I need to be challenged to be a disciplined leader.

I think we have to remind ourselves regularly that developing people is hard, takes time, includes risk and will involve occasional missteps (by leaders and subordinates).

That’s why I think “project management” tempts leaders over “people development”. Leaders can drop into “safe mode” by focusing on low-risk projects that appear to generate short term results without really having to lead, manage, or develop people. I believe this kind of activity gives an illusion of productivity. Sure, short term results are generated but they are typically not all that innovative.

Organizations have to be careful not to reward this behavior from its leaders. Demanding “Results!” from its leaders might have a short-term benefit, but it often comes at the expense of a long-term return from its teams.

Rob McClain

Director, Research Enterprise Solutions

HSC Fellows Candidate 2017