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The High Stakes Game of Project Leadership!

By Keith Kemph


There I was, January 6th, 2019, watching the NFC Wild Card Playoff game, the Chicago Bears versus the Philadelphia Eagles. While not a fan of either team, I’m most interested to see how the first year NFL coach, Matt Nagy, of the Chicago Bears, handles the high-stakes pressure.


Prior to taking over as coach of the Chicago Bears in 2018, Matt Nagy had spent seventeen years developing his coaching and leadership skills at all levels of the coaching ranks. Along the way, he had great mentors and colleagues who helped him develop his intuition, decision-making ability, knowledge, skills, and experience. So, how does he handle the theatrics associated with this headline event? The answer might be less about football and more about his overall philosophical approach.


During the game, the camera catches a glimpse of Nagy’s play calling sheet, using it to shield lip-readers. What stands out most to me in this moment, is his personal reminder in big bold letters at the bottom – “BE YOU.” A philosophy which promotes individualism by urging players and coaches to enjoy the sport and freely express themselves instead of worrying about the NFL's strict and business-like nature. A reminder to stay loyal to the leadership skills, instinct, and decision-making experience that got him there.


Consequently, this scenario begs the question, who are you when the pressure rises?


While I’m on projects, guiding organizations through the successful execution of either small or even multi-million-dollar projects, I often find project leaders and executive sponsors struggling to decide how they will lead – stay true to them self, relying on their instincts and leadership experience, versus wearing the proverbial corporate hat, making decisions based on what they ‘think’ the company wants them to do. Better known as, second guessing themselves and deciding to play it safe.


Based on experience, leaders who opt for the proverbial ‘corporate hat’ decision making process, prove to fail in almost all aspects of execution. Leaving the front-line, their team, and executive leadership to clean up the mess and close the gaps. While, on the other hand, their counterparts, who are leading based on their being true to themselves (the “Be You” philosophy) relying on their knowledge, skills, and experience in collaboration with their teams – prove to be far more effective and successful.


As it stands today, over 1 Trillion dollars each year is lost due to failed projects. And, I can assure you that it’s not the technology that’s failing – it’s the people (leadership). Frankly, finding better leadership to oversee such critical initiatives (investments) is getting harder than ever before. In a recent study by Inspire, over 77% of organizations report they are currently experiencing leadership gaps. An alarming statistic, resulting in significant misunderstandings, lack of communication, and subsequently projects not being delivered on-time, or on-budget. In effect, poor leadership is costing firms millions each year. And, the outlook isn’t any better, over 63% of millennial's do not believe their leadership skills are being developed.


No different than the development of Matt Nagy, moving forward organizations must do a better job of developing leaders. Organizations must do a better job of cultivating knowledge, skills, experience, and confidence among their future leaders. As a result, they will be well positioned to effectively and confidently lead future teams and projects. Like Nagy, it’s critical to not only have the classroom study but provide future leaders the opportunity to learn while on the front lines with several different leaders, teams or partners (like a BlackFin Group).

People who are not only helping ensure successful project execution – but are also aiding the development of your future leadership. Subsequently, your future leadership will lead with confidence, and stay true to themselves. As the pressure rises, they can remind themselves to, BE YOU.




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