Today, 21st January 2021, we held a virtual breakfast session on the topic of Learning to Lead.  Instead of a bacon butty, croissant, and dubious coffee in one of our member offices, 30 or so Association members joined the session from their own kitchen tables, sitting rooms or home office and discussed what it takes to be a great leader in a major project setting.

Our discussion was far ranging and touched upon the importance of diversity and the impact of Covid.  Our chair for the event, Simon Kirby, Managing Partner of The Nichols Group prompted discussion by sharing his list of attributes of great leaders.

Great Leaders –

  • Are authentic
  • Are great communicators
  • Have an ability to listen
  • Create diverse teams
  • Make the best decision at the right time rather than the perfect decision too late
  • Empower other people
  • Put the customer at the centre of the project

Our delegates added their own thoughts, both in the chat function and through discussion:

  • Good leaders have the courage to do difficult things
  • Have humility and are open and self-aware
  • Are honest when they don’t know the answers
  • Have the ability to select a great team and get the best out of others
  • They put their own ego aside and make space for others to step up
  • And they should be great coaches

Diverse Teams

Much of the discussion focussed on the ability of great leaders to build a diverse and effective team around them.  Manon Bradley, Development Director of the Association and long-time advocate of greater diversity in major projects briefly outlined the strong case for diverse leadership.  It is critical to our success and we do need to work harder to achieve it.  Delegates discussed an ages old question of whether you need to be an Engineer to be a major project leader.  The conclusion was that you do not and that removing this cultural barrier it would help to increase diversity.

Leading post-Covid

Several contributors to the discussion felt that the shift to more remote working has created some positives regarding diversity which it was hoped would continue post Covid. These included the ability for leaders to communicate directly with more people via tools such as TEAMS and Zoom; the ability for a wider range of people to engage in large online events – this is particularly beneficial for younger professionals; the increased visibility of minority individuals wishing to contribute to discussions via the “raised hand” facility; and a shift from a “presentee culture”.  The event itself was a shining example of this greater inclusivity as it accommodated a much wider range of individuals than a typical breakfast event and the discussion embraced a wide range of contributors across age, race and gender.

Followship

The final word on the topic of leadership came from an academic viewpoint, stating that leadership is a situational activity, one which we are continually learning and relearning.  Ultimately, leadership requires followship – successful leadership requires you to persuade others to join you in your endeavours.