Sometimes as a Leader, You Also Need to be a Follower

I’ve been in the project leadership game for a long time.  I’ve seen a lot of things.  Had great successes.  Had a few failures.  I’ve lead hundreds of people across the world.  I pride myself on putting my teams in the spotlight when we do great things.  Damn it, I get things done!

But a junior PM (as in 8 months out of college) taught me a valuable lesson.  I was asked to help spin up a program for a small subsidiary company that included IT and operational changes.  These changes would impact the enterprise and require time tracking and financial reporting.  Five projects, 3 project managers, and aligning a team of 25 internal and contract staff.

As I put all the pieces together, this seemed to be a straight forward effort.  All the projects had milestones defined, program benefits agreed upon, execs bought in and funding secured.  With that, I kicked off the program with the three PM’s and sponsor.  As I rolled out the information, the junior PM pointed out a potential flaw with the requested reporting changes and the way they reported financials.

“Excuse me Jason, but I’m not sure those report changes are going to work.  I know this technology and the changes you’re talking about here will impact all our financial reports.  We need to send these reports in a specific format to the parent company so they can load it into their system.”

Did this junior person just tell me we may not be on the right track with reporting?  Didn’t I get this from the sponsor and CFO, who probably know more about financial reporting than she does?  This ain’t right!!

In that moment, I had to tell myself to check the ego, be quiet and listen to what she had to say.  I asked her to explain.  As she discussed the process, everything she said made sense.  Even the sponsor didn’t know everything she was talking about.

I was hit with a paradox; as a leader I had to follow someone else, someone junior to me.  But I know my boundaries and limitations.  I accepted her advice and asked she lead the effort to dig into it more and uncover what truly needed to change.

“Thank you for pointing this out.  I’ll let you take the next step to get it figured out.  You got this!”

As leaders, we need to understand we have limitations and don’t know it all.  We need to surround ourselves with smart people we trust and keep our egos in check when they tell us our plan may be wrong.  As leaders, we sometimes need to be followers.

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