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Project leadership is not project control

Adeline Teoh ed.
March 14, 2016

There’s a trilogy I’ve just fallen in love with that has done, through fiction, what no non-fiction book on leadership has ever managed to illustrate: why leadership is not about control.

The books feature two deposed princes of neighbouring nations who must work together, despite animosity between their countries, against their respective usurpers to reclaim their thrones. One is a warrior archetype: he understands the game as a war where each play is a battle and his resources, the men who fight with him, must also fight for him. The other is a cunning strategist who sees the situation as a game of chess with each play a gambit.

The strategist is written as a leader who hates to lose control. In fact, the author explicitly has the warrior say that when the strategist loses control, he makes mistakes. The warrior brings more than muscle to the partnership, however, he teaches the strategist that losing control is not the key to his leadership. The foundation of leadership is respect and that can be leveraged to his advantage.

Both, in their own ways, have cultivated respect from their troops. The warrior through his victories in fights both within the ranks and on the battlefield, and the strategist by outplaying troublesome people, giving them enough rope to tangle themselves and thereby fostering loyalty in others.

This spoke loudly to me as a way for project managers to rethink the way they lead projects. In all but the simplest of projects, there will be at least one element that will fall outside the control of the project manager, whether that’s a stakeholder or an issue. In this regard, ‘losing control’ is not a mistake but inevitable. What you do to address it, however, is the mark of leadership. Any action that results in greater respect for you and a strengthening of your authority is project management well done.

How do you view project leadership?

*I’ve not linked to the trilogy as it contains risque content, but if you are interested in an action thriller romance series, the author is CS Pacat.

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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