Being a good leader isn't simple, but practicing professionalism is - and it makes being a leader a while lot easier. This article explores the links between being a professional and being a leader and includes a few tips along the way.
Professionalism Will Enable You to be a More Effective Leader
Professionalism and leadership are two distinct qualities that all project managers should possess, although the success of one very much affects the success of the other. Professionalism entails acting in a manner that's in the best interest of the project: being efficient, keeping a focus on business, and separating your personal life from your business life.
As a project manager, acting as a leader means taking control of the project and ensuring that everyone on your team is accomplishing the tasks they've been assigned. It is very difficult to act as an efficient leader if you are lacking in professionalism.
Leadership is a complex quality, it's something that a project manager will continually acquire and refine with each project they complete. Professionalism, on the other hand, is something that's fairly easy to understand and practice without much experience - many aspects of professionalism are common sense. The first step to becoming a great leader is to master professionalism.
Respect is Key
One of the most important parts of being an effective leader is to have the respect and confidence of your team. When people respect your judgement and respect you as a person, they're going to be happy to work under you. On the other hand, if you don't have the respect and confidence of your team, the project will suffer, and that will reflect negatively upon you. So, how can you create a mutual feeling of respect as a project manager?
Respect can be maintained through professionalism on your part -- most people working under you will give you the benefit of the doubt, so they will give you respect unless you give them some sort of reason to feel otherwise. Respect can often be compromised through favoritism -- treating certain members better than others based on anything other than performance. Team members are very good at sensing when you play favorites, and they may lose some respect for you if it's too blatant. It makes sense: they are questioning your judgement, and if you are actually playing favorites, maybe they're right to do so. This is a key area where being unprofessional effects the respect you'll gain as a leader. Try your best to maintain an even playing field: reward people when they go above and beyond, and let them know when their work is not up to par, but implement it in a consistent and fair manner.
Acting in a professional manner will enable you to maintain and grow the respect that exists between you and your team - and in the end this will make you a stronger leader.
Setting the Example
As a project manager, it's up to you to set an example for the team. It's important that your team take professionalism as importantly as you do -- when your team members are acting in a professional manner, they will follow your leadership without hesitation. The best way to get your team to act in a professional manner is to set the bar for professionalism in the office.
Professionals don't take lots of personal calls during work hours, they don't talk to friends on Facebook, they don't leave the office early, etc. As a project manager, you may be given enough freedom to do some of these things, but that doesn't mean you should. You need to show your team that you're focused on the task at hand. When the boss is acting like a true professional, team members won't have any sort of mental justification for doing less.
Dealing with Problems Like a True Professional
If you're working on a big project and managing a team, it's inevitable that some sort of problem will arise at some point -- maybe it's a tiny problem, maybe it's a big one -- how you deal with problems as a project manager is the key. When everything's going smoothly, it's not all that tough to act like a professional. It's when the problems arise that your capacity for both professionalism and leadership will be defined (and often for the entire team to see).
As human beings, when we're angry or frustrated, our capacity for logic and reason is often diminished -- this sometimes leads to shouting and rudeness, two things that should never enter the professional workplace. As a project manager, you need to learn how to deal with every type of problem that may arise in a completely professional manner. It's possible that you may have to let a member of your team go, but even if you do, there's no reason to do it in a manner that makes you look less professional to the rest of your team.
A project manager who can deal with problems in a constructive rather than a destructive way is a true leader; this demonstrates that they are more concerned with the results of the project than with satisfying their ego.