Leadership is defined as the ability to influence groups of people in order to make them work and achieve goals. In this article, the author uses Alexander the Great as a prime example of one who possessed and used great leadership skills, and compares his tactics to modern practices. From this comparison, the author points out key practices that made Alexander a great leader, and how project managers can use these tactics in today's environment. Project managers need leadership skills especially in terms of situational leadership, which can be a key factor for a project's success.
Leadership is defined as the ability to influence groups of people in order to make them work and achieve prescribed goals ( The Project Management Question and Answer Book by Michael and Marina). Leadership, as a type of managerial interrelationship between the leader and the followers and is based on the combination of authority types most efficient for the current situation. Project managers have a great need for leadership skills especially in terms of situational leadership which is a key factor for any project success. As situational leaders they are expected to view things from a new perspective and are not bound by traditional approach.
Alexander has been a great personality in the history both in terms of being an excellent project manager and a great situational leader. Even though the philosophy followed by Alexander reminds us of the famous quote from Aristotle "We make war so that we may live in peace" the reality may have been far more different. Let us not worry about the war and outcome for the purpose of discussion and focus only on the practices in terms of project management and situational leadership exhibited by Alexander.
Alexander was known for his strategy and tactics he had a well laid out plan for every war with backup strategies in case the original plan failed. Even though their was no Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defined standards every war was planned, executed, controlled and closed to meet the objective which was to win the war. In terms of planning Alexander had created a cavalry (soldiers on a horse back) which comprised of disciplined troopers who were responsible for responding to commands from the battle field at times of uncertainty by charging the enemy suddenly to create shock and to restore the confidence level of Alexander’s army (soldiers on foot ). The Army was comprised of group of soldiers who attacked on foot in close formation, protected by their overlapping shields and projecting spears. In other Greek armies the soldiers on foot were the main shock unit whereas in Alexander's army the Cavalry was the main shock unit. This change in strategy enhanced the value of both the cavalry and soldiers on foot yielding better results for the team. Alexander’s ability in terms of adapting the latest technology for managing projects (war) was exhibited by use of siege weapons. Alexander was one of the first commanders to take advantage of the siege weapon, on a scale that was smaller and more mobile. The army used small versions of catapults firing both large arrows (that could be aimed at a single man) or stones that would have the potential of killing or wounding a number of men with a single shot. The open-minded approach to adapting new technology resulted in winning battles for Alexander. (Alexander the Great and His Army by Gerald L. Conroy).
In terms of leadership Alexander followed a combination of Douglas McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y concept of management. He was ready to lead from the front by setting clear expectations and was open for input from his commanders at the same time was ruthless in punishing any kind of disobedience. His concept was simple he first made an estimation of the situation, then secured his base and cleared his boundaries. He sized the initiative in virtually all his operations and demonstrated a seemingly endless flexibility in his battles. Even though he led from the front he always made sure to involve his people who had to do the work (the army) in the planning process prior to any war. He re-visited strategies before every war with the appropriate commanders to analyze and determine any necessary changes but carried the ultimate authority of making the decision. All through his battles Alexander exhibited situational leadership especially in the battle on the River Danube, when the rebellious provincials crossed well ahead of Alexander and kept all the boats in the area on their side preventing his Army from crossing the stream. Alexander used the leather tents stuffed with straw and sewn tight to augment the few boats he could find to cross the Danube in one night. When he attacked the next morning, the battle was all but over due to the demoralizing surprise. Imagine the project outcome if we as project managers could raise to such situational leadership for the challenges we face in day-to-day work?
In terms of closing his projects Alexander ensured he appointed his best men to take care of the administration for the kingdoms captured. There have been many instances recorded in history where he has entrusted the kingdom back to the original owner after winning the battle that way winning a follower /friend for life. In terms of people management Alexander was a great success, there was a special love for Alexander that kept the army loyal to his dream even when all theirs had been fulfilled or lost. On one instance when the army was hosed in a desert and the soldiers were thirsty, a commander offered water to Alexander, after inquiring and finding that he was the only one being served with water as there was no water for the rest of the army. Alexander refused to drink the water and poured down the water thus exhibiting his attitude of equality with his team. Such characteristics exhibited by leaders produce psychological effects on subordinates and attracts followers who are ready to coordinate their efforts in achieving common goals.
As a project manager Alexander’s history has always provided insight into many factors of project management and leadership. An amazing experience to understand his abilities in terms of resource management, adapting new technology, strategies, backup plans, and situational leadership. The difference between successful and unsuccessful leaders is the fact that the successful leaders are charismatic and are able to establish deep emotional relationships with the people they lead and share their inspiration with the team. We as project managers need to be able to adapt the best practices in the industry coupled with leadership skills. In today’s corporate culture there is strong need to build trust with employees/team members to be successful. It is important that every individual in the role of a manager should be able to meet their commitments to gain the team’s credibility and trust. Another key factor for success as a manager would be to remain consistent, that way people can predict what actions one will take leading to a reciprocal relationship which is critical for good business and personal relationships. Alexander’s history reminds me of the famous quote from Edith Hamilton where the Greek said, "All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought."