Effective Project Leadership

3f4sqiums6k-mikael-kristensonA Leader Is Someone Who Demonstrates What Is Possible.

Quote attributed to:  Mark Yarnell

Last Friday, I was having breakfast at the local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant with a retired colleague and personal mentor from Procter & Gamble. In case you don’t know, Frisch’s is a great Ohio brand. The company started in 1905 with a café in downtown Cincinnati, and then opened Cincinnati’s first drive-in restaurant (originally named the Mainliner) in 1946. It is pretty amazing when you realize it wasn’t until 1940 McDonald’s opened its first BBQ restaurant in San Bernardino, California.That was 35 years after Sam Frisch opened his first café. Frisch’s has been serving great food for over 100 years. Sometimes I wonder just how much business has been transacted over coffee and eggs at the Big Boy in all that time

At this breakfast, I was asked for thoughts on how to effectively lead complex branding projects. It was a great question because it made me think about the process I follow.

I explained how I use Jack Welch’s 5-E leadership model as both a diagnostic tool and a proactive planning tool to ensure success when managing a place branding initiative.


As background, the 5-E Leadership model was developed from studying the common practices of successful leaders throughout history. It is a systematic way of creating and managing change. I like to think about it as a linear process, although I don’t believe that is how it was necessarily designed. The first E stands for Envision, seeing the goal and believing it is achievable. The second E is about sharing the vision and Enrolling others to help you achieve it. Once people see the vision and buy-in intellectually, then the next step (and third E) is to Energize them. Or, as I like to think about it – to capture their hearts. At this point you have a collaborative group with a shared vision that they are intellectually and emotionally committed to achieving. As the leader, you need to ensure their success is Enabled (fourth E). Roadblocks need to be removed and resources delivered. At this point, Zig Ziglar would say, now that you’ve planned to win and prepared to win, you’ve earned the right to expect to win. Delivering on that expectation is what the fifth E, Executing with Excellence, is all about.


I create a table of the 5-E’s and use it to help me either diagnose or proactively plan a project.

When using the model diagnostically, I simply ask questions about what was done for each step. Typically, I’ll need to interview a number of people involved with the project to get a good handle on the history. What I usually find is that steps were either skipped or had huge gaps. I find the gaps are often in the Envision or Enroll steps of the process; but they can be throughout. Eliminating the gaps generally puts the project back on the path to success.

When I use the process for proactively managing a project, I create specific action plans for each step as well as measures to know I have completed the step in a quality way. I think through how to communicate the vision, who I need to have “own” the vision and what the real win is for them. I figure out how to articulate the benefits of achieving the vision and how to bring them to life in a heart and mind opening way. I determine what is needed from a resource, knowledge and skill perspective to deliver the vision and I make plans to ensure all are available. Then I figure out who needs to accomplish what by when in order to execute the plan on budget and in time.

I know it may seem like a lot of planning. But, my experience has been that investing time up front to ensure everything is in place for success actually saves time in the long run.

Does this process always lead to success? No. Actually, it sometimes leads to killing a project because the probability of failure becomes obvious. I have had situations when diagnosing a problem that it is clear there is no alignment on the vision, or the right people are not bought in and will likely never be for reasons outside the leader’s control. Or, there have been times when it has become clear the project was never going to get the resources required for success. In my mind, deciding to kill a project that is doomed from the start can be considered a win because it avoids spending both budget and political capital on a lost cause.

I have found the above process helpful and have used some variation over my 35-years as a brand builder to help effectively manage projects. I have created an easy to use template entitled “5-E Leadership Model” for you, if you would like to give the process a try.

If you were sitting in Frisch’s Big Boy and your mentor asked you the same question, what would your answer be? What process do you use? Please consider sharing your tips on effectively leading complex projects by leaving a comment.

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8 Comments so far

  1. Tim McBreen

    March 16, 2010

    There is no exact laundry list of qualities that everybody needs to have. I concentrate on basic qualities as I am not a big believer that you have to have tremendous in-depth industry knowledge to succeed. The qualities that I believe result in success are:

    Strategic – Has the ability to think at business strategic levels as well as technology. Can relate patterns quickly to determine how to best contribute to the business strategy as well as build a strategic technology solution platform to support the strategy. This includes development of tactical steps required to get to the strategic solution and built in flexibilty to adapt to changing business climates.

    Relator – Has the ability to relate to all levels of people within the company. This includes the CXO levels across the business all the way down to the actual business users. The same thing holds true for the technology side. They can talk with ease at any level and adapt their communication style to match the audience.

    Achiever – Has a strong need to achieve not only for himself but for others and the company. This means that he will always be looking out for how things can be done better and more successfully.

    Activator – Always working to pro-actively makes thing happen for the business as well as the technology area. Constant controlled change and chaos is part of the equation as the person never wants to just be satisfied that things are okay.

    Arranger – Has the ability to put together the pieces of the puzzle required to make sure things succeed and to adapt quickly where needed if things are not going great. This arranging requires understanding the successful patterns required to implement initiatives across multiple business and technology boundaries. It includes internal and external resources, partners and users.

    I have also seen some great leaders who don’t have all 5 of these qualities, but understand them enough to put together a team that complements them and fills in the gaps.

  2. Erica Berman

    March 17, 2010

    My leadership tip is simple: Hold Yourself Accountable. The “do as I say, not as I do” model is present in many sales cultures today. I am sure that most would agree that this is not an effective leadership strategy. I learned this lesson because I was both a bad manager and good manager in my past. Now my goal is to just be accountable for everything I do or say I will do. Learn by example what have you….that is how I do it!

    ~Erica Berman
    The Creative Group

  3. Mohan Dharmarajan

    March 18, 2010

    Supplying aceptable vision, I would say. Or efective leadership is more important than just leadership. Such as leaders who would use nuclear energy for power generation or distribution.

    Secondly, the qualities should be something worthy of emulating or passing down the line. In todays context, a leader driving forces to lay guns to rest may be more aceptable.

    There needs to be governance above leaders – morals, philosophies, ethics and cultures. Flirting not allowed in high offices, for example may be worth implementing.

    All these are otherwise called – authentic leadership. Judged by its civility and class. Superior leadership.

    Now, if you have these – then divide that leadership into 4.

    1. Strategic
    2. Directive
    3. Operational (include HR)
    4. Co-ordinative

    March towards your vision.


  4. Barbara Brenner

    March 18, 2010

    I don’t necessarily think of my approach to managing projects as a “process” or a system. I try to consider a project’s dimensions in terms of concrete issues such as Budget and Timing, as well as “people” issues such as engagement, special skills, and creative input. I agree that it’s just as important to identify when a project is a no-go because the resources are just not there to support its success. Why waste time on projects doomed to fail? Of course, there are other times when a project may just require a scaling back, not a total abandonment. The hard part is determining if scaling back will result in a product or outcome which fails to meet the standards of the company.

  5. Imelda McGrattan

    March 19, 2010

    In business and government today we have become quite adept at repairing symptoms, what we see on the surface. The reality is in the majority of cases the real problem; the cause of the symptoms isn’t being investigated and analyzed.

    We have become experts in crisis management. The lure of short term financial gains and market share without strategically focusing on the longterm mission has become a current trend. It is time to re-evaluate the longterm value and direction one hopes their business will make. How will it contribute to not only your own success but that of your employees, customers, country and economy?

    We need to retrain the brain to look at the three critical areas of a business, its vision, its mission and its contribution to society. It is imperative to keep stretching our mental muscles or else they will become inflexible, rigid and stagnate. It is essential that after each crisis management fix that we do not return to our usual routines too quickly but analyze the real issues that contributed to the crisis and put processes and warning flags in place to ensure they don’t happen again.

    Good leaders will take ownership and put a taskforce in place to ask then analyze the following – Are we concentrating our efforts too much in the one area? Are there deficiencies in other areas we have not yet identified? Are our reactions too slow to anticipate or react to what lies ahead?

    Do we honestly have complete clarity and an overview of our whole business with input from various perspectives? Have we been thorough or are we just doing enough to get by and hoping that changes in the market will save us?

  6. […]   […]

  7. […] I have written on this model before. It is my favorite way to think about leadership. In this last of the 12-part series on leadership, I thought it might be instructional to describe what “good looks like” for each step of the model. […]

  8. Johng33

    May 4, 2014

    Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently! egdkdfbbdfbf

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