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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