The Project Management Project (C2)

Leadership and boss archetypes

A manager stands where he sits; the leader sits where he stands

Last week, I introduced the idea of the leadership spectrum, to help differentiate the causes and effects of various kinds of authority immanent to an individual’s emotional make-up.  Today, the three useful archetypes are explored:  the manager, the leader, and the tyrant.  The remaining three will be explored in a later article.

Manager archetype.  The manager is a role created by the organization.  The role is externally created, externally justified and externally controlled (by a higher boss).  The manager exists to serve the needs of the organization rather than subordinates’.  The authority flows from the organization, imperviously from the expectations of the subordinates.  The functions of the manager are oriented towards the orchestration of the work.  The successful manager understands the purpose of the organization and its functional hierarchy, the roles of other managers, the capacity and limits of its immediate functional group, and the overall capabilities of the organization.  A good manager focuses on the work to be done, the necessary mechanics and mechanisms, the human resources required and the input/output needs of inter-dependent groups.  The manager operates according to objectives defined by others.  A good manager follows orders, rules and regulations.  He goes with the flow of his superiors and instinctively delegates upward when faced with difficult decisions.

 Leader archetype.  The leader is altogether a different beast.  His authority flows from the subordinates’ willingness to submit to his volition.  Subordinates willingly do this when they anticipate the leader’s ability to fulfil their own needs.  Consequently, the authority of a leader is granted by the subordinates, imperviously from the expectations of the organization.  This is the crucial difference between leading and managing.  The leader rules by consent of the ruled; the manager, by consent of the ruler.  A leader is moved by different motivations than the manager.  The manager is motivated to do things right.  The leader seeks to do the right thing.  When in doubt, the leader’s reflex is to seek counsel from within.  The manager will consult his superiors. That is not to say that one reflex is better than the other.  Each reflex has a place and time.  In the wrong place or time, either reflex produces the wrong outcome, in the most wrong way possible.  Why should that be?

The answer is found in their respective thymotic [a neat word that is worth looking up!)  needs. The leader operates from personal conviction.  His motivation, regardless of the purity of the intent, which may not align with the expectations of the organization.  It is this moral imperative that renders leaders so effective in times of emotional duress.  The same imperative, in more benign circumstances, can lead to management discord.  On the other hand, a manager who chooses to defer to higher authority when the path seems uncertain or threatening may lose all ability to stir the group into action.  The leader is less likely than the manager to will play a zero-sum game tilted in favour of the organization at the expense of the team.  Such instances will arise in business, demanding a certain level of gumption lacking in the weak.

Tyrant archetype.  This archetype is self-evident.  This is the individual whose reflex is to assume sole control and operates by the dictum “the means justifying the end”.  The tyrant is comfortable with power, and obsessed, in extremis.  He is more likely to dictate than negotiate and expects unconditional obedience from subordinates.  Their concerns are secondary to his objectives.  They are, in his eyes, expandable as circumstances require.  Tyrants are prone to micro-management, vilify delegation and refuse to yield.  There are instances when a tyrant can be useful, preferably with a hint of benevolent character.  When things have gone off the rails, the strong hand of a tyrant may be the only viable option to get things back on track.

Matching the archetypes.  The boss archetype should be the same for the project manager and his immediate superior, pursuant to the principle of sui generis (see below) which states that two or more people involved in a direct reporting structure will ideally work best when of the same archetype.  The principle does not imply nor endorse nepotism or sycophancy: coteries and cabals are nefarious to any organization.  It is there to recognize the fact that organizations function best when direct reports share the values and expectations of their superiors. Perennially argumentative relationships do not work in favour of the project.  Unlike affairs of the heart, in projects, opposites do not attract.  Mismatches between a boss and a superior will often suffer from un-tuned values, divergent expectations, clashing modus operandi and antagonistic conflict resolution.  Fault lines will appear over time under conditions of stress or strain.  Nothing can come out of it unscathed.  Worst of all is the case of the dynamic duo headed by a “manager” boss directing a “leader” project manager.  Under duress, each will instinctively revert to their characteristic selves, at the expense of the ultimate good of the project.  One can never eliminate entirely the risk of “yesmanship”, which can be mitigated when professionals are trusted to act professionally.  It is much better for a company boss, who is at heart a manager type, to hire a manager type as project boss, and likewise, for a natural leader type to nominate a leader type as project manager.

To manage or to lead, that is the questionThe needs of the project must dominate the selection of its boss.  Experience matters but archetypes matter more.  The manager archetype is best when:

  • The owner-developer relationship is well established.
  • The nature of the project is already familiar to the organization and modeled on the success of past projects with similar scope and size.
  • The scope of the project is fixed at the outset, unlikely to be changed during execution, and matching past execution schemes.
  • The project scale is small, relative to the organization’s history.
  • The work is to be executed recurrently over long periods of time, in small-scope increments.
  • Conversely, the leader archetype is better suited when:
  • The owner-developer relationship is new.
  • The owner organization, or the developer organization, or both, will involve multiple partners.
  • The nature of the project is new to the owner’s organization, either in scope or scale compared to past experiences.
  • The scope of the project is not yet fixed at the start and likely to be changed during execution.
  • The project’s complexity is high, compared to the organization’s portfolio history.
  • Project expectations for cost containment, schedule compliance, labor pool access and supply chain logistics present material risk to the project’s success.
  • In doubt.
  • Finally, the tyrant archetype can be considered (carefully) when:
  • The project has gone off the rails in a major way, is woe behind schedule or grossly over budget.
  • The client relationship is severely damaged and nearing the point of no return.
  • Staffing upheavals and rampant discontent adversely impact the project’s execution or progress.
  • The strategic importance to the organization is such that its failure threatens its very survival.

The principle of sui generisThe sui generis principle applies to the hierarchy of a project and to the highest level of management (between owner and framework leader, framework leader and project manager, and project manager with key subordinates).  At lower levels, the principle can be relaxed as follows.

  • The manager archetype is suited to areas of accountability characterized by predictability, repeatability, and the use of standard processes and procedures. Examples include administration, costing and scheduling, quality assurance, simulations and modeling, IT support, drafting and drawings, time keeping, documentation management and regulatory compliance.
  • The leader archetype is suited to areas of accountability where outcomes are prone to variations, re-direction, change, perspective reconciliation and conflicts. Or, to put it simply, when activities are shaped by human interactions (recall the relationship nexus definition).  Contracts and procurement, design evolution, innovation, change management, stakeholder containment and construction oversight are typical examples. Crisis management, public relations and operational readiness are especially well served by this archetype.
  • The tyrant archetype is not routine and applies to the special circumstances discussed above.

In the next article, the bane of all projects will be addressed: the boss archetypes to avoid at all costs.

Further insights can be gleaned from chapter 3 of Investment-Centric Project Management, available on




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