Leadership Models that Work | Donald G. Gardner, PMP

I look at leadership through the lens of my 50-year career as a project manager (PM)/coach.

A number of years ago, I was teaching project management strategies to a group of senior IT and sales managers as part of my consultancy.  During the course of our conversations, it became clear to me that ‘project management’ was more properly defined as, ‘Project Leadership.’

In the mid-70s, I learned during my stint as a new project manager (PM) that my job, as related to me by a senior manager, is to “get a bunch of people who don’t work for me to do what I have asked them to do.”   When I responded, “How do I do that?”   I was told that “I have to look inside for the answer.”

It all made sense, although not initially.  ‘Look inside’… it was all about leadership.  Who I am being.   I soon learned that the more prepared I was, the more these stakeholders were willing to trust me, follow my leadership and put their people’s, and their own, time into my projects.  This preparation included: meetings, holding the vision and bring clarity to the team, hit target dates, fulfill commitments, hold stakeholders accountable and communicate regularly.

As my career advanced, I started to help educate and coach many project leaders and their managers.  I developed a curriculum that assisted these folks at many critical junctures. including when they are handed an assignment to manage a particular project, given the scope and time frame for delivery and a few numbers of essential subject matter experts to call, and they say “Now what do I do?”

My teaching curriculum is fundamental: in addition to the basics of project management – also includes How are you leading yourself; How can you lead teams; How can you lead others who are not necessarily associated with a project.

My coaching is derived from the years of PM experience and from the training that I have provided.  The focus is building high-performing teams, driving innovation, navigating change.   When I coach leaders, or those who aspire to leadership, I use a few easy-to-grasp models.  Let’s look at a few.


First, I ask the coachees to define: their role (on the team, in the department. in the organization); their objectives for that role; and their expectations … of themselves, of their managers, of their teams.  I call this their Foundation.  I often get some pushback regarding expectations of their managers.  “How can I ask that??”  Well, your managers can (and should) have expectations of you.  You can (and should) have expectations of them.  And say so.  Leaders can define their foundation, determine where they are now in their development, where they need to be and, together through the coaching, chart a path to get there.   We are constantly pulled in different directions… by our project stakeholders, our managers, our project team members, our internal and external stakeholders.  The key is to try to keep ourselves centered.  This Foundation is intended to help do that.

Other Useful Models

In addition to the Role-Objectives-Expectations Foundation above, I have used other disciplines to assist in the day-to-day work of leading projects and leading teams.

Some examples include: Delegation, Situational Leadership Analysis, How we communicate, Distinguishing ‘leading’ from ‘managing’, recognizing Readiness in your team (distinguish willingness to do the work from ability), leading through Power and Influence, and the fundamentals of Meeting Management.  Let’s sample a few.


“I can do this task in half the time it would take to train my team member to do it.”  How many times have you heard/said that before?  So, who loses in this situation?  Your team member doesn’t learn the new task (for the next time); You are unable to get to your more strategic tasks; and the Company doesn’t get the best from either of you.  As leaders, we must understand when to hold tasks and when to let go… not abdicate responsibility… but rather, delegate responsibly.  Your desks are filled with assignments, tasks, deliverables, etc.  As leaders, we benefit by using smart delegation techniques to train our people as thoroughly as possible and free ourselves for our primary work.  It’s a real investment.

Managing meetings

How healthy are your meetings?  We depend upon meetings to communicate… policies, plans, status, information.  If our meetings are run efficiently, use attendees’ time professionally, and provide proper follow-up, then our position as leader will be enhanced.  If not, our meetings are seen as a waste of time, folks don’t show up and our plans go astray. There are three fundamental sets of guidelines that we can follow.

  1. How to prepare before the meeting: purpose, objectives, type of work required, who participates and what do they need, and of course, the agenda.
  2. During the meeting: whose meeting is it? Open with agenda, understand roles (leader, facilitator, scribe, time keeper); stay focused; close with action items, when to meet next, clear out ‘parking lot.’
  3. After the meeting: Get the minutes out, fast; assess meeting results and process.

Of course, not every meeting will require the rigor shown above.  You can be the judge of when to apply some or all of these guidelines.

And, finally, Leading through Power and Influence

Remember my example from the intro to this article?  My first exposure to project management was being told I needed to ‘look inside’ for the authority to get people to work my agenda.  I learned soon enough that, unless I could influence the stakeholders I needed to execute the project, I was on my own.

The difference between the two distinctions, broadly, is:

  • Power is something you have
  • Influencing is something you do

Put another way: inside Power lies the potential to mobilize resources to Influence others.  We can use influence as a means by which we use power to change attitudes or behaviors.

So, we have the opportunity to operate on a higher level than the day-to-day task management model.  It all depends on who and how you are being in your role as leader.  By looking inside.  By shifting your thinking, you can generate possibility for leadership and then step into that possibility.

Donald G. Gardner, PMP

A seasoned leadership coach, both here and abroad, Donald’s career spans more than 45 years.  His project management experience includes managing global project teams and executing project management strategies in the financial service, healthcare and IT sectors. 

Donald is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP).  He has managed projects globally and has built PM methodologies and Project Management Offices at many corporations, such as, Citibank, Bloomberg, Bank Leumi and Deutsche Bank and consulted in direct banking and healthcare delivery strategies for Benton International.  He was one of the principle architects for Citibank’s Global Project Office and led the team that created and delivered the Advanced Project Management Course, worldwide.  He served as National Citicard Project Manager and as Citibank Consumer Bank Project Risk Review Director.

His leadership development expertise has grown out of his approach to project leadership.   Through his consultancy over the past 20 years, Gardner Project Integration Group, Donald has coached hundreds of Team Leads and Managers in the US, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Donald’s warm and engaging personality and deep sector knowledge have enabled him to help leaders and their teams reach new levels of excellence, higher productivity levels and job satisfaction.  His coaching style provides a safe, intimate space where leaders are free to explore their strengths and performance obstacles; results in increased confidence and improved communication skills, both in the workplace and beyond.  They remain focused under day to day challenges; management style and skills are sharpened.

Sample client feedback:

  • This intimate setting allowed me to talk about issues I was facing as a Team Lead.
  • Meetings with Donald provided a venue where I could think safely about and discuss the managerial portions of the job.
  • Donald helped me ask the right questions at a time when I was struggling with getting my team up to speed.
  • Gave me the confidence to communicate with people on my team.
  • Helped me accelerate my progress as a team leader.

Other benefits of his coaching:

Projects delivered more successfully with improved time-to-market; Business partner communication improved; Confidence increased; Fewer conflicts, greater productivity, better delegation, workplace morale is enhanced.



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