A Leadership Paradigm Shift for Strategic PM’s

Leadership is complicated. There are many tools and techniques out here – and yet we often default to using an approach that maps to what motivates and inspires us – but not necessarily others.

This post reviews several common approaches to inspiring and motivating others. It then explores a simpler and more versatile approach that can bring more clarity to the leadership task. Finally, it looks at the impact to strategy and project management of such an approach to leadership.

Leadership Theory Paradigms

Leadership Paradigm ShiftThere are many ways to think about leadership. But in the end, isn’t it all about effectiveness – at communicating a vision, laying out a path, and implementing?

While that sounds simple, it is quite a challenge to do those things. There is a huge amount of literature on leadership to help…

Much of leadership is about motivation and inspiration. So the question is, from a practical standpoint, what motivates and inspires? Here are a few practical techniques that are commonly used to motivate and inspire.

  • Incentives
  • Praise
  • Disincentives
  • Autonomy
  • Challenge

We have all been motivated at one time or another by one or more of these. Indeed, from an early age of getting involved with social activities, sports, and volunteering, these types of things are common themes. They tend to become more formalized or embedded in the culture once we find ourselves working within organizations.

Let’s look in more detail at each of these techniques.

Leadership Technique #1: Incentives

Incentives motivate – but do not necessarily inspire – people to different degrees. Some people are almost entirely motivated by incentives, while others very minimally. Incentives are an extrinsic, as opposed to intrinsic, motivator.

Here are some key incentives that are typically used:

  • Compensation – Salary and related.
  • Bonuses – Extra compensation, usually based on personal and team performance.
  • Benefits – Health, insurance, and other packages.
  • Perks – Tickets to games or events, auto and related costs, special events…

The problem most common with incentives is that they generally do not last. If the incentive is not in the near term, it has less motivational effect. More intrinsic things motivate people in the longer term.

Leadership Technique #2: Praise

Wisdom says that a little praise goes a long way. Indeed, it does…and the lack of it can do a lot of damage!

Praise, like Incentives, is an extrinsic motivator. It is something that comes from the outside.

The difference with Praise, as opposed to Incentives, is that it is free and unlimited to give. Thus, the near-term shortcoming of Incentives can be avoided. On the other hand, Praise cannot be overdone and needs to be sincere – all the time – or it loses value and can even turn negative.

In my opinion, praise should be a common practice. In the words of Dale Carnegie, giving “honest and sincere appreciation” is a best practice in all communications, including leadership. It is an essential ingredient to healthy relationships.

Leadership Technique #3: Disincentives

Disincentives are in some ways closely related to Incentives, but in other ways very different.

  • Related to Incentives – Disincentives hold back on such extrinsic motivators as raises, bonuses, and perks.
  • Unrelated to Incentives – A Disincentive might be withholding recognition, not giving praise, not acknowledging. Most things in this category are behavioral, but can also include withholding a promotion or desired assignment.

Disincentives can produce fear and uncomfortable feelings. To the extent that an individual wants to avoid those feelings, he/she will be motivated by a Disincentive to do something.

I think Disincentives are less effective today than in previous times. With phenomenons like “the great resignation” and the increasing view that employees are free agents, people are more likely to resist behavioral Disincentives. They also may tend to move on from the organization with lack of extrinsic motivators – but that may be the desired outcome anyway!

Leadership Technique #4: Autonomy

Being in control of one’s destiny is desired my many – but not all.

  • Desire Autonomy – Some people thrive on the opportunity to be personally in control of their own destiny.
  • Avoid Autonomy – Other people are more team-oriented and thrive on being an integral part of team efforts.

There is room for different types of people in organizations, but everyone needs to take responsibility. Some simply will want to take responsibility and be accountable where they have more Autonomy, while others may prefer sharing responsibilities across a team, and being accountable for a piece of the effort and to the team.

Part of the key is to match individuals with assignments that match their need for Autonomy – where possible. But in all cases, people need to take accountability for their actions, or lack.

Leadership Technique #5: Challenge

Needs for a Challenge also vary among people.

  • Steady Motivation – Some people are consistently motivated at a strong level, no matter what challenges their situation brings. These people are steady and reliable, and can generally set their own challenges and meet them.
  • Need for a Challenge – Some people respond well to a challenge – but are otherwise not sufficiently motivated. It is generally easy to identify a short-term challenge or goal to frame and set for them to achieve.

This is an interesting and practical distinction. As a leader it is helpful to be able to determine what makes each person tick and motivate them accordingly.

A Breakthrough Leadership Technique?

fannessThe above sections outlined five leadership techniques for motivating and inspiring people.

But, as a leader, which one(s) do we use?

And, knowing that there are even more techniques, the challenge of motivating and inspiring becomes quite ominous!

It really caught my interest when I read about one technique – termed “fanness”, or being a fan – that is universally applicable and pulls all the other choices together. Indeed, the idea of being a fan of the people we are leading can lead us to give them what they want and need to be inspired and motivated.

I discovered the technique of ‘fanness’ at Admired Leadership.

The simple approach is – rather than to get bogged down in a myriad of techniques…or to default to applying the things that motivate us to everyone else… – to be a raging fan of those who we lead.

Being a fan has a natural way of getting us outside ourselves, focusing on the other person, and adapting our approach to what they need.

Leadership and Strategy

In part, leadership is vision. That’s why strategy is so closely aligned with leadership. Vision, strategy, and leadership are very tightly coupled.

However, strategy does not take into account what it takes to, in practice, motivate individuals, or groups of people, to execute the strategy. Gaining buy in for a vision is hard work. Implementation is hard work.

From a strategic standpoint, this blog has explored numerous approaches to implementation. The following is a list of ‘implementation frameworks’ that are part of the lexicon of strategy:

Now these are all frameworks – and still do not hit the mark on how to inspire and motivate people! Only strong leadership will, in the end, bring strategic results to reality.

Leadership and Project Management

It is commonly accepted that most of a project manager’s job is to communicate. A great deal of this communication is in the form of leadership.

It’s a process of taking a strategy and building a project or program plan – and then executing. There is so much communication involved in building the plan, connecting with stakeholders, finding and building the team – and inspiring and motivating them to project success.

Thinking about the idea of fanness is a different approach than applying a methodology. Being a fan – and leading the way – is more about emotional intelligence, connecting, and soft skills than about applying management techniques and frameworks.

I find the idea of being a fan appealing in its simplicity; it’s relatable and easy to understand, and helps me to put myself into the other’s shoes!


This post has reviewed several leadership paradigms – Incentives, Praise, Disincentives, Autonomy, and Challenge. It has reviewed the complexity of leadership, and identified a more straightforward and versatile approach – ‘fanness’ – brought forward by Admired Leadership. Finally, it looked at the impact to strategy and project management of such an approach to leadership.

How do you motivate and inspire people?

Here is a 21 minute video on ‘Fanness’ from Admired Leadership:

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