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Coaching for Project Success
By Tom Ferguson

Project managers, are you playing the hero? Get off the stage and leave it to your team. Focus on giving them the limelight by developing and unleashing their collective passion, energy and creativity. Create inspiring visions with ambitious goals and dreams. Then act as coach to mine their hidden depths for possibilities, actions and solutions. Achieve the impossible in your projects.

Sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? The performance bar has been raised to new heights in the corporate world. Everyone is talking about change, reinvention and how we must be knowledge workers and learning organisations. Coaching is the new management. Many of the leading business corporations are putting executive coaching at the centre of their management practice.

They are attempting to develop the kind of leaders that will create the extraordinary organisations that will be necessary to compete tomorrow. Leaders at all levels are creating a new paradigm. The central theme of this paradigm is that you rise to the greatest heights of personal success by coaching others to be successful.

Your motivation changes from being self serving to wanting to make a difference for others, for individuals, teams and organisations. We admire those who we perceive as standing out from the crowd who have an impact, who are different, who make a difference, who contribute, who are effective. Maybe we need to become one of those people?

And we all know people like this. Maybe it was a particular teacher or boss who made a difference in our own lives? Some of them enabled us to mine the hidden ravines of our minds to reveal ideas, possibilities and results that we thought impossible. Others may have given us an insight into who we really were and what was important to us. Yet others may have passed on life experiences that helped us to grow up

These people had special characteristics. It was important for them to make a difference, to contribute and they were passionate about using their insights to help others. In doing what they did, they got off the stage and gave it to you. And you were amazed by your performance.

So what is the relevance for project managers? Many project managers, including myself, love project management because it puts us centre stage. We get our kicks out of overcoming all adversity and pulling it off. We bask in our own glory and wonder at the further opportunities it will bring. We are heroes. Our motivation is self serving. Team is secondary.

The new paradigm is especially relevant for projects and project managers. How will these organisations make the transition to the organisations they need to be in the future? By projects of course. There will be lots of them and traditional project management leadership models will not be good enough. Extraordinary change will require extraordinary projects led by extraordinary project managers. Project managers and projects must reinvent themselves in the image of the new paradigm.

The starting point is to change our mental models of relationship with our teams from one of self, authority, superiority, arrogance and distance to one of partnership, closeness and emotional commitment. A true partnership approach sees us all as being equals capable of extraordinary contributions. Emotional commitment is won by appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry is about the search for the best in people, their organisations and their broader worlds. It is about discovery of what forces are at play when a living system is most alive, most creative, most happy and most effective in all areas of their lives, including work. At the heart of appreciative inquiry is artful questioning.

Artful questioning has the capability to unleash the ability of others to deepen their understanding, heighten their awareness and use their imaginations to be creative. The philosophy states that we are all capable of making remarkable contributions by accessing knowledge and solutions that are already within us. Artful questioning provides that access.

Compare this paradigm to where project management is mostly at now. Relationship to team is at the polar opposite and characterised by negativity, criticism, stifling micromanagement, conflict and blame. Appreciative enquiry can transform this into autonomy, positivism, dreams, creativity, discovery, and solutions. It builds a bridge to the new paradigm.

Is this an impossible pipedream? Certainly not.

© Tom Ferguson 2010

Tom Ferguson has over fifteen year’s Project Management experience across both the public and private sectors. He holds a Masters in Project Management from the University of Limerick, a B.Sc. in Information Technology from Dublin City University and a Diploma in Executive Coaching from the Irish Management Institute (IMI).

In addition, he has been certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and as a Certified Training Professional (CTP) by the Irish Computer Society.

Tom runs his own company dedicated to collaborating with organisations to make their projects work. For more information, please visit

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