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Gorilla Project Blogs: Effective Project Leadership
Project Management Leadership - Ender's Game “Fairness is a wonderful attribute, Major Anderson. It has nothing to do with war.”
Colonel Graff,'Ender's Game (Chapt. 8 - 'Rat')

I have just finished reading a very insightful book on leadership and project management (no, not the manuscript of the next Gorilla Theory book!). Not only did the book give yet more reason to seek applicable business lessons in a variety of sources, it provided an intense case study of team relationship dynamics, leadership, and managing and completing a Silverback project on time and successfully. The book? Orson Scott Card's 'Ender's Game'.

The book is described as a military science fiction novel, following the journey of Ender Wiggin who is selected and trained up to be the saviour of earth, the greatest military leader for generations. I enjoyed the story for what it is and I enjoyed and recognised the parallels with the life of a project and the people tasked with delivering projects.

Starting with the novel's main protagonist, Ender Wiggin, he shone a light on the intricacies and difficulties in establishing credibility, overcoming obstacles, and leadership.

His great potential and the urgency brought on by the threat of extinction from the next bugger attack meant that Ender was usually the youngest and smallest in his training school teams and classes. With no friends and isolated due to comments from the supervising teacher (Colonel Graff), Ender had to show to his fellow students that he wasn't a weakling pushover, and that he was a very talented student - superior to them all.

The bully, Bernard felt the force of Ender's show of strength, he quickly rose to the top of the class by excelling in the lesson's applying objective and insightful analysis, and by doing so, he established effective working relationships with his fellow students - overcoming being perceived as the 'teacher's pet, easy prey, and being the smallest child.

As his training progresses, so does Ender's self-awareness and realisation of his superiority. His preeminence separates him from fellow students he would have wanted as friends as well as comrades. He realises that he is being groomed for the highest military leadership positions and knows that he needs to act a certain way to maintain his authority and credibility.

A central Gorilla Theory principle is self-awareness: particularly, knowing exactly your place and responsibilities in a project, and to understand how you interact with your project team members (de-constructing problem and difficult relationships and keeping an eye on personal discipline and personality traits that may have negative impacts on your performance and team relationships).

Ender displays tremendous discipline to maintain his senior position and authority. Delivering a large project, starting a new business, rescuing a project gone wrong, and establishing a team or company culture needs consistency and discipline. Knowing how you have to behave and keeping your weak points from being a problem are essential to maintaining leadership. The biggest projects, the Silverbacks, tend to need strong leadership.

Colonel Graff is a master Gorilla Whisperer. He oversees the selection of Ender and his subsequent shaping into the most formidable military commander for generations. His role is fraught with risk of breaking Ender by pushing him too hard or by causing his alienation among his fellow cadets and students. He worries frequently whether he is doing the right thing or if he is being too hard on Ender, but he comforts himself in the data that he has gathered on Ender and in his confidence he has correctly gauged Ender's fortitude and determination to succeed.

Colonel Graff managed a huge number of Baby Gorillas, Troops of Gorillas, and the ultimate programme - to deliver an enemy-defeating Commander Ender Wiggin - Silverback Gorilla. Managing a number of large and small projects running in parallel and one after another requires a coordinated team effort, and great awareness, vigilance, and discipline. Colonel Graff exhibited all these Gorilla Whisperer traits, communicating regularly with his delegates and making contact with Ender himself when needed. Sue, he managed his great stress in a very unhealthy manner - by over eating - but he recognised the vice as a stress management reaction.

Central to Graff's control of the overall project, was his disciplined focus on the need for the success of the project - saving the human race from extinction by the bugger alien race - a military force that far outnumbered earth's armies and were more sophisticated in terms of weaponry and manoeuvres. Looking to the desired end goal always helps rationalise actions and necessary actions when managing tasks and projects.

Defeating a vast bugger army can be exchanged for launching your start-up's first product or service, opening a new shop, rescuing a Fortune 500 company from sliding out of the Fortune 500 or sliding into obscurity, delivering a national government digital health programme, laying out and implementing a strategy to win a national or global team sport title, and many more instances.

How to spot a Baby Gorilla
Baby gorillas are projects that are deemed small and straightforward, and it is assumed that enough information is known of what needs to be done (the full requirements and delivery specifications) to get the project delivered, but these details are either not gathered, defined and approved, and (usually) not enough time is given for the delivery. Baby gorillas tend to be media campaign, HTML newsletter, microsite, site/page update-style projects.
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All the Gorilla Theory project scenario solutions are supported by a checklist mechanism. The checklist mechanism supports the core principles of:

And don't forget to use your checklists!
We have tailored the Gorilla Theory checklists for each of the three problem scenarios. You can buy the project checklist pack or the full checklist pack: click here >

Useful Software
Useful Project Management Software
You are forewarned, so be forearmed. Check useful tools for managing your projects.
The Troop
Several projects on the go? Worried about how to cope successfully? Find out how.
The Silverback
The big beast of a project. Find out how to know you have one, and how to avoid being crushed by the sheer power. Learn to tame one.