Unquestionably the single most important decision a sponsor makes is who will lead the initiative.
I have found it useful to return to the classics when asked to give guidance on this topic. Borrowing from writings on ancient Chinese military strategies*, T’ai Kung advised King Wu that when selecting a general, 5 critical talents and 10 errors must be considered. While waging war and leading projects are obviously different activities, from a leadership perspective they share more similarities than differences.
- Courage: being courageous blocks being overwhelmed
- Wisdom: being wise avoids being forced into turmoil
- Benevolence: being benevolent shows respect for the team
- Trustworthiness: being trustworthy counteracts deceitfulness
- Loyalty: being loyal prevents treachery
- Being courageous and treating death lightly: can be destroyed by violence
- Being hasty and impatient: can be destroyed by persistence
- Being greedy and loving profit: can be bribed
- Being benevolent but unable to inflict suffering: can be worn down
- Being wise but afraid: can be distressed
- Being trustworthy and liking to trust others: can be deceived
- Being scrupulous and incorruptible but not loving men: can be insulted
- Being wise but indecisive: can be suddenly attacked
- Being resolute and self-reliant: can be confounded by events
- Being fearful while liking to entrust responsibility to others: can be tricked
As T’ai Kung said, “The fate of the state lies with the general.” So to the fate of an initiative lies with its leader.
*From “The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, T’ai Kung’s Six Secret Teachings: A Discussion of Generals”, translated by Ralph D. Sawyer, Westview Press, 1993