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Managing Complex Projects and Programs: How to Improve Leadership of Complex Initiatives Using a Third-Generation Approach by Richard J. Heaslip

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Chapter 1The Exhilaration and Exasperation of Project and Program Leadership

I recall to this day the first time I acted as a project leader. It happened quite by accident. I was a fifteen-year-old volunteer who, for reasons I didn’t understand, had just been asked to co-manage the opening of a coffee house for teens in the basement of a local church. It was an unlikely request; I was a very quiet kid who didn’t really like coffee, and it wasn’t my church. But Martin, the adult in charge of the project, had for some reason picked me from among a group of interested friends to fill the role “for a while.” (I learned later that such deception is common in the recruitment of first-time project leaders!) I hesitantly agreed after recognizing that it would enable me to assign my closest friends to the choice roles. (I thought that was a good thing.) The goal, I believed, was simple: To organize coffee house events that gave teens someplace fun to go on cold Saturday nights. For Martin, though, it was something different. The project was part of a bigger program intended to teach teens about accepting responsibility, working in teams, and developing leadership skills—perhaps as a diversion from the riskier distractions of the early 1970s.

The coffee house openings became popular events in our town, but preparing for them was a lot more work than I had anticipated. I wasn’t really sure of what was expected of me in my “leader” role. I filled the role as best I could, mostly by cataloging ...

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