Meet Mr. Sisyphus: Project Manager

“I feel like that guy pushing the rock up the hill.  It is just never ending!”

Years ago I worked for a brief period in the outplacement field.  It was no surprise then to hear people think of their jobs this way.  But today, I still hear it more often than I would have expected from people who hope that coaching will help them get out from under the rock.

The irony is that the myth might have been more accurate years ago.  Sisyphus was in fact being punished.  He was given a never ending, mentally demeaning task with no hope of rest or promotion.  As I think about it, I wonder why Sisyphus has never shown up as a Dilbert character.

But for leaders who are pushing a huge project up a hill, the mythical pattern is not so clear.  It is usually safe to say that the deliverable that they have been assigned is important to the company.  In most cases, it is a bigger rock than the last one and represents a promotion.  And in most cases, they have staff, resource and time needed and a clear delivery outcome.  Unlike Sisyphus, this leader puts himself under the rock and keeps himself there.

What would happen if this leader took his accountabilities (not the list of tasks, but the accountability for delivery) and divided them up among others?  What if he developed more powerful skills for collaboration and inspiration?  In an idealized world, there would instantly be more hands on the rock.  Of course this assumes that there are people talented enough to take the accountability, collaborate well and deliver. The modern day Sisyphus is under the rock because he believes that he is the only one capable.  So the big question becomes, “Even if our modern Sisyphus is the only one capable of delivering results, what would happen if he insisted on delegating?”

If we take it as a given that our leader is not going to just dump responsibility on those not capable, then his entire job focus would have to shift. 

  • Instead of remaining purely focused on pushing the rock, he would have to focus on developing or attracting capable directs. 
  • He would have to pay attention to communications, risk mitigation and the wider environment in which the project or department operates. 
  • He would need to learn to support others in the production of real work, rather than assign tasks and track activity.

Isn’t that what a leader does?