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April 14, 2013

Phil Buckley In this post I’m sharing a book I recently read, along with many of its key highlights and my personal thoughts.

The author, Phil Buckley, has over 20 years of experience working with organizations in many countries on corporate change initiatives. One of his most recent projects involved the $20 billion acquisition of Cadbury by Kraft Foods. This project comprised a team of 40 professionals across 60 countries.

The full title of his book is Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night. Yes, it’s long descriptive title, but at least it’s not some vague shrill for leading change. I’ll return later for a personal thought on a what-could-have-been.

Buckley writes clearly and succinctly, a virtue in my opinion. The entire book is just 242 pages and would fit easily into the side pocket of a laptop. Why is this important?

Because: a) reading time is money, and b) space is a premium, whether you’re jetsetting or just finding space at work or at home. In other words, in the vernacular there’s too much business BS out there, books that are full of redundant padding. Buckley understands this and has written a book–I prefer the term “guide”–to help those managing or involved in projects. And keep in mind, while you may instinctively think of the corporate world, Change with Confidence is very relevant to the public and not-for-profit sectors.

What’s unique about Change with Confidence is that it integrates project management (not the most exciting topic) with leadership and its associated implications for human dynamics within organizational walls. Buckley has successfully produced a book–guide–for project managers who wish to embed leadership into their work.

I alluded to at the beginning that I had a what-could-have-been thought. Having been involved personally in numerous corporate projects over 30 plus-years, and given my passion for the lifelong pursuit of understanding leadership, the title that suddenly emerged for this book is, The Project Manager’s Guide to Achieving Extra-Ordinary Results through Engaged Leadership.

Okay Phil, you’re allowed to shoot me.

So what’s Phil Buckley talking about? Here are some main highlights.

Change The book is structured around 50 questions that Buckley has been asked frequently over many years. Four main sections make it up:

1) Figuring it out
2) Planning for change
3) Managing change
4) Making change stick

In each of these four sections he discusses a number of issues, each based on one of the 50 questions. For example, question number one in the first section is “what do I bring to the project?” Question number 50 is “How do I know that the project was a success?”

In addition, he uses an interesting approach in providing real life examples in each chapter, called “Thumbs Down, Thumbs Up.” Here, he presents a failure or a difficulty in a corporate project; then a thumbs-up success story as a contrast. This is a big benefit to the book (more on this in a moment).

Buckley hits on some critical issues, such as corporate culture and embedded myths which can derail projects. I would have liked more on corporate culture; however, I’m showing my bias here based on my work background. I’m just pleased that he incorporated at various places organizational dynamics and their effects on project management.

Chapter 21, on how to get leaders to personally commit to a project, contains an opening powerful statement:
“People will emulate leaders’ behaviours, believing they have silent permission to parrot actions demonstrated at the top of the power hierarchy. Leaders’ lack of visible commitment, reluctance to adopt new behaviours, and/or poor attendance at project review meetings will result in similar actions from their teams. Conversely, aligned, energized and fully supportive leaders will motivate and galvanize their teams to adopt new ways of working and endure difficult transitions.”

Go back and read this again. Then take a moment to reflect on it.

My one criticism with this book has to do with the thumbs-up/thumbs-down anecdotes in each chapter. While there is some diversity of examples, too many are oriented towards Cadbury, which reflects the author’s experience. However, don’t let that deter you; there are plenty of other examples from which to draw best or worst practices. I would have liked to see more diversity in examples.

It’s rare that one comes across a book, or article, that integrates project management with leadership. I have project management books, and I can attest that they’re dry as heck to read. Phil Buckley’s book is not a chore to read, and indeed can be easily used as a reference to specific topics. You don’t have to read it in the typical linear fashion.

If you’re involved in project management work at whatever level (essentially a given in today’s organizational world), then I recommend your checking out Change with Confidence. It will be worth your while.

Allocating ample resources is a telltale sign to the organization that the effort is a true priority.
– Linda Ackerman Anderson and Dean Anderson

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