Project Practitioners > Detachment is the Key to Leadership

Detachment is the Key to Leadership

By Chris Cook, PMP

READ TIME: 5 minutes


This story begins in the fourth grade. Pokemon Red and Blue were released for the Nintendo Game Boy. I became an instant fan and even started to collect the playing cards. Any time I would have free, you could see me playing this game trying to collect all of the Pokemon.

My need to collect them all started to infiltrate my time in school. I would want to play Pokemon at recess yet found myself involved with a soccer game or whatever event broke out on the playground. I was attached to my progress.

One day, a friend asked if he could play the game. I said yes. He would play during recess. A two-for-one win in my eyes. I could run around playing whatever game the class decided and collect more Pokemon at the same time. How awesome is that?!

My friend would report back to me after every recess letting me know which Pokemon he caught or what boss he beat. He would save the game, and I would continue to play at night. The progress we made was unbelievable.

Until one day, he went up against a legendary Pokemon, which only appear once during the game. If you lose, they go away forever. On this fateful afternoon, he lost, and the once-in-a-game Pokemon vanished. He saved over the game, which meant starting all over or continue without the rare bird.

I was devastated. My attachment to the game and my progress within it led me to overreact and almost lose a friend over it. To lead even one individual, detachment is a must. If I had broken free from my identity tied up in the progress of the game, I would have handled that situation much better. A tough lesson to teach a fourth grader, and one I learned the hard way.

So how can a project manager, one who invests time into a project and makes it his or her baby for days, months, years at a time, detach oneself?


  1. Relax

One of the worst things to tell an emotional person is to relax. However, if you internally tell yourself that, this makes it beneficial.

The goal of relaxation is to remove emotions from the decision making process. You want to be as calm and in control as possible.

Breathing techniques are numerous to create a relaxed feeling. Taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth is a great start. Do this for a minute, and you will realize your heart rate going down and a calm feeling taking over your body.

The only thought you should have at this stage is your breath. I realize this is a big ask because something you are attached to just went wrong, but the importance of relaxing cannot be stressed enough. In other terms, get your mind right.


  1. Look around

Now that you are in a calm state of mind, look around. I mean literally look around. Take in everything from the room you are in to the items on the desk to the weather outside.

Start to observe. Take in the lay of the land. Where are your crews or teams? What are they working on? When should they complete a task? What is next? This stage of detachment is to notice everything around you objectively.

A bird’s eye view approach is necessary. In the past, I have talked about a worm’s eye view for managers to get involved with the day-to-day operations to understand the micro. This step is the opposite. You are taking in the macro.

A worm’s eye view leads to attachment, which has its positives. However, in this instance of detachment, a bird’s eye view is required. Step back and observe. Take notes if necessary. Create an objective viewpoint of the situation.


  1. Make the call

You are relaxed with an objective stance on the situation. The only thing left to do is make the call. Being the leader requires making difficult decisions. This final step is why you hold the title of project manager.

You have the authority to decide what is next. You are entirely detached because you calmed down from the initial emotional reaction and stepped back to take it all in. Each of the first two steps determines which direction the third step will take.

If you are highly emotional and reactionary, the decision may be drastically different than the one you make in a less emotional state with a broader viewpoint.



Have you ever been a part of the team and question which direction this project is taking? It could be a case of you are too close to the trees to see the forest. You start to ask why you are being pulled off of this task when yesterday you were told it’s a priority. Little do you know there was a delay from a different crew making the priority less of a big deal.

Signs you are attached to an idea or project are raising your voice, yelling, breathing harder, or clenching your fist. You take a defensive stance against criticism rather than accepting it as constructive. Being passionate about a project is not a bad thing. It becomes harmful when you make decisions based on your emotions.

Helping to eliminate those emotional decisions comes from detaching yourself and your feelings from the process. Remember to breathe, take a second to look around, then make your decision. The order of operations is essential. The decision should be made after the first two steps are completed otherwise an emotional decision will take place then the emotions will be eliminated.

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