Britain’s, if not the Allies, best General in the Second World War was Field Marshall Bill Slim. He led the 14th Army to ultimate victory in the Burma campaign. His start in Burma, as a Corp Commander, was less than auspicious. He was thrust into command in a dysfunctional Army that was being swept aside by the then irresistible tide of Japanese conquest: Pearl Harbor, Philippines, Dutch East Indies, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Siam, Malaya, Singapore had all fallen and now Rangoon. The culmination of this campaign was the longest retreat in British Military history over some of the most forbidding terrain in the world: No roads just tracks, no supplies, but plentiful poisonous snakes, no air cover, it was a rout of the worst kind. He describes it all in Defeat into Victory, which, along with General US Grant’s memoirs, ranks as one of the best military memoirs ever written.
Recalling his feelings at the time he wrote this sage piece of advice that rings through the ages for all who would lead anything.
“The only true test of generalship is success, and I had succeeded in nothing I had attempted....The soldier may comfort himself with the thought that, whatever the result, he had done his duty faithfully and steadfastly, but the commander has failed in his duty if he has not won victory - for that is his duty. He has no other comparable to it. He will go over in his mind the events of the campaign. 'Here' he will think, 'I went wrong; here I took counsel of my fears when I should have been bold; there I should have waited to gather strength, not struck piecemeal; at such a moment I failed to grasp opportunity when it was presented to me.' He will remember the soldiers whom he sent into the attack that failed and who did not come back. He will recall the look in the eyes of men who trusted him. 'I have failed them,' he will say to himself, 'and I failed my country!' He will himself for what he is - a defeated general. In a dark hour, he will turn upon himself and question the very foundations of his leadership and his manhood.
And then he must stop! For, if he is ever to command in battle again, he must shake off these regrets, and stamp on them, as they claw at his will and self-confidence. He must beat off these attacks he delivers against himself, and cast out the doubts born of failure. Forget them, and remember only the lessons to be learnt from defeat - they are more than from victory.”
That is what you, as project manager, must do every morning before you start work. Learn from your errors and the errors of others, but shake off the fears of failure, project an air of confidence and move the project forward. If you don’t radiate it then why should your team feel it? Why should they follow you?