Five MUST Leadership Qualities For A Successful Lean Transformation

Peter Drucker wisely wrote, "Only three things happen naturally in organizations: friction, confusion, and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership.”

Great companies are created from great leadership. What makes a great leader? A great leader is one that is actively engaged, visionary, enabling, encouraging, humble, and practice what they preach. Here are three questions to evaluate your own leadership.

  1. Am I saying things that support a continuous improvement culture?
  2. Am I doing things that support a Lean business?
  3. Am I asking my leaders and employees the right questions?

If you answered no to any of these questions or you aren’t confident that your organization’s culture is able to sustain a Lean journey, you will need to move beyond wishing for people to change and begin making it happen. You and your leaders will need to start with changing yourselves first, and then asking the organization to follow.

Here is how to embark on creating those changes.

1. Walk the talk - Go first

Culture is created from its leadership. If there is a disconnect between what is said and what is done, people will always believe what is done. The old adage: “I can’t hear what you’re saying because you actions are speaking too loud.”

There is nothing more powerful for employees than observing leadership doing the actions or behaviors they are requesting from others.

2. Align teams and people in a common direction

Every business environment will have functional groups that each have their own individual views, goals and priorities. Getting everyone to work together while playing by the same rules and reaching for the same goals is a challenge.

It is critical to set overarching goals that each division can tie their goals back to. Teams and individuals must understand how their functional and personal goals relate to the objectives set forth by leadership. Having a common purpose and a shared vision will help everyone in the organization.

Once goals are processes are aligned, look at the results. The hardest part of aligning a leadership team is dealing with those who say they are aligned, but aren’t. Don’t believe the words, look first hand at the actions.

3. Challenge the status quo

Many leaders compare their company to historical performance or to competitors; however, comparing your company to anything other than perfection will result in mediocrity. The first step in challenging the status quo is having a complete and intimate understanding of your current state. Moving forward without understanding your current state, makes it impossible to decide what to challenge.

Once you know where you are and where you want to go, you can begin developing the path and strategies to get there.

4. Enable others to perform at their best

Leaders need to challenge others to think critically. However as a leader, avoid slipping into a mode where you become too analytical and negative. The real goal is to make people feel excited by the opportunity to make a difference. Remember, there’s a fine line between someone perceiving an inquiry as helpful or experiencing it as criticism. Your role is to empower employees to make positive changes and to share their best thoughts.

5. Encourage everyone

Positive people attract others. Great leaders are intentional at giving people hope and making them feel good about their contributions. With every interaction we have with others, we can either zap someone with enthusiasm or sap them with negativity. Are you being a force for positive change?

Many times clients will come to us asking for technical help with a Lean implementation. The tools of Lean are fairly straightforward and easy to learn academically. What is difficult, is that every application of a Lean tool will require some behavior change. It’s the behavior changes required to make the Lean tools effective that is challenging. Behaviors consistent with Lean methodologies require the right thinking which require leadership.

We also help our clients deal with the untouchable leader? You know who they are. The owner’s brother-in-law who has his own set of rules and adds no value. Or the 35 year old survivor who says all the right things in the meeting, but then goes out and tells his buddies what a waste of time it was. Then there’s the technical terror who isn’t held accountable because her manager is afraid of losing precious knowledge. Avoiding poor leaders doesn’t just stop a Lean transformation, it creates a culture of disrespect for the people that work very hard to make positive change.

Don’t underestimate the effort required to change your culture to allow the Lean tools to thrive. Often time it takes a Lean advisor who can help you along the journey so you will see real and sustainable results.


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