When you hear the word “leadership” what comes to mind? There are numerous definitions of leadership. For me leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen. Effective leadership comes down to people. It is about the ability to successfully engage and maximize all human resources for the attainment that vision.
Lean organizations need leaders who know how to serve their people. A servant leader -- one who wants to serve first and lead second -- strives to create a work environment in which people can truly express these deepest of inner drives. Servant leadership entails a deep belief that people are the greatest asset any organization has, and to nurture their individual growth becomes the basis for all organizational development. That growth goes far beyond the limited dimension of financial benefit -- it dives into our core motivations as people.
People want to be engaged and also have some level of control over their environment. A servant leader recognizes that the people doing the work generally have the best ideas about how to improve the processes they participate in. Through tools like rapid improvement events and PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) suggestion systems, servant leaders practice participatory decision-making, empowering employees to be innovators and co-creators in positive change. Such leaders are also enablers; they spend a significant amount of time at the workplace, making direct observations, and then striving to create systemic improvements that add value to the work of their employees.
Leaders are nothing without people. Put another way, people will make or break you as a leader. You’ll either treat them well, earn their trust, respect and loyalty, or you won’t. You’ll either see people as capital to be leveraged or humans to be developed and fulfilled. You’ll either view yourself as superior to your employees, or as one whose job it is to serve them, learn from them, and leave them be better off for being led by you.
The best leaders don’t put people in a box – they free them from boxes. Ultimately, a leaders job isn’t to create followers, but to strive for ubiquitous leadership. Average leaders spend time scaling processes, systems, and models – great leaders focus on scaling leadership.
A leader must be a good teacher. Leaders must be able to be good teachers to share insights and experiences. Leaders can inspire, motivate, and influence subordinates at various levels through the use of teaching ability. Obviously, one must be a good communicator in order to be an effective teacher. Without the ability to clearly and effectively communicate a message, goal, story, or philosophy, it is impossible to lead.
When you become a manager, supervisor, or team leader, the game changed. You're now held to a higher level of accountability than before. In fact, everything you do is exaggerated; you are under a magnifying glass. And when you're down, they're down. When you're up, they're up. You set the tone... you shape the environment in which all can be successful.
Your employees expect you to lead without excuses. The leadership you display and the decisions that you make contribute more to the success of your employees than all other factors combined. Everything you do counts. Make it count.
Good leadership is not reflected in the leader’s actions, it is reflected in the impact and effect of those actions on the team. A leader should adapt to the environment and what the team needs today without losing sight of what will be needed tomorrow and always preparing for that moment when he or she will no longer be there. Guaranteeing the growth and sustainability of the team and the individuals that comprise it beyond the leader’s time is the ultimate trait of a great leader.
While there are people who seem to be naturally endowed with more leadership abilities than others, I believe that people can learn to become leaders by concentrating on improving these leadership skills.
Lean success requires a change in mindset and behavior among leadership, and then gradually throughout the organization. So it follows that success in Lean implies a change in what leaders reinforce—a change in leadership behaviors and practices. Change begins when leaders start acting differently. It’s that simple (but not that easy).