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).
What are the qualities of a good team leader in a Lean environment? This is one of the most contemplated questions when undergoing a Lean thinking transformation since leadership is critical to its very success. In my opinion there are at least 6 key requirements for a team leader in a Lean company:
1. Willingness and Desire to Lead
A person need not possess all of the following characteristics when they first get the job. They only need to have the desire and willingness to learn and develop the other skills. The leader must want to motivate and inspire people to achieve great things.
2. Job Knowledge
Leaders should be knowledgeable about the materials, machines, tools and production steps in their area. Must know the process and correct way each operation should be performed. This requirement is often missing from leaders outside Toyota, with the implied assumption that general management skills can overcome a lack of in-depth job knowledge.
3. Job Responsibilities
A leader must know his/her role. Leaders must understand the policies and procedures and be able to communicate them to their team members and ensure that they are followed.
4. Continuous Improvement Ability
A leader must constantly analyze the work looking for ways to improve the process. The major part of a leader’s role is to encourage his/her people to develop continuous improvement in thinking and action. It is more important to have many small daily improvements than to have few major improvements.
5. Leadership Ability
A leader must be able to “translate” the overall company objectives into specific activities that their team must perform in order to be successful. They develop the game plan and assist the team in how to carry it out. They must provide support, training and coaching to ensure success.
6. Teaching Ability
Primary duty is to teach others. If skill and knowledge is not passed on to others, the organization will not grow and prosper.
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 particular leadership skills. The only element that cannot be taught is the desire to be a leader.