The Importance of Empowerment for a Lean Leader
A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed that empowerment drives employee behaviors and attitudes. Empowered employees were more satisfied and committed at work, and less likely to experience stress and to think about leaving the organization. The critical behaviors driven by empowerment were performance, innovation, and organizational citizenship. Basic empowerment is a necessity for organizations to remain competitive, but exceptional empowerment is a competitive advantage.
Empowerment is the belief that you have the ability to make decisions and take action. Empowered people create the innovations that propel organizations to new levels. Empowered people put in 110% when only 90% is required. Empowered people care for the organization as if it were a member of their own family. From our lean training, we understand the importance of respecting humanity. We understand that traditional thinking dictates to hire brilliant people to try to fix broken processes while lean thinking prescribes to empower regular people to improve upon brilliant processes. The difficult task isn’t recognizing right approach, but rather being effective in putting it to practice. How exactly do we empower and motivate people?
I propose to give a few highlights from the book, PEOPLE: A leader’s day-to-day guide to building, managing and sustaining lean organizations, supplemented by tenets recommended by Dale Carnegie in his timeless How To Win Friends And Influence People.
A foundational concept in lean leadership is the practice of leadership as a student and as a teacher. Listen and uncover the problem before talking and jumping to solutions. Often we, as managers, are the first to promote our ideas and just as often we are the furthest from the gemba where the work occurs. Showing respect to those doing the work by listening to their opinions and ideas not only is a more effective way of finding the root cause, but also creates a sense of ownership of the work and the problems. See a learning opportunity in any situation. Address those who work under you by asking questions instead of giving direct orders. Not only will this allow the managers to understand the problems more completely, but it will also engage the people doing the work so that they will come to the solutions themselves, thus feeling empowering to not only solve the problem, but also be more apt to proactively solve problems in the future. True lean leadership is not about getting people to do what you want them to do, but more about empowering them to do what they truly want to do (add value to the organization).
The next step after engaging others for the lean leader is to give honest, sincere appreciation. You recognize that their engagement is critical to successful problem solving and innovation, so be sure to show it. Every human being thrives on appreciation. Capitalize on this and you will inspire them to work hard for more opportunities to gain your appreciation.
Often, convincing other people on lean thinking and dealing with resistance is challenging for the lean leader. One pivotal tactic to combat resistance is true and honest effort to see the change from the other person’s point of view. A change that is thrust upon you will be more difficult to swallow than a change that was mutually agreed upon, even where it is the exact same change in each situation. Sometimes, though, it is difficult to understand the perspective of the person being confronted with the change. The first step to understanding the other’s perspective is listening. Encourage the other person to talk about themselves, even when it may not be related to the change or even to work. If this doesn’t help you understand their perspective of the change, it will nonetheless demonstrate to the other person that you are interested in his or her perspective. This expression of interest towards the other person creates trust and camaraderie.
Competition can be a great primer for empowerment. Most humans have a natural drive for competition, so throwing down a challenge is a good way to inspire motivation. Simple challenges are best because they allow workers’ the opportunity for a quick win. Quick wins allow the individual to feel successful quickly and empower them to take on more challenges. Find ways of stimulating the workers and arousing an eager want for doing the work. Work that people want and like to do is more effective than work that is uninspired. It is the responsibility of the lean leader to show the workers why their work is important.
In summary, empowerment is an effective tool in lean leadership. One effective worker will never match up to an effective leader with an empowered team willing to follow. Empowerment is the responsibility of the lean leader to his team and to the organization.
Seibert, S.E., Wang, G, and Courtright, S.H. (2011). Antecedents and consequences of psychological and team empowerment: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Applied Psychology
Gran, Martichenko, Miller, Pearce. People: A leader’s day-to-day guide to building, managing and sustaining lean organizations. 2012.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. 1998.
Written by Kelcy Monday, Lean Deployment Team Leader at LeanCor
Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group
LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Google+