Lean Leadership: Establishing a Winning Culture

lean-leadership (2)Written by Clint McCrystal, Training and Development Manager at LeanCor

I like to open blog posts with quotes. It’s fun for me and supposedly gets readers interested. I guess we’ll see about that. I don’t personally need to drum up my own enthusiasm when writing about topics such as “lean leadership” because I know it works, and I’ve seen the results. So when I write about establishing a winning culture using the principles of lean leadership, it comes naturally. Now, back to that “using an interesting quote” idea. I guess we’ll see how effective it is…

William Howard Taft once said that “no tendency is quite so strong in human nature as the desire to lay down rules of conduct for other people.” Although this may feel counter intuitive in the modern day society that focuses on permitting everyone freedoms and preserving their opinions, you may see where Taft was coming from. Or at least leaders and managers that have even a hint of micro-management tendencies can. It comes very easy for many leaders (especially those coming into new positions) to want to lay down the law and establish their own authority in environments in which they work. Even when well-intended, this can lead to harm in the engagement of our people.

As lean leaders who are familiar with the concept of the prototypical eight defined wastes, we can easily recognize that this is no bueno. One of the key wastes revolves around engaging your employees in meaningful ways. Without their interest, commitment and support, organizations cannot stay on the path of lean. A leader who does not establish a positive culture with a winning attitude is handicapping their organization’s ability for success. It’s like throwing out a ceremonial first pitch with your eyes closed and hoping it’s a strike (Taft was the first president to throw a ceremonial first ball…and his eyes were likely open).

Sticking with the newly acquired sports theme, it is very common for newly hired coaches coming to bad teams to really push the concept of establishing a winning culture. This is especially critical in situations where the players have been downtrodden and have low spirits. Vince Lombardi, a famous former NFL coach, once said that “winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing. You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time. Winning is habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. ” (Whoa, a second quote used in this blog. I mean business.) Just like a well-run sports team, a lean organization must demonstrate lean leadership methods that set the tone for their people by keeping their spirits up and expecting excellence.

So how do we do this? How do we translate our enthusiasm for a winning culture into an actualized lean leadership environment? It’s simple: focus on your people.

  1. Clearly Articulate a Constancy of Purpose – In the book People: A leader’s day-to-day guide to building, managing and sustaining lean organizations, Gran, Martichenko, Miller and Pearce indicate that leaders should “ensure a common direction and common message by making sure team members know the organization won’t be able to deliver customer wants and needs if they don’t do their work properly.” Employees want to feel important and needed. There are too many people in our society in general that feel trivialized and significant. By articulating the purpose and critical nature of the roles of our team members, we can get their attention in a positive way.
  1. Empower Team Members – There is no greater way to show trust and respect for team members than to give them an appropriate level of autonomy with their work. This will allow them to demonstrate their entrepreneurial spirits and create a sense of ownership that can be pretty powerful for productivity. If we are reinforcing the right culture, employees will be able to make decisions for the organization that will represent our values.
  1. Create a Leadership-friendly Environment – Lean leaders can help create future organizational leaders by establishing opportunities for team members to take on various leadership roles among their peers. This can be done with cross-functional teams on projects, formal problem-solving opportunities and the creation of various continuous improvement groups within the organization. Not only can various team members rotate in and out of these roles, but it will create a very real opportunity for the self-improvement that team members often hunger for. This can be a big moral boost to support that winning culture.
  1. Make Employee Development Visible – As someone in a role that frequently trains newer employees and follows up with them after they are better established in their roles, I can attest to a team member’s desire to keep learning and developing. Foundational lean leadership principles commit to this for team members as well. By offering training, education and coaching for team members, we see the proverbial win-win. The engagement of the employee is high and the organization gains a more skilled workforce. Furthermore, by making this visible, we reinforce to team members that our organization is committed to moving forward with a sense of vision.

Albert Einstein once said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when creating them.” Not only does this quote allow me to complete the trifecta of solid business blog quotes, but it also reflects the fresh mode of thinking that will allow lean leaders to establish their desired culture within the organization. When our organization has fallen on hard times, or even just hits a lull in which growth isn’t coming as desired, we need to look at how we are handling our team. Are we setting the right tone and engaging them fully?

Clearly articulate your constancy of purpose. Empower your team members. Create a leadership-friendly environment. Make employee development visible.

Just like the employees in an organization that bolsters a winning culture and is founded in lean leadership principles, I’m hoping you were fully engaged in this message. The first step to effectively understanding an important blog post is to read it. You can quote me on that.

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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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.

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