Article: Preparing to Lead in 2018

The Questionnaire at the end of this article is personal & invasive.  But as others have proved, it can accelerate your climb – It begins with you!

2018 is increasingly viewed with concern and uncertainty.  As it is for everyone, the wealth you generate will come from only three sources;  You grow it; you extract it; or you make it.  No matter how you earn yours, Lean Thinking is being exploited in every one of these three wealth-generating sectors.  There is wide acceptance of the notion that those with the greatest number of perspectives on attacking a barrier – are better equipped to innovate.  Healthcare, Agriculture, Mining, Government, Services and Manufacturing are now learning from each other – and it’s accelerating – and inspiring.

Regardless of the turmoil and challenges we face, the solutions will usually come from leaders who build the right vision & culture for their organisation and for the customers they commit to.  It is always the job of vision to provide the direction for the integration of People, Processes and Technology.  But they must be aligned and focused – like a laser – on the business outcomes.

Sure it’s hard work – but for most, as we have seen over the years, the talent and needed answers lie undiscovered within their own companies.  However, it is the task of leadership to see, find & develop that talent by providing direction, support, with a management focus that looks at their people NOT ‘as they are’ – but – as how they COULD be.

It all begins by understanding that leadership (the ability to develop followers), and the company’s vision & culture, are united to enable the business to be sustainable.  Creating and evolving the right culture – will take several years of consistent thinking for corporate sustainability. There’s no one model of how to create this culture, and no two can ever be the same.

One More Time – Some Leadership Basics

Since vision’s job is to give direction it must be developed by an organization’s owners and leaders with a practical eye to the management and employee engagement required to grow a sustainable culture.  Hence, the more clearly a vision is defined, committed to, communicated and supported by leaders, the more quickly everyone can grasp where they are going – and the more quickly all efforts can be aligned to get there.

There is a huge difference between leadership and management as you can see from the diagram.  The amount of overlap of leadership skills will depend upon the talent available to your organisation. But the two are as different as night is to day – according to Jim Clemmer, international management coach, speaker and author of

‘Leadership’ is all about the ability to generate followers with a core competency of ‘doing the right things’.  ‘Management’ is all about having the competency and discipline of ‘doing things right’ in bringing people, processes, and technology together in the most effective waste-free way to achieve the organization’s goals and business objectives. To be successful, both leadership & management competencies must be present – but very rarely do both dominate in one person.  The best leaders know this and are quick to seek out those with skills that compensate for their weakness.  It’s why companies who build team-based cultures committed  to working together to leverage each other’s skills, are found to be winners

The Challenge of Leadership – It starts where you live

It is easy to forget that every company, organization, or institution has only three elements to work with: People, Processes and Technology. Observing how these elements impact continuous improvement across North America is revealing. However, some of the major faults found are:  the overwhelming urgency to seek instant fixes; the blind installation of solutions from somebody else’s facility; the passionate pursuit the next big thing; and the distractions caused by chasing shiny objects which are chosen to avoid analyzing internal weaknesses and the confrontation to be faced.

Instead we try to find someone else who has ‘done it’. But Shigeo Shingo, one of the founders of Lean, is very direct: “You don’t have to see Toyota to produce a world-class manufacturing system. You must develop such a system by yourselves.”  And therein lies the challenge for leaders!

The lesson here is to appreciate what Toyota has done, instead of trying to copy them But too many do.  Instead, look at the weaknesses and barriers in-house that are holding you back. Until these problems are known and understood, bringing in a new tool, or someone else’s solution from the outside, will result in marginal benefit – if any at all.

A few years ago, an ATJ eLetter article entitled How One Onion Changed a Plant, caught the eye of many lean thinkers because of its simplicity. Jeff Clark’s Edmonton-based Kitchen Partners is a custom food processing company that is a proponent of employee involvement, team work,

and lean thinking. Their approach was to detect and improve the flow of onions through their plant. To do it, they selected a single onion and followed it through every single process step ‘from the field to the consumer.’ This initiative succeeded because it was driven by the organizational leader (the president) who gave his employees the freedom to explore opportunities for improvement while allowing them the freedom to experiment. The application of this exquisitely simple approach – and the changes it generated – produced a 20% increase in overall plant efficiency (with little cash layout) along with a 10% energy reduction (with no additional capital dollars). It’s All About Achieving Results Through People!

Leadership today is an evolving evidence-based, ego-less, respect-giving position that must generate followers who can align with their company’s vision now and in the future. The recent emphasis on sustainability is real. And it is not going away. It has become a competitiveness issue that demands that leaders carefully acquire the right people and – to get them into the right seats on their bus. Although great leaders have always done this, it has not been the general practice. Increasingly, winning leaders look at current and new hires as investments. This means being prepared to listen to them, involve them in decisions and process improvements and equip them to do more.

Should the investment in new technology rise, so may the need for more highly skilled people. It’s worth remembering that companies usually lose talented people because of the way they are managed – not for technical or skill competence reasons. This is a management issue which begs one question: “How can we equip our current managers to prepare for the new talent we need?”

Recap: Take time to find the best people; Be interested in them as people; Equip and grow them for the future; and Involve them because only through involvement is their desired ownership possible.

How Do Exceptional Leaders Support Their Employees daily?

They know words matter!

They speak and behave respectfully at all times – especially in today’s multinational workforces where effective, simple communication is critical. When problems occur, their immediate instinct is to go to the problem site to offer aid and positive support. In manufacturing, a powerful three-step habit/routine or kata is usually used:

  1. Go see for yourself
  2.  Ask why and listen, and
  3. Always show respect.
    • These three steps are powerful reasons for getting to better
    • Get to know your value-adders as people

This means using inclusive language – all day and every day. It means replacing words like “me,” “I,” and “my,” with inclusive terms like “we,” “our” and “us.”

This is no small matter, as it must be seen as just part of who you are. Tied very closely to this issue is a willingness and humility to seek feedback, and not hesitating to ask for their opinion. All of which are signs of respect.

Never Underestimate the Power of a ‘No Answer’ That’s Done Right

The power of Socratic teaching/learning is the enablement of a student, or employee, to self-discover outcomes through questioning.  It’s a powerful way of coaching and growing your value-adders; your children; colleagues.

But it will require you to put the brakes on your ‘urge to answer’ when a report asks a (non-emergency) question.  When they do, how about intently listening to their question and responding to them with questions like – “That’s a really good question, what are your thoughts?”, or, “If you were to fix it, what would you do?” or, “Can you see a better way?” Think about this – what would happen if you began asking questions like these with genuine interest in your voice – one that’s free of all judgement? 

It is surprising the improvement and quality of answers you will get. Over time, your value-adders will realize they know more than they thought they did.  As a past manager, I found that in 80% of the cases the ‘asker’ already had the answer.  You gain a ton by learning what they know, and how they think – both of which can benefit the business.  Their answers also provide valuable insight into what training to consider that would accelerate their abilities and value to the company.  It is also opens a window into their maturity to help determine the level of responsibility they can handle safely.

But all this is lost by answering too quickly. If you are too quick, it means they will keep coming back for more answers – because they are not challenged and, they know they do not have to think when working for you.  By responding to employee questions by asking them for their thoughts, you are coaching them to self-discovery as they gain confidence in what they know. It’s worth taking time to get this right – as more and better work will get done – as they gain confidence and pride in themselves.  This can really work if you can focus on them! And not on how much you know and can answer.

Things to Consider in Preparation for 2018…

 Questions are powerful. They stir internal feelings of having to respond – or not. The questions below come from well over twenty years of exposure to organizational leaders at all levels who were making thinking and managerial transitions – as well as struggling with culture change. 

Some questions promote emotional reactions.   And that’s a good thing because it is letting you know there is something about that question that is important for you to investigate & understand.  Check out the following 12 ‘Introspection-drivers’.  Take your time.

12 Leadership-Building Questions For Leaders & Managers

Only you can answer & address these questions – The interpretation must be yours

Why?  These questions are drawn from over 30 years of observation.  They are designed to help every leader & manager in any organization in 2018.  These questions help surface missing elements in one’s personal Vision of what World Class Managers will need to win.   If ignored – or not deeply considered  – they could reduce a leaders effectiveness in business, in the community, or at home.  Consider each thoughtfully.  Think about what you could do to improve beginning tomorrow.

Pay close attention to the questions that make you wince.  Listen to your gut.     If any could make a difference that matters to you, select it and drive it to mastery… Then pick the next.

Big Picture Questions 

  1. Do you have a vision for the organization?  Have you shared it openly? If not, why not?
  2. Do your people know their roles? Do they know what is expected of them?
  3. Do you walk and talk with your people every day you can and lend support?
  4. Would people say you show respect for everyone around you every day ?

In Business, Community & Home

  1. Do you have written plans for your employees’ learning & growth? Do they know your expectations?
  2. Are you a supporter and continuous improvement coach for your people at every opportunity?
  3. Are you known as a leader who listens with respect to learn from everyone every day?
  4. Do you have a written personal plan for your learning & growth – now and in the future?

Behaviors Send Powerful Messages

  1. Are you known for always acknowledging people for their contributions to the vision?
  2. Would people say you are a very good listener who cares about understanding?
  3. When a problem occurs do you always go directly to its site (Gemba) to help?
  4. Do you seek feedback by asking questions and encourage different perspectives from others?

This was written by Bob Kerr & Dave Hogg, and it first appeared in the Winter Edition 2016-2017 of AFPA in Action, the official magazine of the Alberta Food Processors Association