Effective Leadership Underpins Successful Lean Implementation

Creating a workplace culture where people hold a mindset of continuous improvement, proactivity and seek better ways of doing things is of substantial interest to the lean community. This mindset is needed to enable successful implementation of lean principles. So how do we create a culture where we get buy in from employees to adopt this way of thinking?

Research has highlighted transformational leadership, which involves influencing, and motivating employees to the organisation’s vision and goals, and its link to project success 1. Transformational leadership has been found to achieve greater discretionary effort and commitment from employees as well as many other organizational benefits 2. This means, employees are motivated to go beyond their required responsibilities to help contribute to the organization in positive ways. Transformational leadership is important for lean implementation because lean requires the individual to proactively reduce waste and search for improvements.

How do we engage employees to adopt this mindset?

Leaders play an integral role in motivating and influencing employees to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. If the leader does not demonstrate the behaviours and mindset required for successful lean implementation then they cannot expect their employees to. Below are some tips for how to start your journey to becoming an effective leader.

1. Self reflection is key
360-degree assessments where you seek feedback on your leadership effectiveness is an important step for knowing which areas require improvement. Measuring how your leadership has impacted others will enable positive and constructive change. Although this can be confronting, it can be one of the most transformational experiences both personally and professionally.

2. Accountability starts with you
When the project is not performing against expectations the accountability ultimately lies at the top. If a leader doesn’t deliver on promises, to timeframes and deadlines, or take responsibility for their actions, then you cannot expect others to do the same. Being 100% accountable and having a “no blame” culture is critical.

3. Behaviours are contagious
Many experiments and real life cases have demonstrated the power of conformity. Behaving in ways that are consistent with the direction and vision of the project is needed to influence and inspire others around you to follow. If your people are not displaying the right behaviours it's time to question how you are behaving.

4. Don’t avoid conflict and constructive confrontation
Being able to tackle conflict and engage in constructive exchanges is a critical part of being an effective leader. People respect someone who can go into a confrontational situation in a constructive way. A constructed approach to conflict and confrontation can be highly beneficial and productive.

5. Likeability can help build respect and loyalty towards a leader
You don’t need to be the most charismatic or charming leader but likeability does play a part. Being able to build rapport and engage with people is key. Many people in leadership roles don’t know anything about their team member’s personal lives. Learning about a team member’s interests, their families, and their family’s interests can go a long way to building long-term commitment and trust.

6. Inspire and motivate regularly
People look to leaders that they admire for guidance. You must be the leader people want to aspire to be like and want to follow. Inspiring your people to a greater sense of purpose and vision on a regular basis is essential. Use positive, optimistic, and realistic dialogue to find out what motivates your employees will help build a culture for Lean and continuous improvement

Further Readings

1. Tyssen, A. K., Wald, A., & Heidenreich, S. (2014). Leadership in the context of temporary organisations: A study on the effects of transactional and transformational leadership on followers commitment in projects. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 21, 376-393.

2. Gundersen, G., Hellesoy, B. T., & Raeder, S. (2012). Leading international project teams: The effectiveness of transformational leadership in dynamic work environments. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 19, 46-57.

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