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Most of us immediately think of someone in a top position, an organization leader, project leader, team leader, political leader, worship leader, etc. “Leader” is a title. You can identify positional leaders with the organization chart that lay out a hierarchy of hierarchies. Most of us don’t think much more about it. Positional leaders set direction and give directives. We assume they have some sort of “vision” for their area of responsibility, or at least access to someone higher up who does. People usually work hard to become positional leaders and jealously guard their territory and power. It’s a system meant to establish control and accountability through levels of structure and power. There are cultural rules that should not freely talk to anyone above our immediate boss’s position without their permission. It’s intentionally limiting.

If a leader is the top dog, they should be accountable for the performance of their team, at whatever level, right? Sadly, few leaders take responsibility for performance and prefer to be the ones who hold others accountable. Many AEC firms are privately held. Top positions go to family members as the company matures. Does a senior title make someone a leader?

What do you think of when you hear the word, “Leadership?”

A dictionary might say, “Leadership is the characteristic of being a leader.” Doesn’t tell us much. The truth is that many of us think we’ll never have one of those top leadership positions, or are just as glad we don’t have that responsibility. We may figure that it’s not worth a lot of thought. If so, we are probably selling ourselves, and the value each of us can create, short.

We should think more clearly and creatively about leadership as an unlimited resource – especially when we have the audacity to take on the transformation of this largest of global industrial sectors. Almost everyone is, from time to time, a coach, a mentor, and an example to others, a team member who can influence outcomes, and direct the culture of groups in which we work. We need to think of “Leadership” not as a fuzzy “characteristic”, but the set of strategies and concrete actions anyone can use at any level to create value, to make things better.

In recent discussions LCI and DBIA, two of our industry’s most prominent professional organizations, had the same realization. They have amassed a huge number of excellent training on Lean and on Design-Build Done strategies, tools, and tactics. But they don’t have a single course on leadership, at least until now. It has been a possible blind spot.

If we are trying to transform an entire global industry and change everything from contracts to project structure, to how we manage project-based production, we also need new leadership strategies, tools, and tactics! We must find, identify, promote and train better leaders.

In the early 1980’s, the Auto Industry and other business sectors, realized that superior quality designs and products required the formation of cross-discipline teams. Creativity, cooperation, and a shared focus on quality in every action, decision, and product, had to be the focus of every team member. Top-down, do as you are told, directives/contracts-based leadership could not keep up with more collaborative, agile, and creative competitors. When major enterprises changed their organization structure, design, procurement, and manufacturing processes, leadership practices had to change as well. Leaders found themselves rushing to catch up to their organization’s new practices!

The change in leadership behavior took just as much investment, work, and commitment as every other strategic or tactical change in operations. Here is an example:

I have written in my earlier Lean Construction Blog posts about my 1980’s experience as an organization change consultant at Ford Motor Company. I was a Senior Associate at San Francisco-based “Interaction Associates” (IA). In 1983, Ford and every other American and European auto company structured their organizations around each separate engineering or corporate function. The Design Center was in one building and worked on every product Ford made. Similarly, Body Engineering, Chassis Engineering, Motor Engineering, Procurement, Prototyping, Manufacturing, and Assembly Operations, each had their own building set apart on a vast campus. Each discipline was expected to be a “Center of Excellence”. Interestingly, leadership of each of these siloes came almost exclusively from another silo: Corporate Finance. In another, smaller building at the edge of the campus, the coordination of vehicle product development was the job of the “Program Management” organization, to whom none of these other disciplines reported. This organization structure focused on excellence and fiscal discipline in each component organization, and none of it focused on the overall excellence of the whole product.

The Japanese saw no utility in duplication of administrative overhead and separate facilities for each discipline. They created multi-discipline teams for each product line with experts from each discipline’s center of excellence. They reported directly to the Vehicle Program Manager. To US and European auto companies this was a completely foreign organization structure, an unfamiliar culture of collaboration, and a rejection of success measured by the size of each discipline’s empire as defined by budget and headcount.

Ford’s individual discipline focus should sound very familiar to anyone who has worked in construction. 40 years ago, the Auto Industry was forced to reinvent itself. Today each building on the Ford campus is dedicated to a particular vehicle family with multidisciplinary staff reporting to the Program manager. But we have still have set up separate contractor trailers, separate budgets and reporting structures for each participating company. We use contracts and directives to try to manage workers who report up through many separate companies.

The change at Ford did not happen by accident. Ford didn’t know what it didn’t know. Don Peterson, Ford’s CEO, hired W. Edwards Deming, one of the fathers of “TQM” – Total Quality Management, who had helped Japan transform its industrial sector after WWII. Deming set the stage for rethinking technical operations. Then Ford hired Interaction Associates for their expertise in the design and leadership of collaborative organization change efforts. A guiding principle was, “the change you want is the change you must start with”. Roughly translated, “leaders must model the change they want to produce.” Leaders had to change too!

Ford’s product development transformation process was called, “Concept to Customer”. The transformation process had to model how the new product development process would work. If Ford was going to focus on collaborative product development with input from every stakeholder from Concept Development through Final Assembly Operations, the organization redesign process had to model how that collaborative stakeholder involvement would work. “Concept to Customer” was assigned to a leadership Core Team. Cross-discipline Business Process Design teams were organized by phases of the new product development process, rather than engineering disciplines. Each process redesign team had a senior leader, helped by team facilitators from IA.

The only process transformation team that spanned all the other development phases was the “Program Management” redesign team, which I facilitated and coached. Ford was moving from a “weak” program management model to a “strong” Program Manager model. The traditional leadership culture, exemplified by Henry Ford’s famous statement about the Model T, “You can have it any color you want, as long as it’s black!” was not going to work anymore. The role of the leader in the new system had to be redesigned to fit with the new product development process. A whole new set of skills, strategies and tools had to be developed and implemented. Collaboration must be facilitated, not dictated.

IA, arguably the global leaders in the facilitation and training of collaborative leadership skills, provided a comprehensive set of leadership strategies and tools for adaptation and adoption by Ford. Among the revolutionary thinkers to get IA’s public leadership training were LCI‘s founders, Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell. They immediately saw the importance of collaborative leadership practices for the construction industry. Whether facilitating a Design-Build Partnering Session, or a Last Planner System® production control session, a new set of leadership practices were essential for success. However, in the nearly 35 years since LCI and DBIA embraced collaborative leadership, we have failed to match the lean project delivery tool kit, with an equally rich leadership tool kit… until now.

This series of blog posts will explore key concepts and tools needed to manage Integrated Project Delivery. I call this set of concepts, skills and best practices, “High-Performance Leadership”. These posts will introduce many of the essential elements practiced in the two-day “High-Performance Leadership” training, introduced in 2023 for the Northern California LCI Community of Practice. Every concept and best practice we discuss will add to your personal leadership tool kit and help you make an enhanced contribution to any team, project, or company improvement effort. Your leadership skills can make a difference.

We look forward to your comments, questions, discussion, and examples as these posts are published. This topic could not be more important or timely.

Keep an eye out for Post #2 in this series in which we will introduce how “High-Performance Leadership” reframes and enhances everything you already know about leadership. Each subsequent post will add one or more practical tools or strategies you can practice immediately. Let’s raise the bar on leadership to match the needs of our new integrated project delivery methods!

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Victor R. Ortiz is an organization development professional with over 35 years of professional consulting experience. Vic has worked with LCI co-founders Ballard and Howell since 1985 and he co-facilitated many of the early development meetings of LCI. Vic currently works as an independent Lean/IPD Coach.