Leadership, Leading People Series

Leading People Series – Part 1 – What is the difference between a leader and a dreamer?

Leading People Series – Part 1

In previous posts we discussed the importance of a leader having a vision.  Many leaders People modelhave great ideas or a vision of where they want their organization to go or what they want to achieve. However, in order to realize that vision, a leader must also empower and motivate people to achieve it.  The difference between a leader and a dreamer, is the people!  The third dimension of the Leadership model, is People.

Over the next few posts in the “Leading People Series, we’ll examine some key points to consider when leading people.

1. Servant Leadership; your team is your customer.

Many leaders believe or at least act as though their team is there to serve them, when actually it should be the other way around.  A leader should always look at how they can help and support their team.  This can be in the form of quickly reviewing and approving proposals, providing coaching and mentoring, or removing barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals or objectives.  This is not to say a leader doesn’t delegate or assign tasks and projects.  Of course they do, however the point is to act as though your team is your customer and it’s the leaders responsibility to provide excellent customer satisfaction.  For example, establishing a Service Level Agreement (SLA) for approvals/responses to requests.  I have a 24 hour SLA for approvals/responses, meaning that I will respond to requests from my team within 24 hours of their request.  Afterall, they are trying to do their jobs for which you as a leader is ultimately responsible.  In most cases, the response is within a couple of hours, but 24 hours is the maximum.  This SLA forces me to have strong discipline and be well organized when travelling and being in back/back meetings in order to achieve this SLA.  I’d say it is rare that I miss the SLA.  How many leaders have you worked for or with that get to things their team requests of them, when they get to it? Sometimes this can be days, if not weeks.  Is that not very frustrating?  A leader should not be the barrier that slows their team or prevents them from achieving their goals, they need to be an enabler.

Several years ago now I was working at my desk which was in an open office environment, when an engineer that worked on my team approached my desk to ask me a question.  After finishing the discussion with him and he walked away, I made a groaning noise.  The leader next to me heard me and asked what was wrong.  I explained that the engineer had interrupted me which had disrupted me from work.  He looked at me very sternly and said “But that is your job!  Your job is to help and support your team.”  I’ve never fogotten that, and although there is always opportunity to improve, I work very hard to meet my 24 hour SLA, and to put the needs of my team first to help and support them.

What do you do to demonstrate servant leadership with your team?

2. Complacency is the enemy.  Combat it with challenge!

When teams work very hard to accomplish a goal, complete an important project, or drive significant improvement, without even realizing it, they can start to coast or relax either when they get very close to or have achieved the goal.  Often, they don’t even realize it and it is not even intentional on their part.  It just happens.

As Leaders, one of the many watch-outs is complacency creeping in to our teams.  Once it does, it can be a real battle to fight it off.  The best way to combat complacency is to always challenge your team.

Early in my automotive career when I was responsible for an engine plant, I learned this lesson of combating complacency with challenge from one of the company’s senior executives.   When I joined the company and took over responsibility for the engine plant, it was not running very well.  In fact, the engine plant was responsible for shutting down the vehicle plant multiple times a shift.  Not a good place to be!  I rallied the team as the new leader and convinced the demotivated team that we could turn this operation around if we worked together and tackled the biggest issues first and knocked them down one by one.  After a few months, they did it!  We improved the operation rate from the mid 80s to an average of 95% against a target of 96%.  It was an incredible amount of hard work and perseverance.  We were no longer shutting down the vehicle plant, had reduced the buffers between the engine plant and the vehicle plant, mean time between failures had improved and they had driven great improvements in quality.  The team was pumped and feeling very proud of their achievements.  Although not yet at the 96% target, we had demonstrated our capability with some shifts operating above 96%.

One day when after we had been achieving the 95% operation rate fairly regularly, the senior executive, let’s call him “Norm”, stood and observed the engine line for the entire shift, in the same manner as Taiichi Ohno used to do.  At the end of the shift, he called me over.  “Oh oh, I thought, I’m in trouble”.  Norm said, “you MUST do a 3 second takt change.”  I was stunned.  The line was operating at a 60 second takt and a 3 second takt change was not insignificant.  Our operating rate would crash to the mid 80’s again and the team would have to work really hard to get it back up to the 96% target or even the 95% average we had been achieving!  I argued and pushed back.  Norm wouldn’t budge.  We “discussed” the need to do this takt change for some time and Norm was getting frustrated with me.  Eventually after wearing him down, he explained that as leaders, we must never allow our teams to become complacent.  After such hard work and achievement the team is likely to ease off and lose their edge.  The takt change, he said, was to give them a new challenge, to keep them focused, motivated, and sharp.  I  reminded him as to how hard the team and worked and that we hadn’t yet achieved the 96% target… and he responded “celebrate the achievement so far, then do a 3 second takt change”.

I’ve never forgotten that encounter with Norm that day and have always tried to keep my teams challenged to combat the enemy of complacency.  Continuous improvement initiatives to attack waste, kaizens to improve safety, quality or productivity, new more aggressive targets, introduction of new or additional metrics/KPIs, or takt changes, are all ways you can keep your team challenged.

How do you combat complacency with your team?


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