Leadership, Leading People Series

Leading People Series – Part 5 – Setting a High Bar for Standards & Expectations

People modelIn the Leading People Series, we examine some key points to consider when leading people.  Part 5 is about the need for a leader to always uphold a high bar when it comes to standards and expectations.

A leader must always set a very high bar when it comes to both standards and expectations.  The first step is to set and establish the standards and communicate the expectations.  The standards can be documented in policies and procedures and standard operating procedures (SOPs), and to be effective should be implemented wherever possible with use of visual controls.  The team needs to be trained on the standards and a part that is often forgotten or overlooked, the standards must be audited frequently to ensure sustainability and for immediate correction when deficiencies are found.

Most leaders understand the importance of standards and for setting high expectations, however, two points often neglected are:

1) Maintaining and enforcing high standards and expectations in times of significant organizational busyness and stress. 

Standards are very difficult to put in place and uphold, but virtually impossible to restore if they are forgotten, ignored or excused when times are tough or challenging.  Instead of being standards, they become occasional initiatives or pet peeves that leaders sometimes enforce when they have time or are having a bad day.  In so doing, we train our teams that it is okay, to ignore or even break standards, when we don’t have time for them.  Most importantly, when the organization is in this state, this is when the standards and expectations are needed the most to overcome the challenges faced and be successful.

2) A Leader must always lead by example by following the standards and having higher expectations of themselves than that of their team.

I’ve been told many times that I’m relentless about standards and that I have unrealistic expectations.  Perhaps.  However, I see this as a leadership strength.  No one will take a leader seriously or have respect for them if they do not follow the standards which they create and enforce.  A leader must also resist the urge to break standards or make special exceptions for yourself.

Shortly after joining a new company as a VP where I worked within a high security facility, I was told by the Security Manager that company policy would allow me to by-pass security when exiting the facility.  All other employees had to go through a rigorous security check not dissimilar to that at an airport anytime they exited.  I was shocked that there would be a company policy that would allow executives to by-pass security, however, I never did.  Not even once.  Why?  If the standard was that all of my team had to do this, and if I expected them to do so, how could I not do it myself?  Your team is always watching and they will see when you don’t follow the standards.

For more on leading by example, visit a previous post, Can Police Use Handicapped Parking Spots?.

For more on standards, visit a previous post, Who the heck needs standards?

Standards are also a necessity before kaizen.  Without standards, kaizen is not possible because there is no defined starting point from which to improve the process or situation.

How do you set a high bar for standards & expectations with your team?


Leadership, Leading People Series

Leading People Series – Part 4 – Listen First

Leading People Series – Part 4

People modelIn the Leading People Series, we’ll examine some key points to consider when leading people.  Part 4 is about the need for a leader to listen first, then ask how you can help.

So being self-critical, I have some work to do on this one!  Ok, maybe a lot.  Nevertheless, I do believe that as leaders we need to listen first to our team, and then ask how we can help.  I was reminded by another leader recently the importance of this when I was expressing frustration over someone not taking advice or feedback as well as I had hoped.  The other leader said to me, “Did you ask them if they wanted advice first before you gave it?”  Oops!

Sometimes as a leader it can be so hard not to offer a solution, give advice, or even sometimes tell someone exactly what they need to do.  This is usually because you so desperately want to help them or to avoid them having to learn the hard way like you may have.

Although I do have work to do to improve in this area, I do practice it and try to catch myself when I’m not doing so well.  So what can you do to listen first:

  • Obviously, the first step is to actually listen.  Stop what you are doing and focus on the person by looking at them and giving your full attention.  After they finish speaking, count to 10 in your head, giving time for them to potentially explain further or to give you some insights as to what they are asking of you, and most importantly for you to hesitate from jumping right in.
  • Ask questions to ensure you understand the situation and what has already been done while demonstrating interest, such as, “What is the impact of this?” or, “What actions have you taken so far?”
  • Ask how you can help or if they want your advice.  Often I find, people don’t want your advice, but rather just want to let you know what’s going on or to vent.
  • Ask them questions that lead them to their own ideas, thoughts, conclusions or decisions.  Use questions such as, “What options have you considered?”, “How are you planning to address this?”, “Are there other ideas or options you have considered?”, “What are the risks of doing this?”.
  • When it’s their call, tell them it’s their call but still ask how you can help them.  Ask them questions to assist them with their decision process, or to point them in the right direction of things they should consider while making the decision.  Use questions such as “Did you consider how this may impact the team member?” rather than “Don’t you think the team member will be negatively impacted by this because of …. “.  When they’ve made their decision, keep your trap shut… it was their call remember.

I recall a situation years ago when I was writing a very important A3 (form of business proposal) and had to review with two different VPs.  The first one told me to change this, change that, add this and delete the next thing.  I walked away completely demotivated, mad, and as though the A3 and contents were no longer reflecting my my work.  When I reviewed with the second VP, he listened to the proposal, asked me some questions to understand and clarify.  On points he didn’t think were articulated well, he would ask, “Is there a different way you can make this point more clear?”.  I’d make a suggestion and he would say, “Yes, that’s much better. I can understand that very clearly”.  I walked away from that leader feeling motivated, inspired and anxious to make the changes and improvements to the A3.

What do you do to listen first, then ask how you can help?

Leadership, Leading People Series, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Leading People Series – Part 3 – Undercover Boss?

Leading People Series – Part 3

People modelIn the Leading People Series, we’ll examine some key points to consider when leading people.  Part 3 is about how important going and seeing what is going on, or not going on as the case may be, is so important when leading people.

Do you need to be an “Undercover Boss” to learn what is happening in your organization?  No!  Many people think that “go & see”, or as often referred within operations as “gemba”, is a manufacturing only tool.  I think that is a big mistake!  I believe that “go & see” is a leader’s most important tool and in fact, I think it is the secret weapon!  When I say secret, I don’t mean like on the “Undercover Boss” TV reality show where the leader pretends to be someone else in order to almost deviously figure out what’s going on in their organization.  What I mean is, that go & see is an extremely effective tool for a leader to truly understand what is happening in their organization, see the challenges their team is facing, demonstrate support by removing barriers, while providing coaching and empowerment to their teams.

Although there are all kinds of “how to” have an effective go & see or gemba, just start by going to see the process of interest, regardless what it is.  Go and see it with your own eyes whether it be an administrative function, physical process a team member has to perform, customer facing interaction, user interface, spreadsheet, location of an incident, whatever the situation, just go.  Just watch for several minutes or cycles to see the abnormalities and ups/downs of it while asking questions to understand.  Start with that, what you have to do next will become clear.

Go & see is to engage with your team by showing an interest in what they do, how they do it and to assist them in being successful at it.   Our teams come to work and want to do a good job and it is a leader’s job to help remove the barriers that get in the way of our teams doing the best job they can. Over time, waste and inefficiencies seem to creep in or inadvertently get added that can cause safety, quality, productivity, or cost issues. By going and seeing, a leader is more likely to find these wastes and inefficiencies and can take action with their teams to correct them.

“Like” if you regularly use go & see as part of your leadership toolbox.


For more information on go & see or gemba check out these posts:

10 Important Steps of Effective Gemba Walks or “Go See”

Gemba Walks – Tip #1

Gemba Walks – Tip #2

The best place for a meeting… is on the roof!

Teaching your eyes to see

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

A Leader’s Best Question

Gemba by any other name is… go & see! Gemba is NOT just for manufacturing processes!



Leadership, Leading People Series

Leading People Series – Part 2 – “Being Responsible sometimes means pissing people off”

Leading People Series – Part 2

People modelIn the Leading People Series, we’ll examine some key points to consider when leading people.  Part 2 is about Lesson 1 from General (USA-Ret) Colin L. Powell’s Lessons in Leadership, which is “Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off”.  The General describes this lesson further as follows:

“Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions.  It’s inevitable – if you’re honorable.  Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity.  You’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.  Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization.”

This key point may be a little controversial to some in these days where equal and joint decision making is being encouraged among all members of teams, as well as an objective to avoid upsetting anyone within the team.   Although I agree with empowering and engaging all team members where and as often as possible, I do believe there is a time and place where the leader has to be the leader and make tough decisions and give hard feedback.  At the end of the day, it is typically the leader who will be held responsible.  This doesn’t mean a leader should be disrespectful or ignorant, but it does mean that sometimes people won’t like the decision or the feedback.  The leader can still be respectful when making a tough decision or giving hard feedback and they will be respected by their team in return.



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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