Continuing our theme of better ways to lead organisational change, how can we ensure that our Lean initiative is not just the introduction of a set of “tools”? Tools on their own will not translate into a sustainable Lean culture. A Lean culture will require at least a combination of effective leadership and tools. If the leadership in our organisation is hitting the mark this will result in high levels of engagement. and improve our chance of successfully achieving an enduring Lean culture.
Toyota prepare their leadership people for up to 2 years prior to establishing a new plant, and even then they say it still takes 3 to 5 years to fully embed Lean into the culture of the organisation. The leadership style that is commonly used in organisations like Toyota is sometimes known as “servant leadership” or “stewardship”. This topic has been well documented in the literature and the following notes on servant leadership are sourced partly from an excellent paper by Paul T. P. Wong, 2003.
Servant leadership is typically characterised by the desire to serve and empower followers, and supporting the belief that the best way to achieve organisational goals is through developing the potential of workers. The primary aim of servant leadership is “service to others” (Greenleaf, 1977). The idea of leaders as servants has gained increasing acceptance in the leadership and organisational literature e.g., (Covey, 1994; Farling, Stone, & Winston, 1999; Laub, 2003; Russell & Stone, 2002; Wheatley, 1994), and there is consensus among modern management theorists (Avolio, 1999; Bennis, 1990; Hammer& Champy, 1993; Rinzler & Ray, 1993; Senge, 1990) that autocratic leadership needs to be replaced by leadership that empowers workers. The advantages of servant leadership over autocratic leadership have also been well documented in the literature (Farling, Stone, & Winston, 1999; Laub, 2003; Page & Wong, 2000; Russell & Stone, 2002; Sendjaya & Sarros, 2002).
The key differences between servant leaders and more autocratic styles can be summarised as follows:
Motives. A servant leader uses their power to develop followers and growing the company through the development of the full potential of the workforce, rather than using their power to control and exploit employees.
Preferences. Servant leaders prefer inspirational and transformational power, because they seek to influence and transform followers, rather than using positional, political and coercive powers to control subordinates.
Outcome. If we define power as the ability to influence followers, then servant leadership is more effective, because “the arm of control is short, while the reach of influence has no limits”.
Orientation. Servant leaders are sensitive to individual and situational needs, because they exist to serve others; therefore, they are relation-oriented and situational, rather than being only concerned about their own authority and power.
Skill level. Servant leadership requires a higher level of leadership ability and skills, because it takes more interpersonal skills and positive inner qualities to inspire and influence workers. On the other hand, authoritarian leaders only need obedience and coercive power to enforce compliance and conformity from their subordinates.
Attitude to vulnerability. Servant leaders are willing to risk making themselves vulnerable by trusting and empowering others, rather than being afraid of vulnerability.
Attitude to humility. Servant leaders view themselves as servants and stewards, and voluntarily humble themselves in order to serve others, rather than blaming others for failure and claiming credit for success.
The various differences listed above are based on range of literature (e.g., Lewin, 1951; Fleishman & Harris, 1962, Likert, 1961; McMahon, 1976; Stogdill & Coons, 1957; Yukl, 2002) that compares task-oriented, directive, and autocratic leadership and people-oriented, relational and empowering types of leadership.
Clearly all this means that we need to establish high levels of trust to allow open and honest feedback in both directions, this will then support a culture of exposing and fixing problems, as early as possible. The level of trust required to make this happen is not something that will happen quickly, and it will need total patience and commitment from leadership giving people the authority to both run processes and fix them. Also we will need a leadership style that is totally focused on growing and developing people over a period of time, with the objective of building a “culture of enquiry” based on repetitive practice and learning through “doing”.
The Toyota culture has a strong foundation of respect for people which is critical for the development of a high trust environment. This makes total sense as it will be fundamental to achieving open dialogue and high levels of trust. In Toyota this means that leaders are expected to help people solve their own problems, rather than solving the problem for them. In this way Toyota promotes a leadership philosophy of “follow me - let’s figure this out together”. It is considered disrespectful to solve a problem for an employee because when we do that we are robbing that person of the opportunity to “learn”. In this way the “learning organisation” is built on a culture that relies on high levels of engagement and constantly challenging the established way using experimentation and a robust root cause problem solving process.
So how do we achieve all this? Well here are a few points to consider in our quest to move our organisations towards this style of leadership:
- Listen to what is being said and not said - take the time to really listen. Gemba walks are a great way to build this into leader standard work. Please see a previous blog article for a more detailed exploration.
- Empower others by giving them opportunities to lead - there is more to this than meets the eye. Does the environment in our organisation support this? Have we provided training for our front line leaders covering both the Lean tools but also facilitation and leadership skills? Do our front line leaders have what they need (including good data, skills, tools and our support) to engage their teams in structured problem solving?
- Attitude is contagious, keep it positive. We cannot expect others to be positive if we are negative. If we take interest in our people’s achievements they will respond positively. If we show interest in certain aspects of the operation that our teams can influence, our people will respond by buying-in to this focused attention.
- Give and seek honest feedback because it builds trust - without it we will not achieve a high trust culture.
- Escalate issues to solve problems quickly - this will not happen by itself - we will need good visual management systems that ensure problems are exposed effortlessly and seen as “good” opportunities for learning.
- Resolve to get the best results - never be satisfied with mediocrity. Constantly push for better. people feel good when they are learning, not just when they are winning.
- Serve because it gives us the ability to influence - this is the paradox and the real focus of this article. Servant leadership is the most powerful leadership style because it should result in duplication throughout the organisation.
- Lead by example - demonstrate a daily focus on increasing customer value and waste elimination. Speak the language, know the tools and practice the techniques.
- Be prepared to invest for the long term - it’s OK to implement a process that is less than perfect and use the tools to improve it over time.