Relentless leadership

Lead like a relentless but reflective bulldozer.   I’m off course referring to the LEAN Institute Africa’s 2014 summit theme.  I’ve summarized some of the summit’s consistent themes regarding the traits of such a leader.

The LEAN Africa’s Institute’s pamphlet for the 2014 summit defines the relentless leader as a purposeful leader, continually driving for improvement whilst simultaneously being compassionate. Thesaurus defines the word relentless as sustained, unremitting and unyieldingly severe.

Traits and ways of the relentless leader:

  • The relentless leader acknowledges participation.  The relentless LEAN leader realizes that people are more involved when they feel appreciated and acknowledged; therefor they find time and ways to encourage participation and experimentation.  The relentless leader not only knows that it’s about the people but also cares deeply about the people.
  • A relentless leader sets direction.  They do not simply introduce a toolbox.   They start by creating a shared vision and philosophy. The most applicable tools are adapted to suit organizational need and support the shared vision.
  • A relentless leader is persistent. There is no end to improvement.  The relentless leader makes LEAN stick; the relentless leader takes the organization beyond LEAN being a project, fad or process with an end date.
  • Relentless leaders are information conduits working consistently towards creating a corporate memory.  Relentless leader creates a focus on producing knowledge in the same way that one produces work.  Every problem is an opportunity to learn and generate knowledge.   The relentless leader ensures that there is no space for exclusivity and knowledge is shared across functional boundaries.  They know that functions may be specialised or specific to a work area; however the significance of knowledge is collective.
  • The relentless leader is a good listener and finds the problem before offering solutions.  In emergency medicine we teach that the most dramatic injury is not necessarily the most serious injury.  For example if a person has an obviously broken bone that you see as you approach and you immediately focus attention on that, you may miss that the person is not breathing and has no pulse.  So they will have pretty splint but also be pretty dead, because you didn’t address the real problem.  So don’t get side-tracked by the noise and always follow the same systematic approach. It’s the same with solving problems what appears to be an immediate problem and/or solution is most likely not addressing the root cause of the problem.
  • The relentless leader is visible at the workspace and makes gemba tangible.  Gemba is not simply going to the workspace to “see” the problem.  Gemba is going to the workplace and observing until your mind shuts up, applying all the senses.  It’s like meditation, you need to feel the workspace and observe the work cycle.
  • The relentless LEAN leader leads by example:  their office is neat, they use visual management tools, they can find data easily and they share knowledge.  They know that you can’t “delegate” LEAN or not have time for “LEAN” expecting that the team will then make the time, and buy into LEAN if it’s not visible from leadership.
  • The relentless leader is consistent. LEAN is not just for when things are going poorly.  It is habits that are formed by practising it every day.  These habits includes measuring performance, huddles, daily activities, workplace discipline, the relentless leader is consistently setting the pace and leading by example.
  • The relentless leader respects and values the team.  As such the relentless leader considers that when bringing about change for the first time, it’s scary and unknown.  They know that there will be resistance.  To add a little bit of my own spice, with regards to change I’ve been taught to apply the grief process as extensively described by Elizabeth Kuber-Ross to understand the initial resistance.  The relentless LEAN leader intuitively plans and allows for some adjustment and that there may initially be denial, maybe even anger because the workplace is changing.
  • The relentless leader measures performance.  The analogy presented was if you are a rugby fan and its 20 minutes into the second half when you first tune in on the tv.  What is the first thing that you look at?  The score.  Because that gives you an instant update of how the game is going.  The relentless leader knows that in order to know the score, the right score must be kept and displayed to the team.

I think that it’s the mission of the relentless leader that sets them apart. And I would like to add a quote by management guru Peter Drucker:  “The three most charismatic leaders in this (last) century inflicted more suffering on the human race than almost any trio in the history: Hitler, Staling and Mao.  What matters most are not the leader’s charisma, what matters is the leader’s mission. “


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