As the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics have demonstrated, unlocking our own potential, and that of others, must rank as one of the most powerful and inspiring human experiences. This takes on even greater significance when the achievements exceed, even ‘smash through’, our often unconscious expectations or assumptions.
Lean Six Sigma tools like Assumption Busting can help us break throug
h our own paradigms and self-imposed limitations to open up new possibilities. But how can we encourage this type of mind-set and behaviour on a more routine basis, that is, embed it as part of our organisational culture? This is more than a quick fix of course, and needs to be enabled through leadership behaviour in terms of establishing trust and building empowerment.
For this to happen and become sustainable, there are (fortunately!) some guiding principles which leaders can reflect on and place at their centre as their “true-north” compass. Change is an “inside-out process” starting with each of us taking responsibility as individuals. The principles I’m referring to are universal, are timeless and have consequences. Particular examples of these leadership principles are ‘respect every individual’ and ‘lead with humility’, and they provide guidance on ideal behaviours.
Rooted in Lean thinking, respect for every individual goes well beyond simply being courteous and polite to everybody, but means acknowledging their value, nourishing their potential, listening more than speaking, and encouraging them to try something new. As Eric Reis, author of The Lean Startup, says “Respect means ensuring that everyone in the organisation knows that their contribution matters.”
Lead with humility, a key characteristic highlighted by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great, is exemplified by welcoming the ideas of others, being willing to change when learning something new, trusting others to make good decisions, and giving credit to others rather than claiming it for yourself. Leading with humility opens the door to more meaningful conversations, and helps maximize the contributions from others.
To change behaviours and organisational culture leading to sustainable performance improvement, people need to know what to do and how to do it of course, but they also need to understand the ‘why’. Real empowerment occurs when principles and practices are applied at all levels in the organisation: the practices (including tools) guide us in what to do, the principles guide us in why we do it. And hence organisations can truly begin to exceed expectations and realize their potential.
In the next blog in this series we will look at some key principles which are particularly relevant in supporting Continuous Improvement.