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In short, leadership is the act of one person uniting and motivating others toward a common goal.

Leadership is part natural (as in “natural-born”), but is refined greatly through training, practice, and constant learning. Confidence in oneself is a key component of leadership.

While leadership is generally considered a positive trait, it can be dangerous when a leader lacks ethics. The goal that leaders point others toward is not always a positive one.

Leadership and management are closely related skills. A common differentiator is that leadership relates to people and management relates to processes.

One important thing to realize about leadership is that it is learned. Sure, many of the individual traits of leadership are things that you are born with, but leaders can be created. It is certainly easier if you have been blessed with an assortment of natural attributes, but being a leader is not predetermined.

Another important point to remember is that leadership is not always a good thing. It must be combined with a vision and a sense of what is right. Gang leaders are arguably strong leaders, but their objectives and morals do not mesh well with mainstream culture. In a company, strong leadership combined with poor decision making is extremely dangerous.

Leadership also does not need authority to exist. I have seen time and time again where the true leader on a kaizen team is not the team leader, but rather someone who steps up and takes charge of the team.

Big Picture Leadership

While the little things make a leader stronger, it is the big factors that really male a leader stand out. (Note: Some of these items originally appeared in a Gotta Go Lean Blog article, The 4 “C’s” of Lean Leadership.)

  • Character: A leader must have a well-developed sense of right and wrong to maintain the respective of his or her team. Their moral compass must guide their behaviors at all times, as they are constantly being watched. Apart from being wrong, deviating from ones ethics sets a poor example.
  • Course Charting (Vision). A leader must be able to look into the future and see what the world should look like.
  • Communication: A leader must be able to clearly convey his or her thoughts and instructions in a way that rallies people behind them. The delivery is as important as the message. A well-crafted speech at a stand-up meeting in the morning can mean the difference between a motivated team and one that lacks job satisfaction.
  • Commitment: Leaders need the courage to stay the course. That means continuing to trust that the Lean principleswork, even in the early stages of a transformation where thecosts outweigh the benefits. (I’ve seen some estimates that it can take 2-3 years for Lean to start paying for itself.) It also means not abandoning processes when the pressure rises.
  • Connections: Leaders must have relationships with their subordinates, peers, bosses, suppliers, and especially customers. This comes primarily from trust. When those groups trust that the leader will do what he or she promises, and won’t put personal gain first, great things can happen.
  • Competence: Leaders must know their jobs well, and to a great degree, the jobs of their teams. That’s not to say they need to be able to swiftly navigate the nuances of every computer system their administrators use, or be able to produce parts on every machine in the factory, but they should be able to talk intelligently about the processes they oversee. Leaders don’t gain that competence sitting at a desk. The get it from going to gemba.
  • Confidence: If a leader does not believe in him or herself is unlikely the team will. People do not like to follow those who are unsure of their decisions.
  • Consistency: A leader has to be predictable and how he or she reacts to things. People should not feel like they have to walk on egg shells around her boss. They should know if I do “A”, then “B” will happen.
  • Charging (Empowerment): The best leaders don’t do things for themselves. They coach and teach their team, but most importantly, they give their team the opportunity to try things. People only learn and get better when they are allowed to make their own decisions.
  • Creativity: A boss can have an average career by playing it safe. But if he wants to be outstanding leader, you will have to think a little differently than others. Trying new things can be risky, but the rewards are greater.


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