Planet Lean: The Official online magazine of the Lean Global Network
For profound lean change, develop new power skills in leaders

For profound lean change, develop new power skills in leaders

Robson Gouveia
February 23, 2024

FEATURE – The author highlights the critical “power skills” leaders need to provide the right support to the transformations they lead.


Words: Robson Gouveia


When it comes to leadership, it's easy to think solely about technical skills and specific knowledge. However, with the evolution of Lean Management, a new set of "power skills" is emerging as essential for leaders. These skills not only help promote a lean culture, but also create a healthier and more productive work environment.

"Power skills" refer to those behavioral abilities that are crucial for an individual's personal and professional development. Some even consider "power skills" to be a blend of "hard skills" and "soft skills," a mighty combination that sets individuals apart.

Leading a team is no easy task and demands a range of skills and practices that need to be executed in different situations in a company's daily operations. In a lean transformation, people should always be at the center, requiring leaders to stay updated and alert when things aren't going well.

There are six key "power skills" that most leadership lacks in the development and business transformations we've witnessed over the last two decades. This directly and negatively impacts not only the results and sustainability of the gains achieved, but also the morale of the teams they lead and the work environment they are in.

Of course, we can't define leaders solely based on the presence or absence of these six competencies, but by pursuing and reinforcing their skills, we can nurture them to achieve deeper and long-awaited cultural change.

1. Creating psychologically safe environments

One of the primary "power skills" that leaders must develop is the ability to foster psychological safety. This entails creating an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions and ideas without fear of retaliation or judgment. Psychological safety is crucial for promoting innovation and continuous learning, as it allows people to share their experiences and mistakes without hesitation.

It's essential to understand that psychological safety is not about mere comfort or the belief that everything will be fine. It's about building a workspace based on honesty and transparency. It's an environment where making mistakes or asking for help is encouraged, making the process of taking risks and facing challenges more appealing to all team members. Moreover, it's a space where everyone can be themselves without any fear of judgment.

2) Learning from failures and mistakes to accelerate change and innovation

In lean transformation journeys, experimentation and failure are much more common than one might imagine. Significant changes and tools that are known to thousands of practitioners worldwide have emerged from failures experienced in various situations.

We are constantly confronted with two "cultures of failure": one that urges us to avoid failure at all costs and one that encourages us to fail quickly and frequently. Lean leadership needs to understand that failure is an inevitable part of the learning process. When we fail, we face our limitations and mistakes, allowing us to identify areas that need improvement. By analyzing our mistakes, we can understand what we did wrong and find solutions for improvement – a concept we can call "smart failure."

3) Trust and genuine connections

Lean leaders must establish trust with their team members, through honesty and transparency, and by keeping promises. When team members trust their leaders, they become more motivated and engaged, leading to increased productivity and the quality of work.

Furthermore, lean leaders must create meaningful connections with their team members. This involves active listening, displaying empathy, and being present. By authentically connecting with their team members, leaders can better understand their needs and concerns, providing more effective support.

You can start by practicing daily "small ethics": saying good morning, good afternoon, good night; asking for permission, using "please," being grateful, and soo n.

4) Leading with respect to promote inclusive environments

Respect is another fundamental "power skill" for lean leaders. This means treating all team members with dignity and valuing them, regardless of their position or role. Leaders should recognize and appreciate each individual's contributions, promoting an inclusive and collaborative work environment.

Respect isn't just about treating people humanely; it's about making each team member critically evaluate themselves and their work, striving for continuous improvement. It involves listening more, challenging, supporting, working with horizontal teams, learning, teaching, and being where the work happens—leadership practices that embody the lean perspective on respect.

Leading with respect should be grounded in affirmative actions to create a diverse and inclusive environment that allows everyone to participate, ensures equality in starting points, creates spaces for dialogue and cooperation, and enhances the exercise of citizenship.

It's worth noting that diversity and inclusion are closely linked to the social context; in other words, the greater the inclusion, the greater the diversity.

5) Observe more, judge less

Lean leaders must be aware of unconscious biases. This involves recognizing that everyone has a tendency to pass judgment based on unconscious stereotypes or biases. By being aware of these biases, leaders can take steps to avoid them and make fair and impartial decisions.

Everyone faces challenges, right? Do you have your own challenges too? Are there people on your team with difficult life stories, sick children, chronic pain, depression, addiction to social media, etc.? It's essential to remember that many times, these individuals are unaware of the problems they have or the resulting behaviors. Other times, they struggle daily with these issues but simply can't resolve them.

You're not a judge; you're a leader. Instead of judging their actions, observe their behaviors and help them when they need you. Be present, support, and if you must judge something, judge the results that you and your team collectively achieve.

6) Leading by example

Last but not least, lean leaders must set an example for their team. They should embody lean principles in their own work and behaviors, showing others what can be achieved. By setting the example, leaders can inspire and motivate their team members to adopt a lean mindset and strive for excellence.

"Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say." This quote is attributed to American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I have always seen it as an interesting way to explain hypocrisy and inconsistency. Have you ever heard someone speak about ethics when their actions were entirely unethical? Like a doctor who smokes and advises patients not to, or an intolerant religious leader? There is often excessive talk in an attempt to compensate for a lack of action.

If you want people to meet deadlines, meet your own. If you want everyone to be on time for the meeting, be the first there. If you want your company to eliminate waste and generate more value, stand shoulder to shoulder with your team in this quest.

***

Without proper leadership preparation, progress on the most challenging problems in an organization will be limited. Our close observation of every training program we support in companies across Brazil and around the world highlights the increasing pressure that leaders face. Accelerated transformations and short-term financial imperatives remain critical, but social demands and caring for individuals require more attention.

If the company believes that people are their most valuable asset and wants to have the right attitude towards them, HR and business leaders need to invest time and effort in creating a workplace where everyone is valued and respected. This approach creates psychologically safe environments for employees, allowing them to feel comfortable expressing their opinions, ideas, and concerns. This, in turn, promotes engagement and collaboration among team members.

Leaders who can change minds and hearts are more successful in creating value for customers. On one hand, today’s professionals expect more autonomy, participation in strategic decisions, and flexibility. On the other hand, they haven't yet developed the skills to solve complex problems and manage "power skills" related to human relationships that were previously neglected.

For all these reasons, our efforts have focused on training new leaders, starting at the top, because everything begins with the behavior of senior leadership. The culture of a company largely reflects the culture of its executives.

THE AUTHOR

Robson Gouveia is Director at Lean Institute Brasil

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