Over seventy-six million people will soon be leaving the workforce and although much has been written about this dynamic, few companies are really prepared for the massive transformation. This makes having a strong infrastructure important to the success of leadership as well as the typical Lean Six Sigma program.
Spending time educating the workforce on how to engage in process improvement has extreme merit. Choosing an actual methodology to follow such as Lean Six Sigma increases the success of this adventure. This is because Lean Six Sigma recognizes the analytical business processes that must take place but balances that approach with the recognition that people are the drivers. Other process methodologies would agree, however, Lean Six Sigma emphasizes the role of the leader along with understanding change management and team dynamics.
The leadership styles, used in business, began getting attention in the early 1900s. Over the decades these styles have been repackaged and renamed. The four styles originally given the most respect, due to research performed, included:
• Bureaucratic
• Charismatic
• Democratic
• Reactive
According to the most popular research, bureaucratic leaders are structured and follow established procedures. Charismatic leaders lead by inspiration. Democratic leaders are concerned with consensus. Reactive leaders make decisions immediately without considering feedback from other employees.
In 1939, a group of researchers led by psychologist Kurt Lewin identified only three main types of leadership styles. This work was based on studying groups of children and is still highly respected today. The children were assigned to one of the following groups:
• Authoritarian
• Participative
• Laissez-fair
The autocratic leader provides clear expectations and there is an obvious division between leader and follower. The participative or democratic leader offers guidance to group members, but this type of leader also participates in the group allowing input from other group members. The laissez-fair leader delegated most tasks to the members of the team.
Lewan’s research indicated that team members were the most productive in autocratic environments but more creative in participative environments. His research also stated that the least productive and creative environments were the groups designated as laissez-fair.
Lewan’s research deemed the democratic leadership style as the most effective. He believed that although autocratic leadership appeared to offer the most productivity it was the leadership style most likely to be abused. However, Lewin also believed that autocratic leadership was effective when there deadlines did not allow for group decision-making and/or when the leader demonstrated that they were the most knowledgeable member of the team.
Originally, all research performed on leadership styles promoted the idea that everyone had a specific style. Much merit was given to the idea that it was necessary for a good leader to identify their core style in order to be enlightened and to expand their leadership abilities. Newer thinking is based on situational leadership. This means that the leadership style would be dependent on the actual situation.
Leadership styles have been expanded to include the following:
• Relation-oriented leader
• Servant leader
• Transformational leader
• Task-oriented leader
Relation-oriented Leaders are also referred to as people-oriented leaders. In this style, the leader tries to support and mentor the team members as opposed to setting the supreme direction.
Servant Leaders has become a popular theory. This leader does not officially act as leader but takes a more informal approach and makes decisions collectively by consulting with the team. It is similar to democratic leadership. However, most literature indicates that this type of leadership is more sensitive than the democratic leader as this leader is concern about how people feel and why they voted the way they did as opposed to simply making consensus based decisions.
Transformational Leaders provide motivation to the team, giving them a reason to adopt a particular change. It is similar to charismatic leadership but the focus isn’t on the leaders personal traits or popularity.
Task-oriented Leaders are known for focusing on what the team needs to achieve. This leader is similar to result-oriented leaders but is more aware of the needs and welfare of the team members.
Most current leadership research suggests that all leaders need to be more engaged if they hope to lead teams in the right direction. Leaders need to act as a catalyst for change.
The article, Leaders Asleep at the Wheel, states that is no mystery why so many leaders are asleep at the wheel and not as fully engaged in the leadership process.
These days it is not uncommon for the best and the brightest to opt for opportunities that offer more life balance. Ten years ago, a bevy of baby boomers emerged, excited about the prospects of entering senior leadership roles. A decade later, the bloom is off the rose. The entire do-more-with-less philosophy is partially to blame. Equally to blame, however, is the fact that culture changed. Now leaders are expected to listen, be open, and seek differing opinions.
Smart individuals, who want to lead, get with the program and understand the new culture. Unfortunately, there are still some who have not learned these new principles. Consequently, there are not enough qualified people to handle all the leadership roles available. The void is often filled by people with no innate ability to lead and/or by those with no formal leadership training.
These leaders are asleep at the wheel. They are sometimes difficult to identify because they are almost always incredibly busy. Being asleep at the wheel doesn't mean that they are lethargic or lazy. Their hectic schedule often causes them to miss the big picture. It becomes about finishing projects as opposed to finishing projects right. The process becomes unimportant.
Leaders who are asleep at the wheel are certain that they are smarter than the rest of us. They know what we need and want, without asking. They talk a lot about listening but rarely do. This occurs frequently, even in some of the more minor leadership roles. These leaders suffer from a serious lack of vision. They honestly believe that they are in touch with the very pulse of their community. Because they are so certain they are right about everything they miss the obvious. They may represent their position as the voice of a particular organization or that of an entire industry.
Leaders who are asleep at the wheel aren't totally to blame. The life balance scenario is very appealing. Plenty of people want to work or serve their organization. They just don't want to be in charge. This means many leadership decisions go unchallenged. Unfortunately, this makes the leader feel more powerful and even the slightest criticism can be interpreted by the leader as a major threat. This results in people realizing that speaking up may have consequences.
Even our churches are suffering from leaders who are asleep at the wheel. In a recent Wall Street Journal article it was reported that members are ostracized or shunned by their congregations because they questioned the pastor or asked to see the financial records of the church. So, it is often tempting to sit back and let the other person drive even though it is dangerous.
The Enron financial fiasco that first came to light in 2001 is a perfect example of leaders asleep at the wheel. Although it will be a point of debate for many years to come as to who was responsible for the debacle, there were many leaders of departments simply not paying attention. They had been encouraged not to worry, by their supervisors. They were receiving compensation at a level that must surely mean they were doing the right thing. No one questioned the situation and those who did were deemed ungrateful or unworthy.
There are thousands of examples where businesses lost out or went under because leadership was asleep at the wheel. Consider a recent example with CompUSA. CompUSA started a customer loyalty program called The CompUSA Network. Rewards were earned for purchases. However management leadership failed to properly promote the program and it was suspended. Customers who liked the program were infuriated. This lack of leadership attention contributed to the closing of 126 stores.
Former FEMA director Mike Brown wasn't listening when he responded too slowly to the urgent requests for help associated with Katrina. Embarrassing emails revealed that he was sure he had the situation under control. He was asleep at the wheel.
Leaders who are asleep at the wheel rush to judgment, misuse their resources, and repeatedly use failure-prone tactics to make decisions. They are incapable of changing things on their own or seeing the situation through a different lens. As good members of a team, everyone needs to be prepared to speak up, ask questions and hold our leaders accountable.
Lean Six Sigma leaders seek ‘mission-critical projects’, and they provide the management energy and horsepower to free up resources. But more than that, Lean Six Sigma Leaders have the vision to “imagine the future.” An effective Lean Six Sigma leader indentifies high potential employees and understands the value of training.
Leadership is an essential quality which all project managers are presumed to possess. But the amount of actual ability is a variable. Some come by it naturally as a result of inherited qualities. Others may benefit from formal leadership development. Leadership development refers to any activity that enhances the quality of leadership.
A critical skill for leaders is the ability to manage their own learning. The first step is to conduct a self-assessment. Leadership development is a continuous process, and not an annual event Adapting leadership styles to each person’s needs and not being afraid to collect input from others is crucial.
The personal attributes and character of leaders are varied. The particular competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) that a person needs in order to lead at a particular time in an organization depend on a variety of factors. However, most people will agree that a good leader should possess common sense and judgment.
How an organization is structured often dictates the leadership role in a Lean Six Sigma project. For example, organizations that favor matrix management can be both a positive and negative force for the Lean Six Sigma leader. In this type of company a link between senior management functions and self-contained work cells is sometimes maintained through a matrix structure in which personnel assigned to functions are deployed temporarily to the cells. This approach maintains some of the advantages of specialization while facilitating coordination within cells.
This arrangement is not easy to run. The managers of the various work cells may compete with their counterparts for the services, such as quality control and maintenance. Managers of functions may be concerned that temporary assignments of their personnel to cells may become permanent. No consensus on the ideal solution has emerged, although some continuity of staffing may be needed for the success of the project, permanent assignments may impair the ability of the functions to maintain specialized knowledge.
As noted earlier, the new leaner tools focus on continuous improvement as a guiding principle. The road to quality is paved with small incremental improvements. Major sweeping changes seldom work. As this country moves its business style from control to management to leadership we are finding that the people actually doing the work are the most capable of identifying changes necessary to improve quality. Leadership must listen and implement changes rather than direct.
Lean Six Sigma leaders are encouraged to think in a new way and may be involved in any of the following activities:
• Acting as a catalyst
• Asking the right questions
• Creating a responsive project solution
• Developing options and alternatives
• Discovering and exposing ideas
• Effecting timely decision making
• Establishing effective and efficient project start-up
• Establishing team ownership
• Expediting decision making
• Facilitating the design team
• Identifying and clarifying organizational structure
• Improving communication
• Integrating customers into the total team
• Orienting the total team to a mutual goal
• Providing a framework by which to benchmark project success
• Reaching design consensus
• Synthesizing ideas
• Testing options and alternatives
• Uncovering opportunities
• Understanding total requirements
In Western models of corporate organization there are leadership issues that need to align with vertical integration, horizontal diversification, growth by merger, acquisition, and shareholder interests. Lean Six Sigma encourages working in tandem rather than against the business system.
The way that leadership development differs in Lean Six Sigma is that typical leadership programs focus on the development of the leader, such as the personal attributes desired in a leader, desired ways of behaving, ways of thinking or feeling. Lean Six Sigma leadership focuses more on the development of leadership as a process. This includes the social influence process, interpersonal relationships, and team dynamics. The advantage of this approach is that a person, who may not feel that they are a natural leader, may be more comfortable learning a process than changing their overall personality. Lean Six Sigma leadership is also very flexible and supports changing strategy when necessary.
Leaders play a critical role during change implementation. Effective leadership will reduce the adverse reaction to change. Being a leader who is support of Lean Six Sigma will give leaders an extra advantage.

Author's Bio: 

Terra Vanzant-Stern, PhD is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and author of Lean Six Sigma: Practical Bodies of Knowledge. She is the director of the Accelerated Lean Six Sigma program at SSD Global University and specializes in ISO 13503 as well as Innovative Design for Six Sigma.