Mike Leigh is the President of OpX Solutions, a performance improvement company that helps manufacturers remove the barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals by developing leaders and improving processes. As such, Mike knows a lot about what makes a good leader.
In this episode of Zen and the Art of Manufacturing, Byran Sapot asks Mike, “What makes a good leader in manufacturing?” You’ll hear the key qualities of a leader, as well as how those qualities transfer to running a manufacturing plant. Learn how leadership and continuous improvement work hand-in-hand to create a great culture.
“Leadership behaviors and culture in the organization are the biggest factors that impact the success of your continuous improvements efforts”
In part 2, we talk about the specific steps needed to become a better leader while simultaneously improving the plant. Learn why listening skills can be the number one influence of exceptional culture, why good leadership needs to start at the top in order to improve culture, and how both of these things can help improve the performance and processes of the company as a whole.
“When a leader can understand that a good idea and improvements can come from anywhere and anybody, that’s a great skill because that can take an organization to the next level.”
Mike started OpX Solutions because to help manufacturers and other organizations be more successful, and in this podcast, he’ll impart that same knowledge so you, as a listener, can improve your leadership and create success in your own organization.
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[00:00:00] Bryan Sapot: Welcome to the Zen and the Art of Manufacturing podcast, where we learn about how to create calm and improve flow in manufacturing. We focus on culture, developing people, continuous improvement and technology. I’m your host, Bryan Sapot, and today we have with us Mike Leigh from OpX solutions. Thanks Mike for joining us.
[00:00:17] Mike Leigh: Oh, you bet. Thanks, Bryan.
[00:00:18] Bryan Sapot: You know, sometimes we start these things out with reading somebody’s bio, but there’s something that caught my interest, especially what we’re going to talk about today, which is leadership. In your background that I didn’t realize, you were in the Navy.
[00:00:30] That is correct. I was in the Navy.
[00:00:33] Do you think, and this is kind of jumping right off into it. Do you
think your knowledge of leadership and kind of how you do things and look at the world was shaped by that experience and the way that the Navy and the armed forces developed leaders?
[00:00:47] Mike Leigh: It definitely was. You know, the military for obvious reasons puts a high value in developing leaders.
Um, much more than you might find in manufacturing or other industries from day one, especially for me as a Naval officer, there’s a lot of training and development and coaching on your leadership skills. So it very much helped me develop my own leadership skills and to also understand some of the strong leadership behaviors and some of the not so strong leadership behaviors that I see out there be successful.
[00:01:19] So it most definitely helped develop my view of strong leadership and for good or bad, it definitely influenced my own leadership style.
[00:01:29] Bryan Sapot: Yeah. So what you know, we’re going to talk about today is leadership and the role that it plays in continuous improvement and you were in the Navy and then you went off into a 13 year career in manufacturing before starting OpX. Is that right?
[00:01:46] Mike Leigh: That’s correct. Yeah.
[00:01:48] Bryan Sapot: What kind of companies did you work at during your career when you actually worked in the manufacturing world?
[00:01:53] Mike Leigh: All of my experience in manufacturing was actually with one company. It was with General Electric, but while I was with them, I worked at four different sites, making very different products, and in a variety of roles and GE obviously is a big company. So, but that’s where all my direct manufacturing came from.
[00:02:13] Bryan Sapot: Did you see kind of a direct application of leadership styles or things that you’ve learned, kind of the good parts and the bad parts about leading people and developing leaders and applying that, you know, your different roles at GE?
[00:02:26] Mike Leigh: Absolutely. You know, when it comes to, let me just step back and tell you that, when it comes to leadership, it’s very complex and good leaders, in my opinion are always looking to improve their leadership skills, just like any other skill, right? The good ones always try to get better. And you know, you, you’re surrounded by people who are good leaders and bad leaders all the time.
[00:02:50] And just looking at what’s around you and in all the environments you’ve been in and all the jobs you’ve been in. The good bosses you’ve had, the bad bosses you’ve had. You can take all that experience to help you improve as a leader. And so all my experiences in the Navy, all my experiences with GE, I had some great leaders in both organizations and I had some not so great leaders in both organizations and that all formed my leadership style.
[00:03:21] And as a matter of fact, the reason I am so involved, part of my business is developing leaders and, I just became more and more interested in how much of an impact leadership has on the success of an organization. And I’ve seen it over and over, both the good and the bad, and I’ve seen it where it’s been extreme, almost like an extreme make-over in an organization just from changing the leader.
[00:03:45] So I don’t think you can overemphasize the impact a leader can have on your organization, on the performance and the culture of your organization.
[00:03:55] Bryan Sapot: How would you define a good leader?
[00:03:57] Mike Leigh: Whew. That sounds like an easy question, but it’s not, but if you want to know how I would define it, you know, a leader, there’s different definitions of leaders.
[00:04:05] Right. And what I mean by that is sometimes you’ll hear organizations say, well, everybody’s a leader, right? There is what I’ll call personal leadership, which is different from team leaders or those that are leading a team or other individuals. And so I’ll just stick with that second one here for a second, but you know, a strong leader or a good leader
[00:04:26] is one that is very good at rallying the group, the team, whichever organization, or group that you are leading and getting them all focused. And working toward a common vision or goal and executing good leadership. We often talk about the ability to relate to your team members, to motivate them and so forth, but more important than that is you still have to perform.
[00:04:54] You still have to achieve results. Leadership is about bringing a team to achieve results and the best leaders, the good leaders are able to do that effectively. And in the right way, we probably have leaders who can get results, but they don’t necessarily do it in the right way longterm. So there was one thing interesting.
[00:05:14] When I worked for GE I’ll just throw this out as a little side note, but I joined GE about a year and a half after Jack Welch left. And one of the things they used to promote General Electric was they used like a matrix and they had, you know, leaders that got results or didn’t get results. And then on one axis and the other access was you met GEs values.
[00:05:37] Or you did it right. And they used to say, you know, if you got results and you met the values, those are the best leaders, the other extreme, if you didn’t do either, they shouldn’t be in the organization. And they used to say, I’d say the most dangerous leaders are the ones that get results, but they don’t adhere to the values because it can have a, long-term just negative of disease impact right
[00:05:59] in your organization. So being able to get the results and to be able to do it in a way that meets.
[00:06:05] Bryan Sapot: What most organizations consider important values to their organizations is what makes sense? Do you like the idea of that matrix? Like, is that something that you use today or do you something different to kind of evaluate whether or not somebody is a good leader
[00:06:19] Mike Leigh: I don’t use that matrix specifically to evaluate, um, I use it for examples or just to talk about if I work with an organization. Where I see a leader who maybe is getting the work done, but everybody literally hates that leader. Or miserable or something, right. They’re just beating them down for lack of a better term.
[00:06:43] You know, that’s not the type of leader you want or they’re doing it without integrity. You know, some of these core values that organizations wanting to have and, and organizations get in trouble when it’s all about, just about the results and not the values. Now I don’t necessarily use just that simple of a matrix, but there are, you know, assessment tools and things that, uh, that are out there
[00:07:04] which, you know, organizational development professionals have that can help you measure and evaluate these values. And many organizations will claim that they have, they have a certain core set of values. You can go on people’s websites and stuff and say, these are our core values, but they don’t necessarily try to measure them.
[00:07:26] Or really it’s just kind of lip service. Some organizations, but a lot of them just give it lip service.
[00:07:32] Bryan Sapot: Yeah. I bet you, most of the, in some of those organizations, the employees wouldn’t even know what they are.
[00:07:37] Mike Leigh: Right. It was something that. They came up with in a workshop and it’s just, it’s on the about us
page and that’s about it.
[00:07:44] You know, in a fairly large organization, often they’ll do employee surveys. And so that’s a common tool where can ask your employees all these different statements, you know, does my boss, or does my manager do this or do they not do this right. And the way those are designed is, they really bring about some of the values and the culture that you have in your organization and whether or not the leaders are exhibiting those things.
[00:08:12] So there are definitely instruments such as that, or you’ve heard of maybe 360 assessments and there’s a lot of various ways you can and track and measure it. And so for organizations that are looking to make sure they have strong leaders or develop their leaders or improve their culture, I highly recommend you use those types of instruments, right?
[00:08:32] Because they can provide you some valuable insight as to whether or not your leaders in your organization are really adhering, not just getting results, because those, we see, we typically measure those, but are we doing it in the right way? And, and that’s up to each organization to determine how important that is to them.
[00:08:51] And you can find ways to measure that.
[00:08:53] Bryan Sapot: So there’s multiple levels, right. There’s finding new leaders, developing them, right. Even before they step into management roles, then you have like existing people in management roles that you have to develop and kind of groom them to improve over time. Or maybe they want to do that themselves.
[00:09:09] How have you found that that companies are, or even, you know, how have you coached people on doing it? How do you identify who the potential leaders of the future are within your organization and develop them?
[00:09:21] Mike Leigh: Yeah. That’s, that’s a good question. I will tell you. And, and, and we’ll talk mostly about manufacturing here, although it’s not specific to manufacturing, but I see it happen a lot in manufacturing is that organizations don’t necessarily have a good way to do this, or at least not a very systematic way.
[00:09:38] And often what you find is for those new leaders, the brand new ones, the team leaders, the supervisors. You know, they used to be called foreman and stuff like that. They’re often promoted from your best employees, your technical employees, right? The ones that do a good job, maybe from the hourly skilled trades and, you know, promote them into a leadership role that can be partially effective because often they’re motivated, right.
[00:10:07] They’re doing a good job. They’re motivated and you definitely want leaders that are motivated, but leadership skills are different. You know, I use this analogy. If you work in a manufacturer and you have a, a complex piece of machinery or a CNC, programmed mill or something that you have to run, you wouldn’t just put anybody on that machine without any training and development to run that machine. Cause they’re gonna, they can damage it or, you know, scrap some expensive parts, whatever. But we do that with leaders all the time. We take someone, but he has been a valuable employee and we say, Hey, we’d like you to promote you to be a supervisor, you know, and, and most of them they’ll say yes, because maybe they get more pay, but there wasn’t really any other evaluation that was done.
[00:10:48] So to answer your question, you know, how do you identify them? It’s not always easy. And the reason I say that is because leaders can from a personality standpoint and how they communicate can come from almost any different type of profile. You can have very effective, quiet leaders. You can have very loud, boisterous, outgoing leaders, and both can be effective.
[00:11:14] It’s not always easy to identify who the good leaders are. However, there are some things that you can try to do to observe or coach team members who you think might do well to become leaders. And it’s understanding what some of these skills and behaviors are and their interests and whether or not they relate.
[00:11:37] For example leaders, good leaders. I’ll just use an example of one thing. I’m thinking off top of my head. You need to have some good initiative, right? They, they have to be fairly self-motivated and be willing to take initiative in their organization. You know, has an employee demonstrated taking initiative?
[00:11:56] Are they comfortable doing that? Are they always just simply waiting to be told? You know, that’s just one example off the top of my head, but in order to identify these leaders, what it really comes down to is identifying the skill set and the behaviors you want those leaders to exhibit, and then analyzing your team members
[00:12:19] Whether or not they exhibit those behaviors or not, or to what extent they do. One other thing I’ll say about that is, you know, I’m a firm believer that leaders can be developed. It’s maybe less important that you identify somebody beforehand than it is, you know, that you have a good, the development program because anybody can really do it into a fairly strong leader.
[00:12:44] There are some that are a little bit, maybe you call natural born leaders. There are some that maybe already have certain skills and behaviors that are more conducive to it. And there are some that probably should never be leaders, but there’s a lot of people in between that you can absolutely develop into, into a strong leader provided it’s something they want to do and they’re really interested in that role. One other quick thing before we move on is, you know, I firmly believe another characteristic of a strong leader is somebody that’s interested in coaching and mentoring and helping others. If you do not have that servant mentality, you may struggle with being a good leader.
[00:13:22] On the other hand, if you do have it, you can become an effective leader, even with some other shortcomings, if you really concentrate on being that servant leader. So those are a few things to help identify who some of your good leaders
[00:13:35] Bryan Sapot: It’s a good point. I was kind of thinking about that as you were explaining that you have to care about people because you’re when you’re a leader, you’re working with managing, developing people.
[00:13:45] And if you’re kind of like the lone ranger and you go off on your own all the time and do your own thing jump in and save the day all the time, that doesn’t really work with skills development. So with people, you know, throughout the organizational chart, do people build in, you know, the skills that we want and the next level do they start training people on those?
[00:14:05] Like when they’re in their existing jobs? Like let’s say I’m a supervisor of an area or a line supervisor inside of a manufacturing company. And the next step up for me is a department manager, right. Do companies kind of bake that training in for me as a supervisor to kind of develop those skills?
[00:14:22] Or how does, how does all that
[00:14:24] Mike Leigh: Well, I wish they did. I wish more of them did. That’s the way they should do it. Right. Ideally if you’re a supervisor and your next promotion may be an area manager of some sort in a manufacturing plant, First and foremost, you want to find out the intention and the desires for that supervisor.
[00:14:43] Right? Some supervisors may not want to move up and become a manager. That sounds obvious, but believe it or not, a lot of managers and senior leaders don’t ask their people, what do you want to do next? And some may not even like what they’re doing currently. And they would like to be lateral and do some, you know, be an individual contributor.
[00:14:59] So that’s first and foremost what you want to do, but then. For those who do aspire or want to move up to higher leadership roles, then it’s important to start coaching and mentoring them right away. One of the most effective ways you can do that. And this is something that, you know, it’s a very important skill for leaders to develop, and that is delegation skills.
[00:15:22] We often think of delegation as something to just help take things off our plate. But in reality when it’s done well, delegation is a great way to develop team members for the next role. If I’m an area manager and I have a supervisor that works for me, and that supervisor would like to be a manager someday.
[00:15:41] A good way to develop them is to find some small, not even small, but, uh, start giving them significant responsibilities that a manager might have and delegate some of those responsibilities to them, and then coach them in those responsibilities and by doing so, they are starting to develop to that next level, having a much more formal mentoring coaching. I don’t even want to call it a program. It should be part of your culture in your organization, but if it’s not, then at least make it a program to have that mentoring and coaching your team members, whether it’s to go to the next leadership role or whatever role they might want to take next. Now that can then also be complemented with development opportunities.
[00:16:26] You know, leadership programs are out there. There are some that are much better than others. But leaders can absolutely be developed and work toward that next step. For organizations that are thinking of what they can do to develop their leaders is really rely on making sure your leaders are good coaches and mentors, start giving them more responsibility so you can see how they do. See if they like it.
[00:16:50] See if they want more of it. See who your better performers are through that observation and then compliment that with development opportunities, you know, whether that’s various programs or whatever.
[00:17:02] Bryan Sapot: What’s interesting about what you said is we released a podcast yesterday and it was called The Foundations of Lean. It’s with this guy named Nick, he was kind of like you – implemented lean in a lot of different organizations and had a lot of success with it.
[00:17:14] And he talked a lot about a training matrix. So cross training people in different things. Um, I think at the same level, and then also up and down, and then also having, he called it standard of work, but like standard things that those roles do every single day. Having those expectations, it sounds like makes it, it’s almost like a prerequisite for all of this, because if you don’t know exactly what the
area manager does, then how can you train there? The people that work for them on how to move up, right?
[00:17:44] Mike Leigh: Yeah, exactly. You know, you, you’ve probably heard standard of work. He probably used it. Leader standard work leadership at its core is, is a set of behaviors and a set of responsibilities in, at every level in your organization that should be clear. The behaviors and responsibilities and activities that those, that leaders should be conducting. And just like any job, not even just a leadership job, but any job. Right? If you think about that, the guys that work out on the floor, making the product a lot of times, there’s good job descriptions on very specific skill sets.
[00:18:14] You’re looking for those organizations. Don’t always really define those in the leadership roles. There’s more responsibilities, but less definition of skills, but leadership is a skill just like any other role. And so defining what those skills that are needed in the standard work that leaders need to be done is you’re right,
[00:18:33] Bryan, it is a foundational element of developing somebody into that role and helping you evaluate whether or not someone can conduct that role can perform that role.
[00:18:43] Bryan Sapot: That makes sense. I mean, we do a lot of that too. Like we know the skills when we hire somebody and then when they get hired, what they do on a daily basis is kind of up in the air.
[00:18:52] It’s not really up in the air, but it’s kind of, we have metrics, hit the numbers, you know, from a sales perspective or a marketing perspective, which isn’t that different from the manufacturing world, which is, Hey, we have to make X today, hit the numbers. I’m not saying that that’s right, but that’s what I’ve seen.
[00:19:08] Mike Leigh: And that, you know, and Bryan, that’s important. You never want to get away from that. And sometimes people get away from that. It still comes down and you do have to get results, right? When you focus too often, we’ll promote and hire the very good firefighters and they don’t value as much or evaluate the fire preventers and leaders that are a little more strategic and can create a vision and can work toward that.
[00:19:32] So in the world of continuous improvement, you know, are your leaders thinking about how to get better or they just love putting out fires and they get, they thrive on it and they’re good at it. You need firefighters. But you also need fire preventers and you want your leaders to be more thinking about fire preventing as well as being able to put out fires.
[00:19:50] Bryan Sapot: Yeah, that’s a good point. That’s a good segue to talk about leadership and how it affects continuous improvement and vice versa. Whether we want call it lean, theory of constraints, doesn’t matter it at the end of the day, like what role does good leaders play in implementing those types of systems, you know, into a manufacturing organization and its results.
[00:20:11] Mike Leigh: Yeah. That’s, you know, it’s a great question. And actually it’s almost a foundational thing for my business is making sure that leaders are helping leaders develop behaviors in a culture that supports continuous improvement, because that’s another thing I learned working with GE and working with other organizations.
[00:20:30] And one of the reasons really my business model is the way it is, is because your leadership behaviors and the culture in your organization are by far the biggest factor, in my opinion that impacts the success of your continuous improvement efforts. It doesn’t matter how much lean training you give somebody, how much skills training you give them.
[00:20:48] You could teach them everything about lean and theory constraints, and you know, and that’s all important, but if the culture doesn’t exist and you don’t have the right leadership skills, you will not have sustained long-term success. So leadership’s important. It’s critical.
[00:21:04] Actually, I don’t think you can really have good success without it. At least not long-term success. You can always work on a project or initiative and it gets done, but if you really want to develop that continuous improvement culture, then you have to have a certain culture that supports that and leadership style, a lot of elements to it, believe it or not.
[00:21:23] If you were to just read a book about strong leadership or anybody that’s known for leadership and teaching it or talking about it, like a John Maxwell or Simon Sinek or anybody, believe it or not, there’s not much difference between what would make a strong leader and what makes a strong lean leader or leader that supports proven culture.
[00:21:45] It’s actually really not that much. The one thing that is a little bit different and it’s not different. It’s just in addition, is this good leaders that in an organization that want to promote a continuous improvement organization need to be asking for it a lot. Right? They need to be making sure that everybody is working toward it.
[00:22:07] They’re asking for it. They expect it. Everybody should understand and believe because they hear it all the time from their leaders. That they are expected to look at how their procedures or processes or other things in the organization can get better. And that we don’t have a bunch of people say, well, you know, we were doing it the best way we know how, and this is the way we’ve always done it. And we’ve had success in the past. So therefore, you know, it’s okay. You know, those types of comments shouldn’t even be allowed. So strong leaders should also be asking for that continuous improvement. And then be knowledgeable in the ways to go about it.
[00:22:45] Right? How do you do problem solving and how do you develop these critical thinking skills and can these leaders, coach and mentor in those types of things that may be an addition to things you might read from Maxwell or something, but the core is the same. The core leadership skills and behaviors are the same for just being an overall strong leader or one that you want to help develop a culture of continuous improvement.
[00:23:11] Bryan Sapot: What do you mean by ask for it? Like the leaders have to ask for what? Are they actually asking for leadership?
[00:23:17] Mike Leigh: I’ll just say lean leader. I don’t mean specifically lean, but in an organization that wants to develop their continuous improvement culture, they should frequently ask for and set an expectation of getting better.
[00:23:29] And the way they do that is, first and foremost, there should be, you may have heard the term, a true North, right? A vision. Where do we want your organization to be in the next year, three years or so forth? Believe it or not, most organizations don’t do that very well. And that vision of where you want to be is obviously a better version of where you’re at now.
[00:23:52] So there has to be something to aim for. If that doesn’t exist, that’s the first thing. So I often work with some more senior leaders in an organization to make sure they have a clear vision that they’re communicating right to their teams. Once you have that in place, you want to make sure that you’re communicating, you know, whether it’s through all employee meetings or stand up meetings or whatever it might be.
[00:24:16] You want to be making sure that everybody hears where it is we want to get to. And Bryan, it’s as simple as asking everybody to open up for ideas, just ask them for ideas. You know, some organizations have these ideas program, a really old version is the suggestion box where people drop a card in. That’s the right idea.
[00:24:34] But those processes don’t always work very well because it becomes too bureaucratic and somebody is not checking them and so forth. It’s more effective where your leaders are, are simply talking to your employees. And asking them as well as giving them time to work on something. So here’s, here’s an interesting, I wish I could remember the name of the company, Bryan, but it’s not a manufacturing company, but I read one time of a company that I think it was once a month, every two weeks on Friday afternoons, or I might even been all day, Friday again, I don’t remember the details, but they carved out this time periodically where employees were allowed to work on anything.
[00:25:13] They were not allowed to have any meetings. They were not allowed to work on any of their normal jobs. They were simply asked and expected to work on anything they wanted that would improve the organization. They literally made time, carved out time for their team to brainstorm, to design, to try things.
[00:25:33] And they actually made time to do that. That’s terrific. And if an organization can do that, but, but that’s an example of where you are asking and expecting, and everybody knows it’s part of your job to help the organization get better. And that’s an extreme example, but it’s a terrific one. And you can imagine the good ideas that could come out of an organization when you, when you allow your team members. To actually work on it.
[00:25:58] Bryan Sapot: That’s Google actually, that did that.
[00:26:00] Mike Leigh: Is it Google?
[00:26:01] Bryan Sapot: Yeah. I mean maybe some other organizations did it, but Google definitely did that. I don’t know if they still do great stuff came out of that. I think Gmail came out of that.
[00:26:09] Mike Leigh: Well, there you go. Right. So Google obviously hugely successful.
[00:26:12] And that, of course I was probably reading about Google and that’s where I read it. There you go. But that’s an example, right? Where you’re asking for help, you’re asking for improvements and everybody understands it’s part of their responsibility. It’s part of their job.
[00:26:24] Bryan Sapot: Yeah. And I guess that’s part of the leadership skills too.
Right. It’s listening to and caring about what your people are, are telling you. And that’s a huge part of being a leader. It sounds like from, from what you’re saying.
[00:26:35] Mike Leigh: Absolutely. Absolutely. I see this in manufacturing a lot where somebody gets promoted. Because they were really good at doing a certain way or they were just good at getting results.
[00:26:44] And so they get promoted. And so that leader then maybe coaches and mentors, but if they take it to the extreme and they say, this is the way you need to do it, they may not be open to listening to ideas. That there might be a better way. And here’s, I love giving this example. I was doing a Kaizen event, a process improvement event at a factory that made kitchen cabinets.
[00:27:07] And we were working on a project to improve some of the efficiency that had a moving line to make these cabinets. When we did the event, they put on the team for the week, a 19 year old someone who’d only been there for a month. Almost no experience whatsoever. Uh, not just in the cabinets, but in manufacturing as a whole, had no training in lean.
[00:27:29] And we, on the second day of a five day event, we were brainstorming a particular challenge in this, this 19-year old kid came up with a brilliant idea. It was, it was brilliant. And I was kicking myself I didn’t think of it. You know, it was a brilliant idea and the team heard it. And when they realized what he was saying, everybody quickly said, “Ooh, that’s a great idea.”
[00:27:51] And the whole rest of the week, we put our efforts into this kid’s idea. I don’t know how many managers would take somebody who’s only been with their company for a month and comes up with this idea and really listens to those ideas. But when a leader can do that and really understand that a good idea and improvements can come from anywhere and from anybody, that’s a great skill because that can really help take your organization to the next level.
[00:28:21] If you’re a leader you’re not so set in your ways and you’re willing to listen to other ideas and you’re willing to try them and let people try them, that’s that’s an important leadership skill.
[00:28:31] Bryan Sapot: Does all
of this have to start at the top or can you, at different levels with your own people, implement?
[00:28:38] Mike Leigh: That is one of those questions I get all the time. When it comes to lean and trying to develop lean culture because often organizations that have a lean leader in them, you know, somebody that’s dedicated to be a continuous improvement leader, they often try to do things and the senior leadership may not be fully engaged.
[00:28:57] Some will tell you that, you know, in those situations, if you can get results, then it’ll open people’s eyes. And I would say, There’s some truth to that, but it’s a heck of a lot easier when starts at the top. And frankly, I’ve seen so few situations where an organization was transformed, where it didn’t start at the top.
[00:29:17] I would answer that question, yes, it does need to start at the top. If there’s a certain culture you want in your organization toward continuous improvement, that senior leader, the very senior leader has to live and breathe and promote it. Because without doing so, it’s going to be sporadic through the whole organization.
[00:29:37] Culture is so hard to change, but it can be changed. It’s just to do so, you really have to, the most senior leaders have to be the ones promoting it. Otherwise it just doesn’t happen very easily.
[00:29:50] Bryan Sapot: How high does the top need to be? Like if you’re a plant manager of a plant and a pretty large organization, is that high enough or does it have to be somebody else?
[00:29:58] Mike Leigh: Well, that’s a good question. And I’ll, I’ll give you an example. I’m not going to give you yes or no, but I’ll give you an example and that is, I I’ve been working for years with an organization of bigger company, where the plant manager, well, actually let me step back a second. When I started working with him, I was working in one department in the factory that this person managed and we had some great success and part of that’s because of that success, it helped this person move up.
[00:30:25] Now, it wasn’t just because of the continuous improvement, but overall, he was effective. But this was a part of it, you know, he had, he was getting results, good improvements. He became the director of ops. Then he became the plant manager. Right. So now he’s running a plant and I’m still working with him. He had to overcome some more challenges because now the organization was bigger and although he was driving it, he had much more of an organization try to change a culture on, and he was moving in that direction, but it was taking longer and a little harder.
[00:30:53] Because now the breadth of the organization was much bigger. That person recently left the company. When that happened, everything just immediately kind of changed. The first department he started in, that culture had changed. And even with a change at the top, that department was doing well, as a matter of fact, what he started doing was taking people from that department that he first came from and cross trained them and putting them into other departments to help change the cultures of those departments.
[00:31:21] Right. And he was in the process of doing that, but then, you know, for various reasons, whatever, he moved on and he left there. All those initiatives kind of stopped. And so to answer your question, it needs to be as high as possible, but even in your own department, one manager, one plant leader, you know, you can strongly influence what happens in your area, but if it’s not at the very, very top,
[00:31:46] there’s always the risk that it’s not going to continue, or it’s going to change again. An example, another example, when it starts at the very top is going back to GE in their Six Sigma days. But one thing that you can’t deny, because I saw it was, they at the highest level, Jack Welch decided that they were going to become, they were going to use Six Sigma and it was so prominent and they promoted it and required it to such a level that everybody knew Six Sigma.
[00:32:18] Everybody had to know it. So when it starts at the top, now you can, you can debate whether or not that was a good or a bad thing. But the point is because it started at the top, he was able to influence an organization the size of General Electric. So yes, it’s a lot easier and it can be done much easier at the top, but when it’s not started at the top, you’re always at risk of somebody changing out and then losing your efforts.
[00:32:43] Bryan Sapot: That makes sense. We run into this situation, a lot. Somebody is hired to be a lean leader from the outside and tasked with doing lean stuff, which is the technical term. And they run into a lot of resistance and I’ve always just kind of wondered, like how high does that need to go? If the decision was made to bring this person in, wouldn’t they have executive support, yada, yada, yada?
[00:33:05] And could they be successful? It sounds like, yes, but it’s a very hard road if we don’t have that from the top.
[00:33:11] Mike Leigh: Yeah. I know some within the lean community, I know some people who have turned down jobs, good jobs if they didn’t believe the senior leaders in that organization were going about it the right way.
[00:33:24] Um, and they literally didn’t take it because of that. I have also, when I potentially start an engagement with a new client, new customer, I normally ask the decision maker, the senior leader, you know, if somebody says to me, “Hey, I want to train my people in lean.”, or “I want to start doing more lean here.”
[00:33:42] Usually the first question I ask is “Why? What’s your end state here? What are you trying to do?” And if I don’t get the right answers, you know, I may back away or do a little coaching or something there because it’s that important. But yes, I believe if a leader goes in, is hired from the outside, they can often become very frustrated because they’re trying to do things that go against the culture and, you know, there’s that famous phrase.
[00:34:06] I can’t remember the quote where strategy eat something.
[00:34:10] Bryan Sapot: Culture eats strategy for lunch.
[00:34:11] Mike Leigh: Thank you very much culture eats strategy for lunch or for breakfast. Right? So that’s what happens. That will happen in an organization.
[00:34:18]Bryan Sapot: It’s must be very frustrating to hire somebody from one of these positions if they don’t know what they want to change. If you ask me the questions, like, “Why do you want to do this?”
[00:34:26] What’s the right answer?
[00:34:30] Mike Leigh: There’s not an exact right answer, but generally you want a leader that wants their organization to get better. And what I mean by getting better, I don’t necessarily mean just to cut costs, but they have a vision. Normally the best ones, they already have a good organization, but they want to be the best.
[00:34:49] And they want to be the best in all areas, not just their profits. Some people I’ll call them lean purists or, you know, the lean thinking, you don’t worry about the profits as much. The profits will come. Well, that’s really not true. You definitely have to worry about the profit. However, when, when leaders are solely wanting to cut costs and improve profits and that’s what’s driving them, then that’s usually a warning sign to me.
[00:35:16] As a leader says to me, you know, “I just want to be the best. And I got this vision where I want to get, we want to grow.” That’s important. Growth versus cost cutting. Cost cutting is retreating, growth is an improvement mindset, right? So if I hear that they want to grow, that they have a vision that they want their company to get to 10 X or something.
[00:35:39] Right. And they, and they want to use lean as a way to develop a culture where everybody’s trying to get better and everybody’s bought into the vision and everybody, they want to give them the skills to do that. And they want to treat people with respect. Now I’m hearing the right things. If I say, you know, “Hey, we heard this lean is pretty, pretty good for cutting costs.
[00:35:57] You know, we want to improve our profits. You know, we think lean can help us.” All right, I’m going to ask some more questions.
[00:36:05] Bryan Sapot: Or with our software, like SensrTrx can help you find waste and issues and help you eliminate them. It can also be used as a knucklehead detector to find people that you want to fire.
[00:36:16] So if it’s the latter, if it’s a knucklehead detector, it’s, long-term, it’s probably not the greatest relationship in the world. We haven’t seen those work out very well.
[00:36:27] Mike Leigh: And you know, stuff about lean, Bryanm and you’ll know that part of respect for people, it’s not about finding blame. It’s about, you know, improving processes.
[00:36:36] And so you never want to put in SensrTrx or any other system so that someone can sit in their office monitoring what’s going on and say, you know, “Why isn’t, so-and-so doing better?” You know what I mean? And just look for, like I said, a knucklehead detector. I like that phrase. That’s tied to culture you want our customers to know?
[00:36:55] Bryan Sapot: I thought it was pretty good. It gets everything across and it’s not offensive. So you’ve mentioned a couple of authors.
[00:37:02] Who were they again from a leadership perspective?
[00:37:07] Mike Leigh: From a leadership, John Maxwell is well-known, well-known author of leadership books. There’s also a guy, you know, you can watch almost any of his videos.
[00:37:16] He’s got a lot of videos and stuff. Simon Sinek, he wrote ‘Start with Why’ there there’s so many good ones. You know, he hasn’t published as much, but you know, I’m affiliated with a company called Leadership Management International LMI, it’s been around for decades. And the founder of that company was a guy named Paul Meyer and he was really influential and big in the personal success industry.
[00:37:36] And so, you know, he studied some of the early writers of leadership and success. And so, you know, LMI has built into their programs a lot of these, you know, strong behaviors to not only be a good leader and to help your organizations achieve greater success, but to achieve your own personal success. Most of the books that I’ve read, Bryan, this may not be a shock, but most of them are actually pretty good.
[00:38:01] I mean, they really are. They’re entertaining. They’re probably pretty good. Most of them there’s so many out there. And a lot of them, if you really read a lot of them and you study, you realize almost all of them are saying the same thing, saying it in a different way. Good core leadership skills are transferable in any type of organization.
[00:38:18] And they’re pretty well-defined. Almost any book that’s had any decent sales, probably. It means it’s one, an interest you and two, it’s probably pretty good. The challenge is applying it. So I always encourage people to read, you know, and, and learn about things because the more you absorb, the more it changes your thinking habits, which will then translate to your behaviors as a leader.
[00:38:44] And you want that spaced repetition. Just a little bit of side note, maybe, but you know, I’m a firm believer, something I do with my affiliation with LMI and I’ve learned is the importance of this spaced repetition, be able to, you know, I’d be exposed to something over and over and apply it and, you know, be exposed and apply it and so forth.
[00:39:04] Because one of the, what I would call ineffective ways to develop leaders is to just have them read a book and that’s it, or send them to a class for a day and then expect that all of a sudden they’re going to change their behavior. It just doesn’t work that way. You want to have repetition, just like an athlete or a musician. You know, I’m trying to learn to play the guitar.
[00:39:24] Not very good and I put it down here for awhile, but you know, they’ll tell you it’s better to practice 30 minutes a day then once a week for three hours, because it’s that spaced repetition. So development of leaders in reading books, that’s why I like to read, you know, I usually will read several books a year, new books on leadership just to keep refreshing and use that spaced repetition.
[00:39:46] And then we do the same thing with our clients in our courses. We do.
[00:39:49] Bryan Sapot: How do they have that spaced repition with your clients?
[00:39:54] Mike Leigh: Yeah. So our program, we, instead of doing like a three-day leadership course or a one day leadership course, we work with a group of leaders over a period of months. And normally we meet every two weeks where we’re introducing some new concepts and we’re asking the leaders to apply those concepts.
[00:40:13] We actually give them material to read and not ask them to read it once, but several times over two week period, and then we usually bring in a mentor from the organization. Usually it’s the participant’s manager. So they’re involved because it’s that repetition and the application and doing it over and over is what helps us develop skills and habits.
[00:40:36] We ask our participants to read stuff multiple times because. Studies show psychology, neuroscience, that field, when you hear something or see something once, it’s quickly forgotten, but when you hear it or see it or apply it multiple times, it’s more readily retained. The reason that’s important, mentally, to retain this information is because it’s the way we think habitually that drives how we behave.
[00:41:04] And leadership is really a behavior, whether it’s speaking or acting and it’s the way we speak and the way we act is driven by our mental habits. So if you don’t change those mental habits that you have, which could be called attitudes, or the way you look at your situation, then it’s very hard to change the behaviors and without changing behaviors, that doesn’t do any good.
[00:41:27] You know, I never tell somebody not to do seminars or not to do the one-off things. But if that’s the only thing you’re doing and you don’t do it very often. Yeah. It’s not going to get results. It’s not going to help leaders change their habits of thinking and therefore change their skills and their habits of doing, which is what you’re looking for in leadership.
[00:41:46] So all our programs are usually over months where we work with a small group, we meet only for a couple hours once every couple of weeks. And we asked them to read and do things over and over so we can develop these habits because that’s really everything right in your life.
[00:42:03] Bryan Sapot: So yeah, that it, that it works in that leadership and changing habits and things like that.
[00:42:09] Guitar, riding a bike, skiing.
[00:42:13] Mike Leigh: Exactly. So leaders, but you don’t always see that. Right? You’ll see, “Hey, let’s go to this leadership seminar for an hour or whatever.” That’s fine. But you know, we have a saying, “If it doesn’t change behavior, it’s only entertainment.” If you want to be entertained for a couple hours.
[00:42:28] Great. If you actually want to develop yourself like an athlete or a musician would, change your behavior.
[00:42:33] Bryan Sapot: That makes a lot of sense.
[00:42:35] College, doesn’t do a good job of developing leaders or leadership skills, in my opinion.
[00:42:41] Mike Leigh: I don’t know of any college program that really developed strong leaders. Now, my kids went to a public university in Virginia here, where they have a, kind of a leadership curriculum where they got some classes in leadership.
[00:42:53] It was like a track you could do, you know, it did help more from a personal leadership. You know, it kind of helped develop this mindset of that, you know? It’s not just about you, it’s about everything around you. It’s about being a good citizen in that. And I think some of that can help if you’re exposed to certain themes over and over, but what you and I might call traditional, leading other people, the only organization I’ve been a part of that really did that fairly well.
[00:43:20] Let me rephrase that. The one that’s ingrained and throughout the organization, developing leaders was the military.
[00:43:26] Bryan Sapot: Where I think there’s a big opportunity there for colleges that in sales, they should teach sales.
[00:43:33] Mike Leigh: Right. You know how to invest money or, you know, there’s all kinds of options.
[00:43:38]Bryan Sapot: Yeah,
we’re kind of coming to the end of the hour that we had set out. There’s something I always ask everybody cause I, I get some interesting answers. What’s something that you learned as a kid that still sticks with you today.
[00:43:49] Mike Leigh: Uh, something I learned as a kid. That’s a good question. Yeah, I have it. Can you tell me yours?
[00:43:56] Bryan Sapot: It’s very straightforward and pretty obvious. And I catch myself telling this to my kids all the time, which is life’s not fair. When I would complain to my dad that it’s not fair that my sister gets this or whatever he says, life’s not fair.
[00:44:07] You better get used to it.
[00:44:10] Mike Leigh: The first thing you said really triggered it for me, Bryan. And that is, I guess it’s a caveat or it’s a relation to that first one. Life’s not fair was not always the best, you know, get the spoils of it. You know what I mean? Sometimes decisions are made for things outside your control and not always the best person wins, you know, it’s kind of like, um, things are done for political, personal reasons sometimes, and not necessarily for more practical reasons. And it’s important to understand that. The other thing I learned and I’ll be honest, it’s something that I’m a firm believer in, that I don’t know, I think it came from my mom really because of her work ethic was, you know, you really can’t
[00:44:51] control your situation around you, but you can control how you react to it. And so there are people that are not on a level playing field in their opportunities, but with that being said in the same realm, you should always be looking to make the most of the opportunities you have. And you never want to develop the mindset of being a victim.
[00:45:10] You always want to realize, “Hey, I’m responsible for where I’m at right now. And it’s up to me to get me to where I want to go.” And I think that was something that was instilled in me, not in those exact words, but from my mom, you know, she grew up where she had to take care of the house and do all the things at home.
[00:45:25] She also ran her own business for 40 years. She owned a, like a beauty shop, a hair salon. She did all of it.
[00:45:32] Bryan Sapot: That’s a good one. I didn’t learn that until I was like 30, but I think that’s a really, really good one. It’s a good way to look at the world too. Cause you can be a little bit happier if you focus on the stuff you can control versus the stuff that you can’t.
[00:45:47] Mike Leigh: And, and actually that’s an important lesson when you’re doing continuous improvement. A little side note there. You know, focused on the things you can control. Don’t focus on the things you can’t right now. Let’s focus on the things we can do right now.
[00:45:58] Bryan Sapot: We run across that one a lot, like, uh, from a metrics perspective, you know, cause we’re we collect data and we display the data, right?
[00:46:05] If you throw up the wrong metrics, they could have no effect. They could have the opposite effect. They could be demotivating rather than motivating. But if you throw up very specific, simple things that people can understand and they know that they can directly affect, those are the best. At least we found.
[00:46:23] So tell me a little bit about OpX and what you guys do, and then we’ll wrap up.
[00:46:30] Mike Leigh: Sure. Thank you. Yeah, we are, you know, I like to say we’re a performance improvement company. We remove barriers for manufacturers that keep them from achieving their goals by developing leaders and improving processes.
[00:46:42] So, you know, we really emphasize working with clients long-term to help them achieve their goals and really help them one recognize what these barriers are. And sometimes it’s people related, sometimes it’s process-related and being able to bring some skills and some support to take them to the next level.
[00:47:02] And so we mostly work with manufacturers. But we sometimes work with other organizations also, ideally are looked at as kind of long-term team members that were there to support and work in their best interest. I started the business back in 2012 and, you know, we steadily grown and we’re, you know, thinking good things are going well.
[00:47:22] That’s what we do. And Bryan. I mentioned LMI before. So on the leadership development side, you know, we’re affiliated with Leadership Management International. You know, a long time ago, I affiliated with them and I am a student of leadership as we’ve talked about. And to me LMI, the process that they have for developing leaders is second to none.
[00:47:44] To me, it’s the best way to develop leaders in your organization, which is why I was attracted to them. And why. You know, I’ve adopted their process.
[00:47:50] Bryan Sapot: It sounds cool. I definitely want to check that out. I had not heard of that before until, until we talked. Mike, thank you for spending an hour with us today.
[00:47:58] I learned a lot about leadership. I know we went all over the place in terms of what we talked about. I really, I really appreciate you taking the time. So for everybody listening, please subscribe and review and rates podcast, and you can get us wherever podcasts are not sold because we are free Spotify, Apple, and everywhere else.
[00:48:17] Thanks Mike.
[00:48:19] Mike Leigh: All right, Bryan. Thanks very much. I enjoyed it.