Episode Overview

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.

How would you define a leader?

“When it comes to leadership, it’s very complex and good leaders are always looking to improve their leadership skills just like any other skill.”

Leadership is about bringing a team to achieve results, both effectively and in the right way. In fact, the most dangerous leaders are the ones who get results but don’t adhere to the value. These kinds of leaders can be a disease in the organization.

A leader is someone who provides value to the organization, someone who positively contributes to employee engagement and culture. “A strong leader or a good leader is very good at rallying the group, the team and getting them all focused and working toward a common vision or goal and executing.”

How do you identify who the potential leaders of an organization are?

To be honest, most organizations don’t have a really good way to identify who the potential leaders may be (at least not in a systematic way). Often, leaders are identified by good work completed, but leadership roles are different.

It’s not always easy to identify leaders. The personalities of leaders and how they communicate can vary greatly, and surprisingly, these different profiles of leaders can be equally effective. So, the loud, talkative, hard worker is not always going to be your best leader. The point is, leaders can encompass all different types of personalities.

What you can do is encourage or coach those who you think might be good leaders. Look for qualities like initiative and self-motivation.

The key is to identify “the skill set and behaviors you want those leaders to exhibit, and then analyze your team members to see if they exhibit those behaviors.”

And, remember, a developmental program is always going to be more beneficial at the end of the day. This type of program will help you identify your workforce leaders as they progress and develop rather than identifying someone beforehand.

What are the qualities of a good leader?

A good leader has many excellent qualities. They’re often coaching, mentoring, and helping others without being asked. They’re communicative and inclusive. They get results in the right way, in a way that adheres to the company’s overarching mission.

“A good lean leader should frequently ask for and set an expectation for getting better.”

Most importantly, a good leader has respect for people. They want to use lean to engage employees, develop a culture, and get better as a company. And, when something goes wrong, they aren’t placing blame. They are focusing on improving processes and people.

“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.”

A good leader knows employees at any level can contribute to the betterment of the company, and they encourage those ideas and efforts because, at the end of the day, the purpose is to improve as an organization.

“You want a leader who wants their organization to get better. I don’t necessarily mean by just to cut costs. They want to be the best in all areas, not just their profits.”

How do companies develop and train potential leaders?

It’s hard to identify potential leaders as we learned, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you identify these people, it’s important to find out the intentions and desires of those potential leaders.

Sometimes, people don’t want to move up for whatever reason, and that’s okay. Management roles are not for every individual. However, for those who do want to climb the company ladder, coaching and mentoring are imperative to begin right away. Curating experiences for these employees can make a big difference.

Delegation is a great way to develop team members for that next role. This is not intended to take tasks off of your plate, but instead, to train and teach that mentee about the role they will move into. If they excel, it’s an indication they’re ready for that management position.

Of course, you can establish a much more formal mentor and coaching program. But, it’s important to focus on the culture of the organization that fosters these kinds of mentoring behaviors, and not on the program itself. The culture is going to pay larger dividends and be more engaging for employees in the long run.

Leadership roles and fire fighting

The goal of leadership is to guide the organization, but you still can’t ignore the fact that you need results, too. You never want to get away from hitting the numbers because, at the end of the day, you have to hit your goals. But, there’s a good and a bad way of achieving those goals – fire fighting every single day or working to put out fires while also working to implement processes that become fire prevention.

A bad leader is going to hit those results, no matter what, and sometimes at the expense of the people they should be leading and the processes that guide the company.

A good leader is going to foster engagement and communication to encourage results, creating fire prevention in the process.

Manufacturers often hire firefighters to fulfill leadership roles, but often, the individuals focused on fire prevention aren’t valued nearly as much. So, this is something to think about – are your leaders thinking about how to get better or just thinking about putting out fires?

What is going to be better for the company in the long term?

How does leadership affect continuous improvement?

“I don’t think you can overemphasize the impact a leader has on your organization, on the performance of your organization.”

When you have great leadership, building a culture that supports continuous improvement becomes much easier as leadership behaviors and a great culture are the biggest factors that impact the success of those efforts.

“It doesn’t matter how much lean training you get. If the culture doesn’t exist and don’t have the right leadership skills, you won’t have sustained success.”

One of the most important lessons in promoting this idea of continuous improvement is to focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t. And, when you do control and improve processes, remember, it’s not about placing blame. It’s about improving processes. Good leadership allows you to create the culture that supports an environment of continuous improvement.

If you want to transform an organization and culture, does it need to start at the top?

“I have seen so few situations where an organization was transformed where it didn’t start at the top. So, yes, leadership needs to start at the top.”

When leaders are involved and aware of the changes being made throughout the organization, it sets a precedent for everyone else. They’re providing an example of improvement. Leadership is providing a true north, a vision, of where the organization should be in the next year, 3 years, 5 years down the road.

But, this is a heck of a lot easier when it starts at the top. There’s always the question of how high at the top does this need to be, and of course, it’s different for every organization, but if it’s not at the very top, there’s always the risk that the improvements won’t stick or will revert back.

An example Mike gave in the podcast was the implementation of six sigma at GE. This started at the very top with Jack Welch, and since, has transformed the organization. Habits and behaviors have taken hold to improve the culture for the better.

“Culture is so hard to change, but it can be changed. To do so, the most senior leaders have to be the ones to promote it.”

Good leadership has a vision. They want to be the best in all areas, not just profits. They want their organization to be inherently better. When this happens, that mentality trickles down the organization. It prompts everyone to want to improve the company, in all areas.

Connect and Share

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. If you would like to connect with Mike, he can be reached through his LinkedIn or his company, OpX Solutions.

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