“If a leader has no followers, he’s just taking a walk by himself.”
-John Maxwell in Becoming a Person of Influence
To be a leader requires only one thing: followers. Leadership has nothing to do with rank or title. It has to do with whether others choose to follow your direction and believe in your vision. People don’t achieve leadership status by accident. They possess the ability to influence others because of the traits, behaviors, and actions they exhibit to persuade and inspire people to follow their vision.
At Implementation Engineers, we help companies with Continuous Improvement (CI) by driving down to the root cause of problems and implementing effective improvements. But this is only half the battle. Sustaining gains over the long haul is the challenging part. In our Performance Excellence practice, the common underlying barrier to sustaining change is the lack of foundational leadership. With the help of a common tool in the CI practitioner’s toolbox, “The 5 Whys”, we can drive-down to the root cause of any problem or situation that needs improving by asking “why”. Let’s exploit the use of the 5 Whys tool on the root cause of lack of leadership.
Now that we have identified the critical elements of leadership through the use of the 5 Whys tool above, let’s explore why they are not only critical to the sustainment of continuous improvement, but overall team success.
1. Leadership Relies on Influence
The essence of leadership is one’s capacity to influence; nothing more nothing less. Effective leaders have the ability to influence the thoughts, actions, and results of others. The most effective leaders lead with a servant’s heart and put the needs of their followers first. We are all leaders at some level. Whether influencing our children, our teammates, our friends or our coworkers, the question is why do others decide to allow us to influence them?
To influence people to follow us and see our vision, we provide a feeling of hope, trust, job fulfillment, status or pride. People don’t give up their blood sweat and tears unless they have a feeling of purpose and belonging. Without influence, there is no leadership.
2. Influence Requires Trust
People cooperate and are influenced by people they trust. Where there is no trust, there is no leadership. Rooted deep within a leader’s integrity and trust is their love for those they lead. Love is a choice of the will to serve and sacrifice for those they lead. People are influenced most by leaders they feel will serve and protect them and look out for their best interest. It is next to impossible to gain trust from those whom we fail to shown love and respect. The leader’s greatest privilege is to love those he is charged to lead. Without trust, there is no influence.
3. Relationship Depends on Trust
Establishing a relationship is not possible without trust. Basically, there are two leader/follower relationships: transactional or transformative. Transactional relationships are quid pro quo. In other words, “I will do for you as long as you do for me.” Transactional leadership happens when a leader pays a wage earner for a specific duty performed. This type of relationship has a very shallow level of trust. On the other hand, transformative leadership says, “I’m going to do for you regardless of any reciprocity.” Transformative leaders influence people to give of their time and energy because they trust and believe in the leader’s vision. When a leader sets goals, targets and accountability, these further build trust. Once people have trust in a leader, they become passionate about their purpose and take ownership. Their relations fosters loyalty and a desire to produce their best work. Without trust, there is no relationship.
4. Relationship Requires Connection
No relationship blossoms on its own. Connecting requires intentionality and hard work. John Maxwell states, “Many communicate but few connect.” To connect, relationships require a concerted effort between both parties. A leader’s ability to connect is only as effective as their ability to meet and understand the other person’s needs, desires and motives. Leaders must take the first step toward common ground. As Confucius says, leaders must “Seek first to understand before being understood.”
Leaders who have a high emotional IQ and listen and empathize are most successful. Only then can true communication and connectedness take place. The more clearly thoughts and feelings are put into words, the more clearly others can see it. All great leaders had a capacity for truly understanding others and knowing how to communicate their message to resonate with their beliefs and desires. Martin Luther King didn’t say “I have a goal.” He said, “I have a dream.” His compassion and words connect with others. Without connection there is no relationship.
5. Connectedness Requires Need Fulfilment
People are drawn to those who add value. The best way to add value to those we serve is to meet their needs. Where there is connectedness, there are needs to fulfill. A leader deems himself responsible for serving the needs of others. Leaders must first understand the needs of their constituents to connect with them. As the purveyors of hope, leaders are adored stewards who wield influence because they are able to connect with people on a deep and abiding level. Success does not come by oneself. it only comes in a group. When we feel our companies need us and our work is necessary, we feel our lives and the work we do has value. This sense of purpose leads to fulfillment. Without need fulfillment there is no connection.
Leadership: The Critical Success Factor to Sustaining Change
If your organization struggles with sustaining change, you are not alone. Leadership is often overlooked as a required variable to holding the gains Implementation Engineers was engaged to achieve. We recommend our clients periodically take time to reassess the leadership skills of their team and consider what needs of the team remain unfulfilled. Through this initiative, you will be able to identify and plug gaps before barriers develop and prevent your organization from achieving breakthrough improvements and results.