We’ve written extensively about the importance of viewing continuous improvement as everyone’s job, and why a bottom-up approach to improvement works best. We’ve built our continuous improvement software with this in mind, making it easy for absolutely everyone to contribute to positive change. But despite the fact that improvement efforts should be widespread, strong leadership is essential to long-term success.
We’ve worked with many executives who have demonstrated effective continuous improvement leadership and we’ve noticed a few personality traits that they all seem to have in common. It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence.
Continuous improvement starts with the recognition that every process or product can always be made better. Successful improvement leaders are able to embrace this idea without defensiveness or shame.
They also practice humility by declaring that they do not have all the answers and that sometimes the best ideas for improvement and innovation come from front line employees (and then empowering employees to identify and implement their ideas).
Improvement happens faster in organizations that recognize the work of employees and acknowledge how important they are to the success of the organization. Leaders who demonstrate gratitude inspire engagement and loyalty.
This comes in the form of continual recognition of engagement and excellence, as well as an occasional ceremony or more formal recognition (check out this blog post for some fun ideas about what kind of awards to include).
Creating a culture of improvement is not always smooth sailing. There are always unexpected challenges and some efforts are destined to fail. Leaders must demonstrate a willingness to stick with continuous improvement no matter what obstacles arise.
Successful leaders are willing and able to adapt as they persist on their improvement journeys - continuously improving their improvement process.
There is a good reason that there are many different business methodologies that are applied to the task of continuous improvement; it’s because no two organizations are exactly the same. There is no such thing as cookie-cutter Kaizen culture.
Rather, it is up to the leader to choose the tools and techniques that will work well in their organization, and to think creatively about how they should best be deployed.
People are very good at picking up clues about how invested leaders are in various initiatives. If executive enthusiasm is lacking, you can expect half-hearted efforts at best. But when leaders are impassioned about the possibilities of improvement work, the feeling is contagious and others get excited about joining the movement.
If you think about the people you know who successfully provide continuous improvement leadership, we bet that you’ll find they have these qualities. Are there others you would add? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.
For more information about leading a culture of continuous improvement, check out this free eBook: