Lean and good leadership an unbeatable combination in warehouse production

I have had several interesting discussions both on LinkedIn and on e-mail from blog readers concerning my articles on leadership and lean. Below are some clarifications how I think about these topics

Why you should implement lean

I have received comments where people believe that lean is really unnecessary and that the workforce itself is driving development forward only it is sufficiently motivated and have the right leadership. I then asked, how do leaders together with the staff know that they run the business in the right direction? And what is the right direction? It is extremely important not to sub-optimize and to see the big picture in the entire value chain, from producer through the supply chain to the end customer. There is no better pedagogical tool than lean when it comes to seeing the big picture of a company or organization. One of the strengths of lean, it starts from scratch and make an inventory of your current resources and how you can optimize the use of them. Then look for time thieves (waste) such as unnecessary work processes that takes time and value or packing materials for example. Lean can also mean removing expensive inefficient machines that forces the business to work with batch and queue.

Often when a western company trying to improve the efficiency of the value chain it means investing in expensive technology that forces the business to work with batch and queue. We do not see the good potential we already have in existing operations, the first thing we come to think of is investments in the latest and most expensive technologies. I am sure it is not just enough with a good leadership to take a company to the next level, there need to be a new way of thinking about resource management and time optimization. I mean that lean is the most important tool we have regarding these subjects. I am not against investments in technology, what I mean is that you should be careful with money and first look at what you have and mainstream the supply chain as much as possible so you make the right investments and keep the flexibility.

Strong leadership

I often write that you should have strong leadership in the company, many people have misunderstood me and think that I mean a typical large man who is loud and pointing with the whole hand. Nothing could be more wrong, strong leadership has nothing to do with gender, physical size or voice resources. Below are five points that clarify what strong leadership means.

  • Good self-esteem

It is one of the most important factors, in order to become a good leader, you must have a good self-esteem. You don’t end up in defense as easily when you get constructive feedback or meet resistance in change processes. Good self-esteem also means that you can convey feedback to your staff in a respectable manner without having to exert power demonstrations. If you have good self-esteem, you feel secure in difficult interpersonal situations and you don’t have an adrenaline rush. That is important because when you get an adrenaline rush your intelligence reduces with thirty percent! Then it is not so easy to be objective and to have a qualitative dialogue with your staff or colleagues.

  • Good self-understanding

To get good cooperation of staff among themselves and between the leaders and the workforce requires conscious actions. People often do not realize that they behave hostile because they are not aware of their own actions. The best comparison is the iceberg. Most of those actions and behaviors is below the surface, we are unaware of them. The greater self-awareness, the less of the iceberg below the surface. This subsurface material puts us in difficulty, which is why it is so important to increase self-awareness of attitudes, fears and defenses and to use the conscious actions and strategies that support collaboration

  • Credibility

As a leader you must achieve credibility. For the staff to trust you and follow your decisions are required to have credibility. Below are five key points to get credibility.

  1. Do you as a leader take responsibility for the consequences and impact of your actions?
  2. Do you as a leader looking for solutions instead of looking for scapegoats and blame others?
  3. Do you as a leader saying no and set limits when needed?
  4. Do you as a leader use failures as opportunities to learn and grow?
  5. Do you as a leader take responsibility for your temper, attitudes and behaviors?
  • Listen!

As a leader you must be able to listen to people. Listening is so much more than just keeping quiet. You must create a safe climate by using the “tell me more” pedagogy. You encourages the person you listening on to continue his story. This way you show you engaged and curious. You’ll also help the narrator to feel understood, as a listener you summarize and give back periodically. Listening actively is a lot harder than you think.

  • Flexibility and team player

As a leader, you must be a team player and flexible. Unfortunately, too many people mistaken a flexible leader without prestige with showing weakness. Nothing could be more wrong. Rigidity is a leader’s greatest enemy, I can guarantee that the workforce quickly lose confidence in you as a leader if you are rigid and inflexible. Workforce quickly becomes disloyal. Your employees quickly lose interest and a desire for development if they are treated by a manager who is unreasonable and inflexible. As a leader you have to be human, be able to admit you are wrong. Encourage staff to make suggestions for improvements, etc. You must as a leader be able to discuss and give the employee the right if it turns out that they have the arguments on their side. In this way you ensure the quality of your business and you get a much greater commitment of your workforce. You are paid to lead others not to have excellence in every single task in the business. You are not paid for thinking for your employees, then you have misunderstood leadership. You should encourage your employees to think for themselves and evolve in their fields. Your responsibility as a leader is to get everyone working in the same direction.

Strong leadership can make a miracle for business. Strong leadership provides a strong organization, which in turn build a strong company.

Lean together with strong leadership makes your warehouse to a winner.

Roberth Karlsson

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