Monday, September 17, 2007

Leadership - The Secret Sauce

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More and more it occurs to me that one of the most important ingredients in the secret sauce of leadership is the ability to create a situation where the people feel like they're responsible for their own destiny - that what they think (and believe) has an influence. I'm reminded of that Eisenhower quote, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

One way we do that is by enabling and empowering the people to advance the cause - to invent and improve the means of accomplishing the goals. To do this, it's essential that the people understand and believe that the system belongs to them. As leaders, we should reach inside and create among the people a hunger and a quest for improvement of their system. The improvement then generates from the center and radiates outward. This is "inside-out leadership" or "leadership from the center" and creates a sense of ownership that leads to ridiculous energy… and ridiculous improvement… and outrageous performance.

Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System ("Toyota Way"), said it like this:

We need to use the words ‘you made’ as in ‘follow the decisions you made.’ When we say ‘they were made’ people feel like it was forced upon them.

The results of this leadership style are tremendous. By harnessing the energy and intellect of the team, you not only benefit from the "Wisdom of the Crowd", you instill a sense of ownership and commitment that is able to overcome any barrier - take any hill. Author Gary Hamel speaks to this in his "Management Innovation" article in the February 2006 edition of the Harvard Business Review:

“Only after American car makers had exhausted every other explanation for Toyota’s success – an undervalued yen, a docile workforce, Japanese culture, superior automation – were they finally able to admit that Toyota’s real advantage was its ability to harness the intellect of ‘ordinary’ employees.”

There's a particularly meaningful nugget in that quote… Harness the intellect of "ordinary" employees

Adaptive and agile organizations are learning organizations. Learning organizations achieve outrageous levels of performance by harnessing the intellect and energy of the people through "inside out leadership" - the secret sauce.

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