The Zen of Leadership

“If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.”

——Elon Musk

8840424_m.jpgFor many businesses, our current knowledge of computing technology, manufacturing processes, machine capabilities, and integrated information systems, will be outdated in a few years. “The only constant we face,” said an ancient philosopher, “is change.” For top management, success depends on more than merely being able to articulate a vision of where and what the organization needs to be. Top management must develop a solid approach and methodology that managers will use for fostering and implementing positive change throughout the organization. Process-oriented leadership is what organizations need today.

The clear delineation of a vision for the organization’s future is a key role for top management. But all too often, this vision has focused mainly on achieving certain financial results such as gaining market share, return on investment, and inventory to sales ratios. Envisioning what the business needs to be requires that the vision be aligned foremost with customer requirements and an assessment of the organization’s current status and overall ability to achieve its long term objectives. If top management is to successfully manage change, what needs to be developed is a description of issues such as:

  • What the company will look like when working inventory turns are increased by 90%?
  • What will be required of self-directed, small work groups to achieve throughput reduction targets?
  • How will we interact differently with suppliers and distributors after integrating our information systems and business functions?
  • How will management processes change?
  • What skills will our workforce and managers need?
  • How will people be measured and rewarded when goals are achieved?

Asking these kinds of questions will help top management better define the vision of what things the organization will need to do and how it will have to do them. This is the basis on which a solid methodology for managing change depends, and leadership rests.

Whether you are implementing Lean Operations, Six Sigma, Supply Chain Management (SCM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), or some combination of these management philosophies, you are introducing a major change into your organization, and it must be consistent with—and support—the firm’s overall strategy. There are three steps–critical to achieving lasting performance improvements–that are preconditions to successfully bringing about any major change:

1) evaluate the environment

2) Develop the Organization’s mission

3) Originate a strategy


Southwest Airlines has followed the process, as described above. At its inception in 1971, Southwest surveyed its environment and targeted an underserved market segment: short hop flights in Texas.

Realizing that the firm had to keep its costs down to compete against its full service competitors, Southwest’s operations strategy included use of secondary airports and terminals, first come first serve seating, few fare options, smaller crews flying more hours, snack only or no-meal only fights and no downtown ticket offices.

As result of its experience in Texas, Southwest developed the capability to wring-out costs from its airline operations. This capability—competing on the basis of being the low cost provider—continued to fuel its growth. For example, Southwest designed a route structure that matched the capacity of the Boeing 737, the only aircraft in its fleet. The use of only one plane minimized the costs of pilot training and aircraft maintenance. Superior leadership, strategic planning and execution on the part of top management has enabled Southwest to be a consistent money maker while other airlines have lost billions.

Top management is ultimately responsible for the positive changes that can transform the organization. Regardless of the changes being undertaken, they ought to be understood clearly within the context of the organization’s strategy. In our next post, we will describe another ingredient that must be present for change to take root, namely, instituting a change management  process.



What a German Master Can Teach Us About Vocational Education and Training (VET)

vocational education and training (VET) benefits

Despite having an unacceptably high unemployment rate, the US manufacturing sector has over 600,000 unfilled jobs. This is due to the fact that our educational system isn’t producing graduates with the skills that are sought by employers. Nancy … [Continue reading]