Published: January 12, 2022

This is the final article of our seven-part K&P leadership series. Missed the previous articles in the series? Read them all here.

Over the course of this series, we’ve explored the five core behaviors—as described in the Kouzes and Posner Leadership Challenge (K&P)—that people can use to become better leaders regardless of their management style or personality. These core behaviors are also the foundation for building a Lean culture in your organization.

As Lean specialists at SAO, we know from our work with hundreds of local governments that the K&P core behaviors are a proven approach to building an organizational culture aligned with the guiding principles of Lean management. When government leaders exhibit the K&P behaviors, organizational alignment and accountability grow, process improvement efforts thrive, employee engagement increases, and customer-focused services improve.

The K&P behaviors

Summarized at a high level, K&P behaviors are meant to create the following leadership traits:

  • Ability to communicate a future vision that reflects the input from all members of a team or organization (inspire a shared vision)
  • Humility to challenge yourself to become a better person and a better leader by embracing vulnerability and accepting that failure is part of learning (challenge the process)
  • Confidence to share power with others to achieve stretch goals, build a high-performing team, and develop future leaders (enable others to act)
  • Insight to recognize both individual and group achievements to keep people motivated through the hard times and the team focused on achieving the ultimate goal (encourage the heart)
  • Authenticity to speak and act your truth while listening openly to others’ perspectives (model the way)

How Lean builds on the K&P behaviors

Lean is the practice of continuous process improvement. A Lean organization focuses on increasing customer value, eliminating waste, and optimizing operations. It also emphasizes building a culture—one that respects all employees and provides them opportunities to improve their work and share ideas for continuous improvement. The K&P behaviors provide the foundation for building that culture of respect, and they are woven through the five principles of Lean process improvement.

  • Lean is a mutually respectful partnership between leadership and the people doing the work. Leadership identifies priorities, sets targets, and forms the process improvement team. Employees actively participate, share their knowledge openly, and help create system-level change. Each must recognize the expertise of the other to develop a best-possible future. Leaders who demonstrate the K&P behavior of “inspiring a shared vision” help create this Lean culture of respect.
  • Lean always emphasizes why teams are performing work and what that work would look like in a perfect world. The Lean process focuses on taking small steps toward that goal, but sometimes it uncovers obstacles or reactions we didn’t expect. When we identify a failure, Lean’s “Plan-Do-Check-Adjust” cycle ensures that we learn from it and adjust accordingly. Leaders who “challenge the process,” as described in the K&P behaviors, help create a Lean culture that accepts failure as part of learning.
  • Lean requires everyone to work collaboratively so that people understand how their work affects each other. Since Lean is about achieving long-term, sustainable operations, this concept of respecting a person’s area of expertise also leads to the principle of “making decisions at the lowest possible level.” By empowering all team members to have some level of decision-making authority, they gain experience through their successes and failures, thereby improving their ability to handle more and more responsibility within the organization. Leaders who “enable others to act” create high-performing teams and foster future leaders.
  • Lean is not one project on a timeline. Instead, it’s a journey to building a high-performing organizational culture. Therefore, keeping people motivated to push through the challenges and barriers to their goals becomes a primary leadership role. Lean strives for role clarity, making sure that everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for achieving (individually and as part of the team) and invites everyone to join in celebrating success or helping create the solution for changes gone wrong. Leaders who motivate teams and celebrate their work are “encouraging the heart,” the fourth K&P behavior.
  • Lean methodology is a set of principles that work together. Leaders must embrace them together as a system, not choose from the list of values. We embrace our humanity and refuse to let one imperfect action get in the way of our constant drive to become better. We take small steps toward our goal and look to our partners for feedback and support when we deviate from our principles. The K&P leadership model calls this “modeling the way.”

If you are looking for the recipe to create a successful career in leadership, K&P matched with Lean will give you a strong foundation that you can then personalize with your own unique style and strengths. Remember, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner’s work proved that leadership is learned, not a quality some people are simply born with.

About the Center for Government Innovation

The Center for Government Innovation exists to “help local governments help those they serve.” We promote continuous process improvement as a key strategy for making government more effective and efficient. AND our services are free! Contact us today at Center@sao.wa.gov to learn more about how we can help your government build a Lean culture.

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