The Leadership Mindset of Continuous Improvement
(Part Two in a Four-part Series. Read Part One Here.)
One of my favorite phrases is, “leadership is influence.” While I don’t believe a single sentence can fully summarize leadership and its many different methods and applications, the simplicity of influence encapsulates it quite well. It also helps me paint a clear picture between the terms management and leadership. Though many individuals with the title of manager do far more than this, management is simply the maintenance of pre-established processes and policies. Having a title of “manager” does not describe leadership. To be leading, you must be moving, and others must be following! Leadership does not stand still. Leadership focuses on continuous improvement.
Continuous Improvement Takes Leadership Vision
For your efforts for continuous improvement to be most effective, you must first have a clear vision. If you are choosing one change and then another on a whim, you are unlikely to have a significant long-term impact as a leader. That is why it is essential for a leader who values continuous improvement first to clarify and communicate the vision for the organization. Consider the vision before making changes and ask, “does this change help us get closer to our vision?”
Reflection helps ensure that changes made are genuine improvements rather than marked to-do list items or ego boosters. If a change does nothing to progress the organization towards its vision, then it is quite literally a waste of time and money. Furthermore, nothing frustrates a team more than a pointless change.
Continuous Improvement Requires Evaluation
Another important aspect of continuous improvement is a valid evaluation. If vision clarifies where you are going, assessment explains where you are now. There are many different methods of evaluation, a few of my personal favorites being issues analysis, driving forces analysis, and the SWOT analysis. Each of these and many others are explained very well in Analysis Without Paralysis. I recommend it to anyone looking to expand their knowledge of valuable analysis tactics.
To achieve true continuous improvement throughout your organization, you must activate the eyes and minds of your entire organization. Collaborative evaluation can provide multiple perspectives on issues and help ensure buy-in from the group regarding decided-upon changes. When everyone clearly understands the problem (or the gap in between what is versus what could be) the decided-upon solution will have the energy needed to succeed and achieve positive results. Training yourself and others on your team to question everything and always have an eye on improvement is a task that is well worth your time!
Continuous improvement does not merely apply to our organizations and the workplace either. It involves personal development as well. A learning leader sees a new angle to the issues in their workplace with each book read, conference attended or lesson learned. Make sure you are personally growing and providing tools for the other leaders in your organization to improve as well.