Leadership Series: Challenge the Process

Recently the local technical college was doing a five part leadership series. Believing our company was a good fit for the series, they asked if I would do a lecture for one part. Personally, I love teaching and supporting education is core to our company’s mission.

Before seeing the series’ content, I was initially skeptical of the program topic. We’ve all seen leadership courses or articles titled the 6 steps to become a better leader or the 9 characteristics of the successful wealthy. Far too many times they seem to say, “while we’re actually talking about the personality of such leaders anyone can be one too!” or “just follow these oddly specific steps and it could make you one too!”

Once I got my hands on the leadership series and saw what the five elements were, I was shocked. Right there on the computer screen was a written theory of how our company functioned.

Our 2018 sales over 2016 was 280% with 0% employee turnover. We’d been doing something right, I had just never seen our leadership strategy written on paper before.

The five are inspire a shared vision, model the way, enable others to act, encourage the heart and challenge the process from Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® Model.

To make an analogy for each, think of your company or organization as a group of hikers.

Ken Hastreiter, owner and previously a Scout Master with Boy Scouts

Ken Hastreiter, owner and previously a Scout Master with Boy Scouts

1. Shared Vision

Where are you all heading and why are you each choosing to hike together? This is why leaders create a shared vision, it creates a common purpose with defined goals at a macro level that employees can buy in to.

2. Model the Way

Imagine the leader that chooses to carry other’s extra weight in their pack, walks in the back to ensure everyone’s safety or takes the lead when the route becomes confusing. Modeling the way is more than just leading by example, it includes being a humble director.

3. Enable Others to Act

A group of hikers is only as fast as the slowest walker. Every organization is built by the collective of individuals. The organization is at its strongest when each individual is personally empowered to achieve their best. Leaders cannot expect this to occur on its own but must create an environment and provide personal mentorship to for employees to excel.

4. Encourage the Heart

Hope is a powerful thing. If there was little hope the hikers could reach their destination (both personally and corporate), they would lose determination and likely turn around and leave. Even when rain is pouring on their heads and trudging through mud, leaders must know their individual followers and encourage them where it matters most. Furthermore, you don’t just fill up your gas tank when you completely run out. Even when the sun is shining, take time to show your appreciation.

5. Challenge the Process

You have an X on your map for where your group must arrive. Technology changes, there is often more than one route available to walk and opportunities for improvement always exist. You just have to find them. Ultimately this can make the hike easier, more efficient or enjoyable. For example, when I first joined Boy Scouts, I spent hours on backpacking trips with a ceramic hand pump water filter, squeezing out a tiny stream. By the time I got my Eagle and left, we had a UV light that purified an entire bottle in a minute. Challenging the process typically results in increased value to your employees, customer or a better bottom line.

I lectured on Challenge the Process at Mid-State Technical College but there’s an ironic part. By better identifying how our company was functioning, we are able to better understand and challenge our entire leadership process. Ever have a thought that took a while to put into words? It’s kind of like that. How many other areas in our businesses are like that?

No matter what industry you are in, staying status quo means you are going somewhere – into obsolescence. For manufacturing it tends to show up in the jargon of ISO 9001’s “continuous improvement” or short improvement projects like kaizen events as part lean manufacturing.

The truth is, the fundamental basis is that leadership must acknowledge that to continue bringing forth value to their customers and stakeholders, challenging how things are done is critical. It doesn’t mean adopting just any idea but it does mean you have to be willing to take ongoing honest assessments.

Kylan Hastreiter