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Trainer, coach, consultant

I just got off the phone with a client and the hour-long call was peppered with, “I hope the situation gets resolved,” and ”hopefully this will improve." While I’m a firm believer in the power of positivity, let’s face it: Hope will not change anything; only action will!

Leaders take action. This is not dismissing reflection, thinking, planning, but those are not an end point, they are a means. Leaders make things happen, and that doesn’t occur through mental telepathy or a Vulcan mind meld.

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One of the biggest challenges is transitioning from a stance of “waiting." Most of us grew up in what I call the World of Obedience, where we waited until a more senior person told us what to do. That was a “safe” response – can’t get in trouble if we’re obedient.

Many organizations are shifting from traditional obedience to a more responsive, riskier-to-the-individual, world of empowerment.

Empowerment turns the traditional hierarchy or chain of command upside down, and the top manager shifts from “teller” to provider of information, direction and resources. With a broader understanding of the big picture and priorities, employees initiate, speak out and respectfully challenge both the external customer and those with more formal authority. Their mantra is to make the customer (external or internal) more successful and give them what will help them do that in spite of what was requested.

In lean manufacturing factories it’s important to identify waste and shorten cost-effective cycle time that proceeds effortlessly for the customer. Improvement begins with mapping out a process, and identifying potential wastes, the critical ones being overproduction, inspection, transportation, rework and delay. Delay is another word for “waiting." The process is stuck because something is just sitting there, waiting for someone to take action.

In our office world, we need to engage in process improvement as well, and realize that “hope” is a precursor to “waiting waste." Identifying it is step one and acting to eliminate or reduce the time spent waiting is step two.

In the above example, the company, a manufacturing organization, was experiencing problems meeting delivery commitments to external customers. The ripple effect was that outraged customers, let down by non-delivery and no communication, were venting their frustration on the customer service representative. In most traditional companies, this representative has little formal authority and feels powerless. In the Obedience World, deprived of information from the manufacturing floor or planning team, this person, who was “hoping” things would get better, can do little more than endure being screamed at.

Waiting, and waiting for others to share information is a mug’s game. The alternative is making very specific requests of others and not accepting their “weasel responses” (“I’ll try”…., “I’ll do my best…”, “We’ll see.”). It means making requests and holding internal suppliers accountable for information-update commitments, providing an explanation of problems and breakdowns, sharing actions that are being taken to rectify these, and specifying when they will next communicate with you.

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Armed with information, the representative can create options, proactively contact the customer, and discuss possibilities before a production stoppage. We all need to learn how to deal with “the Customer from Hell,” but it’s even more important not to cause a customer to become one! When we hope and passively wait, and life continues negatively spiralling without our active interruption, we’re unintentionally producing pain for others.

Empowerment, which is not something that a boss bestows on us, but something we claim for ourselves, means that we seek out our internal supply team, call a meeting, chair that meeting, regardless of who else is involved who has more authority, raise the issues, and seek information. It ensures that others give us what we need or tell us when they will give us what we need.

This is action! This takes courage. This is why leaders are courageous people. This is why leadership is a choice.

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