The other day while reading about process improvement strategies, I learned a collaborative team
is the cornerstone to any successful process change implementation. In every team, there needs
to be a least someone designated as the leader. I then had a question about the leadership role in a
process improvement team. What qualities does the team leader need to possess for the process
improvement project to be successful?
Before I begin what qualities a process improvement leader should have, let’s discuss what a
A leader is someone who has the ability to communicate the vision, strategy, goals and
objectives of a project. Leaders are different from managers in that they suggestive powers, and
have followers who have joined voluntarily. Managers have formal power where subordinates
have a compulsory obedience. Effective leaders always communicate through dialogue – there is
a community relationship. Effective communication can only happen when there is openness to
opinions and suggestions. They have the ability to communicate objectives for change when they
have a strong vision for what the change proposes. Leaders aspire to greatness when they have a
strong vision of the objectives, and with that, they are adept in getting “buy-in” by followers.
Many successful leaders (political or industrial) had a strong vision of what they wanted to
accomplish. That belief in the vision, that passion can aspire for others to follow them in their
quest. They are also adept to facilitating changes that are required to realize their vision, and are
the ones that everyone goes to for an explanation of why the objectives need to be done.
However, vision alone is not enough to be successful. The leader also needs to have a clear
strategy that connects the vision to actions. Therefore, a leader who has great communication,
and has clear vision and strategy of the objectives, can find the support of others to reach their
The following are some of the qualities I discovered a process improvement leader should
• Setting the Goals – A great leader can articulate the vision and goals that describe what
they believe will turn out an excellent improved process. They will need to provide a
clear “charge to” towards this vision for the team members, managers, and owners of
processes. The leader will need to make sure that all, especially team members and direct
reports, understand this vision and communicate consistent messages to everyone – don’t
stray from the objectives.
• Participation – “Lead by example!” Process improvement efforts will be successful if the
leaders and senior management have a passionate commitment to the project. An
example of this concept is when George Washington made his historic crossing fo the
Delaware in 1776. Washington was among the first of his troops to cross the Delaware.
This leadership by Washington in a logistically challenging and dangerous operation
helped inspire his troops to successfully surprise and defeat the British troops of Johann
Rall in Trenton. Therefore, it is important for leaders to actively attend process
improvement events in their entirety, take the lead and be in the front lines, and invite
additional senior leaders as needed. This will surely inspire team members to commit to
• Provide Support – A leader needs to make it clear, to team members and others, that they
strongly support process improvement efforts, both verbally and through actions. They
need to be specific about their vision and priorities for process improvement. Leading by
example, and having full trust of team members, they take on the responsibility to
implement the new process and take full accountability for the action. Additionally, the
leader participates in follow-up meetings after the implementation, and recognizes the
team’s progress while reinforcing the importance of continued implementation of the new
process. The leader must communicate, in writing and meetings, why it is important
everyone in the organization commits to supporting and using the new process.
• Clear Obstacles – Issues and challenges will emerge in any process improvement efforts,
and it is easy to lose focus. Leaders should set time during meetings with team members
and managers to discuss any issues that may arise that can affect the work towards the
process improvement. Leaders should routinely check with their team members and ask
specific questions about how the process is working, and what support is needed to clear
any challenges they may be experiencing. The leader should be proactively involved to
remove any barriers, and if they cannot be removed, then they need to work with
managers to set goals and strategies that will optimize results.
• Recognize Accomplishments – When a leader gives praise to those that deserve it, the
more those people will want to deliver. A good leader will reward someone when team
members have done a good job by recognizing their efforts publically. A leader should
also support any events, such as parties or lunches, to celebrate reaching goals and
milestones. A great leader will be very generous with praise when it is well deserved!
Recognition of others is very important if you want to gain their support for current and