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What Does Leadership Look Like?

By Steve Kane Updated on May 21st, 2020

I spoke at a Lean event last year. The audience was about 250 accomplished Lean practitioners. My session was at about 2:00 PM, which was right at the beginning of the afternoon lull.  Folks were starting to feel sluggish after a lunch and after six hours of listening to speaker after speaker.

Influencing is leading

The moment I stepped onto the stage I realized I needed to get people moving if they were going to stay awake during my 30 minute talk. I gestured for everyone to stand up. They did. I began clapping my hands very slowly. The audience rolled their eyes and hesitated. I kept clapping while making eye contact with individuals in the crowd. After several seconds of me clapping alone, the audience joined in. The clapping eventually sped up to a constant roar. I held one hand open, palm toward the audience, and suddenly closed it into a fist. The roar came to a sudden stop.

I asked the audience why they did that. They looked back at me a bit puzzled. Some people chuckled. After a brief pause, I asked again: “Why did you clap you hands? No one asked you to clap and you did it anyway.”

While I didn’t know specifically what any individual was actually thinking in that moment, I had a general sense of what was running through people’s minds.

There is a natural tendency to follow the leader

Standing on stage to address the audience placed me in a situational leadership position. The audience stood up when they didn’t want to. They joined in an activity they didn’t want to be part of.

I went on to speak about Lean leadership. A key point of the talk was what the audience had demonstrated. We do what we observe our leaders doing. We tend to emulate behaviors and follow examples.

Policies and standards are insufficient to guide behavior or performance. It takes someone to demonstrate expected behaviors in order to adequately communicate them. Words alone (spoken or written) wont do it.

We must do what we expect from others

The audience stood up and clapped in cadence with me. No training. No explanation. No demands. After several seconds of seeing was going on, there was understanding. Once the audience understood, they joined in.

Don’t let words get in your way

Conflict arises when words and actions of leadership don’t match. People will get confused and will watch the crowd to decide a course of action. People generally don’t want to act out against the leader or tribe. We have an innate desire to conform. It’s a survival mechanism.

Take the time to reflect on your values and principles. Act accordingly. Your actions influence others, regardless of your position.



  1. Kalpit Shishodia

    May 28, 2020 - 9:32 am

    Concept explained with a very interesting example. Thanks for sharing.

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