Blazing the Trail: Why Teaching and Removing Obstacles Matter in the Workplace

Many organizations struggle with identifying their “secret” to success. Often, founders are insufficiently clear about their own unique approach. They can do the job themselves, but they don’t know how to describe what makes them successful. Great organizations have identified their success factors and can teach others to replicate what has taken them to their current level of success.

winding path

Be Clear About Your Success Factors
Identifying what the customer values requires great listening and questioning skills. The customers and the non-customers (those who are doing business with your competitors) can identify the Critical-to-Success factors that they value in your organization. Critical-to-Success factors are the product features, customer-supplier interactions, and other intangibles that cause customer loyalty and new customer acquisitions. Once the Critical-to-Success factors have been identified, they guide your business to increased revenue and profits.

This is vital for a number of reasons. (1) Founders frequently fail to successfully pass their businesses on to another generation, and cannot, therefore, extract the value from the enterprise they’ve built. This happens because they didn’t prepare their team to know and to do what they themselves uniquely knew and did. And, (2) organizations seldom do an adequate job of teaching and coaching everybody to become masterful with “the secret sauce,” and little by little, what was special, unique, and highly valued slips away without anybody’s notice.

Teach and Coach for Success
“Great leaders are great teachers!” Noel Tichy, the management guru from University of Michigan, said this. Tichy pioneered the “leader as teacher” research, promoting the principle that all great leaders need clarity on what they are teaching —he called this their “teachable point of view.” And, of course, if you are going to have a “teachable point of view,” you need clarity about your business’s success factors.

The most important role of the serving leader is to teach and coach others. This is the most valuable service the leader can perform. People on the front lines cannot perform at the highest level if they do not have a clear understanding and commitment to the success factors. A self-serving leader is afraid to teach the things that produce success, because they are afraid that their people will end up being able to do their job. This is tragically ironic, since the very mark of great leadership is the ability to strengthen others.

It is also important for the serving leader to know when to teach and when to coach. Teaching involves informing and demonstrating; it is needed when the person being taught does not know the success factors or has not learned the standard processes and measures for success. Coaching is used when the person has the knowledge but is struggling to perform at the expected level. Coaching is also the right approach when the problem being encountered can be handled with a variety of approaches.

Remove the Obstacles and Wasted Effort
Does this sound familiar? You wake up in the morning with the intent and desire to have a serene “quiet time” before the day hits you broadside. You walk into your study with an aromatic cup of tea or coffee in one hand, and your book of serene meditations in the other. You take your favorite seat at your desk…and spend the next 20 minutes trying to find a firm surface upon which to set your cup, shuffling down through the layers of memos, bills, half-completed work projects, and mail.

This, in short, is what “remove obstacles and wasted effort” addresses. Whether the clutter and extra steps are suffered at home or at work, they frustrate progress, rob results, and all importantly, discourage people.

A critical part of blazing the trail for those you serve is the importance of removing the obstacles and waste that are causing frustrations or extra efforts that increase costs or result in rework. The most effective way to apply this behavior is to prepare employees to identify obstacles and waste and then to take whatever actions are necessary to remove them. There are many process improvement methods being applied in great organizations, including Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma.

Whether using one of these methods, or the process we teach in The Serving Leader Development System, the critical completion step is to take action when a point of waste is identified. Why would a worker raise her hand and offer an idea to streamline or simplify everybody’s work if it isn’t clear that her idea will be acted upon?

Ultimately, it’s essential that leaders and managers work together to create a road map that is clear on their company’s “critical-to-success” factors, to teach and to coach their team in the mastery of these factors, and all importantly, to eliminate all the noise, waste, trip-points and distractions that frustrate people and put drag on productivity. Only then can you truly begin to blaze a trail with clear running room for a whole company to accelerate towards success.


Photo by Toni Kellar

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