Ambassador Charles A. Ray

Good morning. I appreciate the invitation to be with you this morning to discuss a topic near and dear to my heart: Leadership and the key role it plays in organizational transformation. As you heard from my introduction, I have been involved in leading government organizations for over forty years. For the most part, I think I have been moderately successful.

In our short time we have together this morning, I would like to focus on leadership principles from a practitioner’s viewpoint, talking in plain language about the nuts and bolts and giving you real-life examples. I hope you will find this helpful, whether you are an experienced or aspiring leader of continuous process improvement and no matter what stage of lean six sigma deployment your organization is in.

I think you will see from my remarks that I come at leadership from a broad range of disciplines rather than concentrating on one component. My personal bent is to bring creativity to leadership application and not be a slave to the “school book” solution. I like to think of myself as not necessarily a master of any one skill, but a “Jack of all trades” which in my opinion is what leadership is all about and what process improvement demands.

In today’s business environment, organizations must periodically undergo performance transformations to get, and stay, on top. In many cases it is a question of organizational survival.

But in the volumes of pages on how to go about implementing a transformation, surprisingly little addresses the role of one important person. What exactly should the leader be doing in leading this transformation?

Based on my own forty year government experience and working with executives from diverse backgrounds, I believe there is no single model for success. Moreover, the exact nature of the leader’s role will be influenced by the magnitude, urgency, and nature of the transformation; the capabilities of the organization; and the personal style of the leader.

Despite these variations, my experience with scores of major transformation efforts, combined with research over the past decade, suggests that four key functions collectively define a successful role for the leader in a transformation:

  • Number one: Care for your people as individuals. People have a unique human need to feel important. To build a top performing, hard-to-leave organization, leaders must meet that need for every individual in the organization.

  • Number two: Promote shared values. In order to be successful, an organization must have a system of shared values. They serve as guidelines for delivering on the organization’s promise to its constituents. And the glue that holds these values together is the sense of honesty and integrity transmitted by the leadership and owned by the membership.

  • Number 3: Model risk taking. Trying new things entails taking risks even though it opens up the possibility of making mistakes. You learn more from mistakes anyway. It goes hand in hand with change, and is absolutely essential for transformation.

  • Number 4: Build a committed team. Teams are the engine for driving change. Effective leaders are networkers, building strong personal and professional alliances constantly.

Before I discuss each of these functions in greater depth, let me point out that everyone has a role to play in an organizational transformation. The role of the leader is unique in that they stand at the top of the pyramid and all the other members of the organization take cues from them. Leaders who pay only lip service to a transformation will find everyone else doing the same.

Those who fail to model the desired mind-set