29 April 2020

Required Knowledge – Desired Leadership

People’s knowledge, skills and experience define the foundation of any operative success. This is why many Production Systems[1] base leadership on respectful conduct guidelines and on values that approach mistakes as a source of continuous improvement”. Also, up-to-date company philosophies consider openness as a requirement for leadership. Transparency is achieved through the status of key performance indicators, like waste in processes and products, fulfillment or deviations of defined standards and on time tracking of performance.

The justification for such high transparency standards, very often down to the individual person, is seen as a necessity for continuous improvement. It is unquestioned, that one only can improve what one measures and therefor one needs measurable figures. Especially in societies with a higher educational level, transparency can and will be also understood as close observation and control with its entire negative image.

Anyhow, reasonable utilization of statistics and analytical methods needs transparency; otherwise continuous improvement and learning are not achieved.

This can be interpreted as a collective target and often experienced as such whenever empowerment, coaching routines and management support are guaranteed.

On the other hand, an individualized learning program is required to ensure the development of skills such as identification of improvement opportunities, implementation of corrective measures and solutions. It takes individual commitment[1] to build a learning organization, and therefore, “personalized continuous learning” is definitively experienced individually, even if it’s required and given collectively[2].

As an international research demonstrated, there are many reasons that support the importance of promoting individual knowledge[3]. This study claim that the higher people´s academic average level is, the higher the efficiency of an organization as a whole proves to be. In other words, theoretical knowledge and operative success are interconnected aspects.

Especially in countries, where cheap labor and not knowledge is the main basis for their operations, efficiency could become quite a challenge.

Besides, there are many other important reasons, why companies should take care of the academic degree and/or of the level of the theoretical knowledge of their staff regarding products and processes, for example:

  • To get a common understanding of opportunities
  • To identify opportunities as early as possible
  • To make sure that problems are solved from the root
  • To evaluate operational risks
  • To promote / encourage efficient coaching routines
  • To identify future cooperative and supportive leaders
  • To encourage efficient knowledge transfer between generations of workers
  • To define a training plan with a knowledge roadmap
  • To foster a culture of respect for differences
  • To develop a deep understanding of the vision and mission statements
  • To guarantee future success
  • To recognize the moment your organization is ready to address a cultural change

It’s quite evident that anyone can find many other arguments. Thus, in short, the overall objective of a company should be to become a learning organization and therefore it must guarantee profound knowledge about products and processes with problem solving methods, tools and routines.

David Garvin [2] and John Shook [3] agree that culture changes happen through addressing people´s behavior rather than trying to modify it directly.

To change behavior patterns, profound product and process knowledge, guidelines for practice as operational advices and individual commitment to continuous learning is certainly required.

This will definitely have significant impact on leadership behavior, on the overall lived culture and finally on the operative success eventually. Without accompanying changes in the way things gets done, “only” the actual and obvious improvement potential exists. A learning organization will not be reached.

As in any opportunity for improvement, the vision to become a learning organization must be developed.

Therefore, the following questions have to be raised and answered:

  1.  “Where are we?”
  2. “Where do we want to be?”
  3. “What hinders us from becoming a learning organization?”
  4. “What are the next steps?”

To answer the first and second questions, an evaluation and a target description of the “Required Knowledge and Desired Leadership” should be applied.

Preparation Phase

Let us insist that there exists a very clear picture of the process maturity level reflected in a documented and trained process landscape.

This means, that all key business processes are verbally and graphically described in a detailed manner and that the rules and responsibilities of each main business process are defined, at least by department.

Also, it is communicated how everybody should work, act and communicate with each other and if possible how a coaching routine should be applied over the different levels of the organization and what is expected from the employees knowledge and responsibility wise. Communication is the key to this approach of culture change. Communication is present at all levels and in every activity; it becomes the core of daily life.

In detail, this means that the following crucial points exist:

  1. A mission and vision statement
  2. A conduct guideline of “dos and don’ts” via values
  3. A communication concept
  4. A process landscape at least for key processes
  5. A description of work routines
  6. A description of each work and employee position incl. responsibilities and customer – clients relations
  7. A description of the coaching routines for the different organization levels

At this point, we would like to find out, in a systematic and measurable way, if our people have the right skills for their present or future position; if they have the necessary knowledge and the openness for the culture we aim for. This includes also the desired management style.

First, the scope of such an evaluation must be defined very profoundly.

Thus, the following aspects should be clearly defined:

  • Definition of the desired management capabilities
  • Description and performance assessment of the requested management style
  • Definition of the required lean product and process knowledge
  • Setting of the required language skills
  • Evaluation/ Measurement of the commitment to continuous learning
  • Monitoring of the degree of readiness to embrace a cultural change

The scope of application of this approach depends on the specific situation.

The Four Management Capabilities

By management capabilities, we understand a set of behaviors of a person, which are applied or tend to be applied in critical situations and define how efficient is that person finally. By knowing such capabilities, we can compare the profile of a person with a reference model to predict, how likely successful someone would be regarding the culture change we would like to get.

Since there is vast literature on capabilities, we should at this point, define our model that fits most for our overall target. The following four capabilities should be part of such a reference model and should be regarded as decisive factors: “Problem Solving”, “Influence”, “Staying Focused” and “Getting Results”.

The Capability of “Problem Solving”

A “Problem Solving” capability is an important skill for a successful cultural change, e.g. lean philosophy, and is meant to be developed by using different lean tools and applying coaching routines. Problem solving by itself is understood as the ability to evaluate a problem or a given situation, to investigate the past and to promote innovative solutions.

A person with the skill to evaluate problems analyzes a given situation quickly and correctly by making questions in a structured, focused and profound way. This individual is able to describe fluently the actual situation and to define the relevant action steps in an objective way. 

A person with this capability scrutinizes the past, what involves other skills such as quantification, logical understanding, structured argumentation, utilization of data’s and statistics and the ability to understand the interdependence of facts and figures by using adequate (lean) methods and tools. It should be this kind of person who continuously questions and develops its experiences by steadily searching for new opportunities to learn and to bring its background on an up-to-date status.

By doing so, this kind of person always looks for practical solutions not only based on common sense, but also backed up with deep and profound theoretical know-how, what enables her/him to identify key issues and to apply continuous improvement almost in an intuitive way.

Thus, she/he promotes innovation; one is able to serve also as a facilitator for brainstorming meetings and is able to focus its team on developing solutions for a given problem. Finally, such a person also can picture the future and to draw tendencies and scenarios.

The Capability of “Influence”

To influence an individual or a complete organization is very often the decisive factor of success or failure for leaders. Even if all technical and theoretical arguments point in a positive direction and should lead to a striking success, there is still a high probability of failure because people are not or have not been convinced of changing. The capability “Influence” can be described as a combination of the ability to form relationships, to communicate efficiently, to take decisions and to transmit credibility.

We can tell how efficient a person is at developing relationships by the way she/he establishes a social network or integrates to an existing one. People with high relationship skills are able to socialize easily, have an open mind and can be even extroverted. This person should be able to admit and recognize success of the team but also her/his own, together with her/his team. People simply should feel comfortable to be and work with such a person.

She/he communicates in an eloquent and clear way even to different social levels by using examples or metaphors and is able to combine it with transparent and structured presentations. She/he shows willingness to discuss different points of view and accepts the challenge to defend her/his standpoint.

In the same way she/he transmits credibility by taking responsibility for the decisions and supports and defends the team (in this aspect). Such a person also uses the different situations during the formation of a common opinion to motivate and inspire the team. By doing so, she/he coordinates and shapes the team accordingly while behaving in an ethical and honest way to transmit credibility and trust.

Kets de Vries[1] also mentioned that we must take into consideration, when we are looking for successful leaders, the emotional intelligence or how self-reflective such a person is.

The Capability of “Staying Focused”

When we describe a person as “Focused”, we evoke the combination of skills such as stability, adaptability, cooperativeness and resilience. Focused people are able to describe their personal life targets, strength and weakness and believe in themselves.

Stability can be understood, as the quality that enables people to handle stress or even regard it as a positive and motivational factor. They stay calm, objective and organized, even under extreme pressure and are able to transmit this to other people by actively offering support and help. In return, other people feel safe and can control a stressful situation much better in presence of such a person.

Focused people are able to adapt themselves fast to changing circumstances while concentrating on the topic or the problem. They perceive change in general as an opportunity and not as a threat. They show very positive attitude even if a given situation is uncertain and not clear, which means, that they might not be able to use their experience to solve the problem.

They actively try to cooperate while inviting people to express their point of view and personal feedback to a situation, decision or behavior.

In addition, such individuals listen to people and give constructive feedback; while forming a strong team with complementary skills, dedicated to deliver the expected results.

The capability of “Getting Results”

The capability “Getting Results” can be regarded as the “Cash Out” of the three competencies mentioned above. So, in addition to the already described skills, to “Get Results”, we are looking for people who are able to look after the details, to structure and plan their work packages and are keen to fulfill given targets in a timely manner.

A person who looks after details is in a certain way kind of perfectionist, but also knows how to apply the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principal[1], and to apply given resources in an appropriate way.

Such individuals like to follow a structural approach and instructions and often establish rules together with their team. The established rules have to be followed without any exception to keep the transparency of the progress. Normally they do not take too much risk, they are more likely to avoid or reduce risks during the project.

When these employees structure and plan their work packages, they constructively involve the whole team to discuss probabilities, risks and opportunities during the execution of the project. In case of risks, they define priorities, review possible alternatives and activities.

To fulfill the highest ethical standards and to act with integrity, respect and confidentiality are core values that extend to their personal habits. They are resistant to stress situations or even do not perceive labor-intensive or multi-tasking work packages as stressful due to their structured way of work. 

They really want to fulfill target dates and therefore maintain and use given time frames very effectively while pushing the team to meet their targets. They define smart action plans without any fuss but really want things to happen. Such a person likes to be competitive and easily identifies opportunities of all kind.

Congruence of Motivation & Talent

Beside the four mentioned competencies, the congruence of motivation and talent of an individual should be part of an evaluation. The result enables one to better place the employees according to their skills, capabilities and potentiality and to evaluate if this person will support a culture change. It also provides information of the level of their job satisfaction.

As the “Human Relations” movement[1] tried to focus on the elimination of the dissents between individual interest and organizational ones, the objective is to find the right person for the right job. The dilemma with this so called “Hawthorne Theory” is that no direct relation between job satisfaction and output could be proved and also the educational influence was not satisfyingly reflected[2].

To know if someone will be happy eventually is important for constant best results and provides guidelines to plan a job career.

The question behind all these activities is still, if job satisfaction is really directly measurable or if it is a “contradictio in adjecto”.

Several theories tried to bring more light on this topic and have the postulation in common, that experienced job satisfaction is motivating and this is directly interlinked to actions with positive results.

Therefore, it is necessary to investigate to what extent people are placed in accordance with their motivation and talent.

Management Style and Leadership

The previous described four management capabilities define a certain kind of personality we are looking for.

Nevertheless, it is much more complex to describe the desired personality in its totality, which finally defines the character of a person.

The character of a person gets shaped like a stone by the river. A character gets defined over a long time and incorporates experiences of life including childhood, stories told and believed in life, national culture elements and values and most of the times all that together shape the root cause of different versions of view, simply called paradigms. 

Because our brain is organized hierarchically, and paradigms are coming from the deepest layers of the brain, they are not only generating thoughts, they even drive the way we think and the way we act.

Let us insist that the term “leadership” includes all kind of management styles, regardless of the organizational position of the individual.

Also, we can define, that an applied management style is the product of different factors what is experienced as a whole by its work environment.

It is now the task, to define and describe the management style we would like to be applied and reflect the intended corporate culture.

Often when we read or hear about success of leadership, we do not define success very precisely. Many times it is only meant, that actual problems have been addressed. In most cases, studies about the impact over the long run, how much of the achievement depended on the individual person and how much on the organization itself, which problems created the management style during and after the crisis, are missing.

Over the last decades, we have learned of many examples of successful leadership. However, it is highly recommended analyzing them in the frame of their circumstances and never independently of their environment.

An important research[1] proved that authoritarian leadership can be successful in a crisis such as bankruptcy or dramatic operational problems. Under such circumstances people react effectively receive direct orders. 

It is also a fact that during the last decades, after World War II, large scale companies in the western hemisphere have undergone military management in which force and intimidation were displayed and, in consequence aggression and passivity aroused. 

Meanwhile, modern companies have high ethical values, and they even want to be recognized beyond the company because they also became a strong marketing argument. In return, such companies expect from their leaders, that they incorporate these values in all aspects and therefore the applied management style is in direct focus of the interest of the company.

In return, companies expect their leaders to incorporate these values in their management and to align them to the company´s targets since international companies value high ethical standards such as respect for people.

The applied leadership is a determining factor in the success of the pursued cultural change.

We should not assume that technical changes over the time and the inclusion of ethical values in the mission and vision of a company ensure the required leadership style.

In dependency of the applied academic discipline, management styles are structured and explained via the attitude of the person, actions and methods or the believing of the person about others and actions are a consequence of that.

In 1960, the social psychologist Douglas McGregor came up with a philosophical view on management styles. Based on the Maslow’s pyramid of needs and inspired by the experiments of Hawthorne, McGregor coined the term Theory X or Y to describe the behavior of the employees from two antagonistic positions which demand opposite management styles.

The choice of one or another set entirely depends on the manager´s beliefs as well as on the organization’s approach towards human behavior. By assuming that lower-order or higher-order needs are more present, accordingly a management style following theory X or Y[2] will be applied.

In Mc Gregor´s opinion, organizations performance is based on the assumptions their managers have of the employees´ behavior. Based on this assumption each manager chooses a particular style to relate to their subordinates. If they choose, what he called, Theory X, the managers will be authoritarian and controlling since they perceive their employees as: reluctant to work, evasive over responsibility, eager to be directed.

More specific, the fundamental belief of a person who leads according to theory X assumes that humans inherently dislike working and will continuously try to avoid it whenever they find the opportunity. Due to this, employees continuously have to be hustled into work, closely controlled by management and even threatened to work hard enough. There is a strong believing of X style managers that the average employee wants to be directed via concrete instructions because they neither like nor want to take responsibility. According to Maslow, in theory X people only want to feel secure at work to satisfy their basic needs. McGregor thought that this is the right approach for workers in mass production, and we still can observe that this is a common approach in high repetitive and specialized work environment. The management is required to be authoritarian and hard and the organization tends to be more centralized with poor delegation of authority.

Mc Gregor named the opposite position as theory Y, where people are perceived by the management as self-motivated and creative. Accordingly, people experience their daily work as something as natural as it can be and enjoy working with greater responsibility. A manager, who leads style Y, believes that employees are self-directed to the aims and benefits of the organization. Control and punishment are not the adequate mechanisms to assure performance and the employees should be included in the decision-making process and appreciation is important. Influenced by the “Human Relations” movement, McGregor mentioned that job satisfaction is a key to engaging employees and ensuring their commitment, suggestions and improvements.

McGregor was convinced that theory Y is superior to X but also mentioned that it would be difficult to use on the shop-floor and Y would be more applicable for professionals or with people who deal with problem solving. This implicates normally also a higher academic degree and therefore people would easier accept responsibility or even seek it. In consequence these kinds of employees are imaginative, creative and structured. Management style Y is seen also as participative or soft management.

Due to the sudden raise and success of eastern companies, especially in information and automotive technology, 1981 style Z[3], a different observed management style was added to X and Y by W. Ouchi. In his work, he describes that for managers the assurance of long-term employment and collective decision-making approaches are of high interest. The organization is set up to allocate individual responsibility which is continuously but also slowly growing via a strictly formulized evaluation and promotion process. Along all business processes implicit, informal control with explicit, formalized measures are defined and implemented. The career paths are moderately specialized and the leaders as representatives of the company demonstrate a holistic concern for the employees, including their families. Leaders of theory Z let their employees grow and try to coach them along their challenges as good as possible.

Different epochs and national cultures had and still have different expectations regarding their leaders and the applied management style. In other words, the same management style in different circumstances or cultures may produce different results. Therefore, the timely, cultural and social context is a key for success. Otherwise, “leaders” who do not respect this, simply will not be accepted by the majority. Leading always must take place in national political, social and cultural context and has to meet the highest ethical and moral standards, at least from the employees’ point of view. Otherwise, transmitted messages would not be congruent and imperfect, and they would lose credibility. Messages would be sent out with double sense and finally these managers would be seen as manipulators or intruders. Leaders who have the ability to lead in a holistic context can be very successful and in German, it would be said, that they have or had captured the “Zeitgeist” (spirit of their time).

Philosophically, literature also distinguishes between transactional and transformational leadership[4]. While transformational leadership tries to capture the spirit of the time, as mentioned above, transactional leadership is based on the idea of reciprocal exchange between leaders’ and employees. Transactional leadership focuses on the dependency between leaders and subordinates and transformational leadership turns the employees´ beliefs, needs and values into the core issue.

For example, by getting compliance and acceptance of their authority and orders these kinds of leaders push their employees by proposing different kinds of incentives, like additional resources or excellent performance evaluations which in consequence guaranteed salary increase or access to higher paid jobs. If this system doesn’t work, punishment would be the consequence. This people normally don’t attend areas where, from their point of view, the performance is acceptable. The overall success of such a kind of management (management by exception) depends on which values the intervention of the leader is based. The scale can go as low as possible where almost no intervention (laissez-faire) or only if problems become serious and tend to be escalated higher than the owned position (passive management by exception) takes place and up to where intervention and focus is based on smart and transparent standards (active management by exception).

Successful transactional leaders are able to set simple, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely adapted targets (smart) and are able to recognize performance attitudes. This kind of leadership is still quite important in many companies and cultures, nevertheless its more short term based.

In high developed cultures, more and more the transactional leadership is going to be supported or even replaced by the transformational leadership[5], [6].

Figure 1: Transformational vs. Transactional Leadership

The basic motivational driver for transformational leadership is the identification with a common vision. This pulls the employees into basic ideas of existence and direction of all activities which are going to inspire them. This on return encourages loyalty and trust and in consequence this motivates leaders to delegate empowerment even more. In contradiction to lower transactional leadership, the spin of is positive (Fig.1). The more delegation of empowerment can take place, the more a transformational leader is able to keep an eye on the future. 

These kinds of leaders in general ask what and why and not who and when and have extremely high ethical and moral standards. This is reflected in their high personal regard but also this is what they request from their followers. Transformational personalities are an inspiration to their environment and a fountain of creative and intrinsic stimulation for enthusiasm and motivation. They are able to communicate efficiently to all kind of people independent of their academic degree. Even more, they are able to stimulate divergent thinking and the striving for excellence and continuous improvement on all levels and departments of the organization. By doing so, they take their time to coach or consult followers, to grow individually and recognize and appreciate any progress and promote intrinsically further creativity. Therefore, they gain admiration and confidence on a very high level.

When we are pursuing a profound cultural change to create a prosperous future and a sustainable vision for a learning organization, the transformational leadership is definitely what we need.

It is not uncommon, that actual managers still believe that transformational leadership alone is not realistic. General reasons which normally are named are that leaders have to answer sometimes one or even several of the following questions:

Which leadership style fits the country culture?

Does the actual economic situation of the business allow transformational leadership?

Is the process maturity of the organization reliable enough to delegate?

Is the average academic degree of the organization sufficient to trust? 

To answer these questions would lead to the fact, that we are again only attending actual problems. The success of a leader is highly interconnected with its self-confidence and self-estimation. Only leaders, who are not confident to overcome such obstacles, would raise such questions.

In resume, we are looking for visionary leaders who apply transformational leadership style Z.

They would approach culture, process maturity and academic degree topics as challenges overcoming on the mission, and they would be able to build their strategy around the obstacles.

This transformational leader Z would incorporate cultural, social aspects and recognize the best moment and way to set smart targets that define a transparent and fair control system of how, when and to whom to delegate. These leaders feel at ease (confident) with a coaching approach to help build a continuous learning culture.

Required Knowledge

For the development of an effective roadmap who defines the way to a learning organization it is crucial to define expectations and understand the status quo. Therefore, the present knowledge of an organization should be evaluated.

The definition of knowledge expectations involves a profound and intensive work. Therefore, support of process and product experts and managers of the organization is necessary. It is recommended to cover at least all key departments like business administration, logistics, quality, product and process engineering, manufacturing, purchasing and if possible sales.

The data collection should be applied as a general inquiry for all administrative people and all questions should be answered even if the questions do not belong to their area of responsibility.

Figure 2: Correlation Expected results

The reason is to find out, how much cross-functional knowledge exists, which is important to get a general understanding of the requirements and needs of the “other” departments. The expected result in general and on the individual topics of a person depends on her/his hierarchical level and the department the person belongs to. The higher the hierarchical level the higher the expected general and departmental result, the lower the hierarchical level and less important the related questions to the actual hold position, the lower the expected result (Fig. 2).

Open Mind Set

The last area that should be evaluated refers to the openness about change in general.

Great leaders are open for change and are able to adapt themselves to changing circumstances and react accordingly without losing the overall target of their sight.

The evaluation can be done in a face-to-face discussion where the interviewer puts the interviewed person in different real situations applying the evaluation using “The house of change” (Fig. 3).

The questions should always be based on facts and situations happened in the past, to detect a kind of pattern, how someone is handling difficult and challenging situations. How one sees himself and if one is capable to reflect and to question oneself profoundly.

You would ask what the person has contributed to the problem and solution. This will help to find out, if such a person is able to detect opportunities in her/his character and behavior and also if one accepts mistakes based on its decisions taken.

Also, 360 degree evaluation, where direct reports, colleagues, its direct leader and the person itself answer the same questions regarding change behavior. 

Figure 3: The house of change


Let us remember that the reason why we would like to apply such an evaluation was in a first degree, to map the “Status Quo” regarding required knowledge and desired leadership and within:

  1. Present management capabilities
  2. Congruence of motivation and talent
  3. Applied management style
  4. Required knowledge
  5. Openness regarding upcoming changes.

In a second degree to define a target situation for all five areas and finally to define next steps based on the evaluation.

Typical actions could be the development and execution of a cascaded and defined capacity roadmap down to the individual employee.

Possible outcomes are: the elaboration of an organizational based coaching routine to form leaders and employees and the definition of an information and communication strategy how to transmit and explain certain decisions. Other examples are the formalization of an evaluation-sheet for the hiring process by the human resource department, which will help to find the right people with the right attitudes for the right job.

Most important is, to start and incorporate that a continuous learning organization must be built on and with the people who should adopt continuous learning as a habit.

The required knowledge is a necessity, the desired leadership an attitude.


  • J. K. Liker, “The Toyota Way,” McGraw-Hill, New York, 2004
  • D. A. Garvin, “Building a Learning Organization,” Harvard Business Review, July August 1993
  • J. Shook, “How to Change a Culture: Lessons from NUMMI,” MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2010 Vol. 51 No.2
  • R. Tissen, D. Andriessen, F. Lekanne Deprez, “El valor del conocimiento: Para aumentar el rendimiento en las empresas,“ Pearson Educación, Madrid, 2000
  • N. Hawthorne et al., “Hawthorne-Studies,“ 1939-45, In Fischer L. Arbeitsmotivation, -leistung und zufriedenheit
  • G. Beitinger, “Motivation, Coaching and Change Management (MCCM) –  The Triade of Success for a Lean Culture”, Erlangen, Siemens intern, unpublished, 2007
  • D. L. Couto, “Putting Leaders on the Coach – A conversation with Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries,” Inside the Mind of Leaders, The Harvard Business Review Interview, January 2004
  • M. F. R. Kets de Vries, “Führer, Narren und Hochstapler“
    Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag, 2008
  • C. S. Jacobs, “Management Rewired,” Penguin Books, London, 2009
  • D. McGregor; “The Human Side Of Enterprise”, 1960
  • W. Ouchi, “Management Z”, 1981
  • J. McGregor Burns, “Transforming Leadership”, 2004
  • W. Bennis, “On Becoming a Leader”, 2009
  • B.M. Bass, “The handbook of leadership: Theory, Research & Managerial Applications”, 2008

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