Part 2 — 3 Strategies for Leaders Who Have No One to Lead: Strong Allies


Part 1 (1)Mark's note: Last week, I published a post by Paul Serafino titled “3 Strategies for #Lean Leaders Who Have No One to Lead.” Today, and for the next two Tuesdays, Paul shares each of those strategies. Click here for the whole series

By Paul Serafino:

Here is the first strategy you can test out over the next week or so. Here is a one-page PDF guide to help you get started. If you've been in your role for some time, with the same company, this should be a very quick implementation. If you're new, then spend a couple of weeks observing people and watching for the personalities outlined below. Try to get to know the individuals better, on a personal level. That always helps break the ice when asking for help.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Strategy 1: Select strong allies that have teams of their own

The Point: Developing a strong partnership with individuals who already control the work content of a portion of the business, or a section of the process, will give you instant access to the people following that person's lead. They must have mutual respect and shared enthusiasm with their team, so selection of the right partners is key.

The Process: Whether you're new in the role or to the company, or have years of struggle and despair under your belt, the selection is the same. Here are three distinct personalities you can quickly identify that are sure to make strong allies:

“The High-Fiver” — He's always walking through the plant giving out “atta boys” like they're going out of style. People joke around with him for a minute or two and then get right down to business. The white board in his office is used for brainstorming ideas, not for the boss's to-do lists or scribbles from an urgent meeting six months ago. He's constantly scanning the business for the next big thing – a major win that will change the game.

“The New Person” — She stops by your cubicle daily, at the same time. She tells you positive stories about the work her previous company did with Lean. It's not a bragging session, but you detect a sense of pride. She didn't leave that job because she was miserable. She's opportunistic, and chances are her skills and knowledge will be very useful compliments to your efforts.

“The Real Boss” — This is the ‘get it done' guy, or the ‘knows everything that's going on, always' gal who is consistently busy but never overwhelmed. You ask this person a favor by email and, before you leave for the day, it's done. Somehow. This person isn't necessarily a manager or leader of a specific team, but he or she has the respect and admiration of just about everyone. They've learned to navigate the BS and get others to take action, at all levels of the organization.

Keep an eye out specifically for these personalities. When you identify them, insert yourself into their patterns by asking to sit in on a team meeting, or grab a late coffee and wax poetic on their white board Friday afternoon. These people aren't afraid to share what they do and what they know.

The Payoff: Once you've made contact with one (or all three) of these people, latch on for dear life. Pull them into your world of improvement and thinking differently. Create a shared vision of what could be. Provide the strategic factors like alignment to business objectives, or solving systemic problems that are hurting company performance. But let them execute the tactical side of things their way. Establish a basic understanding within the partnership that you will provide their teams with better tools and a deeper understanding of Lean methods, and they will drive the course of action to deploy those new skills. You'll be surprised at how fast they get things done.

Download the PDF worksheet:

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Next Post: Strategy #2… Find an apprentice…

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Paul Serafino
Paul's mission is to provide Lean and Continuous Improvement change agents with the tools they need to influence up and accelerate real change in the absence of the right support structure. Paul has held positions in the high-tech arena, the old-school manufacturing space, and the Lean training and consulting world. He taps into these experiences to share what works, what's possible, and how to make it happen in very simple, highly effective ways. He writes and coaches with the goal of helping creative thinkers find the best path to launching their improvement ideas into action. You can learn more at his blog “Accelerated Journey."


  1. Very good. I good way to find allies is to ask each employee for a list of bright ideas they have had on this or prior jobs. Then ask these people “Who was helpful.

    On your HR portal, ask “What made you happy on your last job?” If a lean activity made an applicant happy, interview them.


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