I’ve been talking to many companies recently that are committed to improving their processes. Or at least they say they are. What I usually see is a company that wants improvement, but management isn’t necessarily willing to make the commitment to the changes necessary for real, sustainable improvement. Case in point: one firm I know has embarked on a project to speed up product development. Although the company dominates its category, there are far too many dropped balls, rework, and missed deadlines for it to continue thriving in its market.

However, management is unwilling to postpone any of the current development projects to free up the developers’ time—these new projects have terrific revenue potential. But to the developers, who are currently working 60 hours per week, this decision seems unreasonable. The developers are expected to carry their current—full—load of work, and still add on this major new responsibility.

This is where real leadership comes in. As Jamie Flinchbaugh says,

I go to many organizations that say, “We have management support. They’re 100% behind us.” The problem is, behind is behind. Leadership is out in front. Leading lean is an inside out transformation, and must begin with the leader’s own mindset and behavior.

In this case, leadership means making the difficult decision to forego some short-term revenue by postponing one (or more) of the new products in development in order to create the capacity for process improvement. Truly leading the improvement effort means making the organization-wide, financially challenging investments that will lay the foundation for future success. Leadership means hacking through the jungle with a machete, clearing a path for front-line staff, supervisors, and managers to follow.

What are you doing in your company? Are you leading or supporting the efforts of your team?