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Leaders are made, not born.

A few years ago I worked with a group of Managers.

All worked on the shopfloor of a large, fast-paced site with high output but some worrying data on quality and efficiency.

I was given some background information on their performance and some of the assessments were less than complimentary.

I got the impression some were on their third strike.

In conversation with the senior team, I asked to see the Leader Standard Work for Production Managers.

‘We don’t use Leader Standard Work here’.

‘Oh, ok. Do you have any objections to introducing them?’

‘Not if you can show us they work’.


I mentioned David Mann’s book, ‘Creating a Lean Culture’ and his insistence that a Leader Standard Work document is one the easiest and most effective actions a company can take to improve efficiency quickly.

Then I showed them some examples I’d used before.

‘So you’re basically telling these people what to do and when?’


‘But we want people that are able to lead – not follow some crib-sheet telling them how to do the job’.

Fair point. But.

I quoted Warren Benis, a noted authority on leadership:

“The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.”

I think I might have misquoted, but I got the idea across.

They gave me the nod.

We would review in a month, and have a full assessment in 3 months.

I then met the 5 individuals and explained the concept:

‘So you’re saying I have to follow the steps in this document – meet people as they walk into work and then tick this box. Walk round the shopfloor when it says, ask the questions it says to ask, and do that every day?’


We adjusted a few things, put in some things they thought would be helpful, but that was basically it.

Follow this, every day, then bring it to me at the end of each day.

‘I feel we’re being treated like children’.

No, you’re being shown how to be leaders. Trust me, it works.

The next few weeks involved lots of discussions about the resistance they felt internally to what they were being asked to do.

There were times when their frustration was obvious.

But they started to get it.

Over the next few weeks they suggested some changes.

I no longer needed to chase them for their sheets at the end of each day.

Meetings became much more… confident? I don’t know if that’s the right word for a meeting.

There definitely appeared to be a lot more certainty about the issues they discussed. Much less deferring to Senior Management.

The shopfloor started to feel calmer, less frantic.

I even caught them smiling occasionally.

After 6 weeks or so, I was asked to roll out the initiative to Supervisors.

As far as I know, all 5 Managers are either still in their positions or have been promoted.

Which proves, I think:

Leaders are not born, they’re made.

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