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Leadership, the Military and the Just in Time Principle

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Just before the Olympics started, it became clear that the company responsible for the safety and security of guests had mishandled the recruitment and training of staff.  As well as creating an international scandal and losing share value, the company’s credibility plummeted – all because they mis-applied Just in Time principles and lacked leadership.  The UK military were brought in to help – with the best of all possible intentions and a fabulous result.  The people we met at every venue were kind, helpful and thorough.  I didn’t encounter any queues and was pleasantly surprised how quick the security checks were.  Most looked proud and delighted to be at the Games, and our thoughts went out to those who were looking forward to being at home with their families and ended up looking after us.

preparing for the paralympics

So why don’t Just in Time principles work for this type of situation?  And what’s leadership got to do with it?  When we run leadership development programmes, such as Ignite, many of our participants are former military personnel; they understand our approach easily, as the coaching style of leadership is one which fits well with their professional ethos.

A coaching style of leadership encourages each individual member of the team to take responsibility for leadership, and to be accountable for their actions – in service of the whole team.  Leadership, for us, is also about the organisation and our wider society.  Good leadership engages people and helps everyone to feel that their voice counts.  Paradoxically, it also means that when the leader says “jump” the only question the team asks is “how high?”

By contrast, Just in Time principles work really well for processes, systems and logistics – the task of moving things smoothly along the chain to the end user.  When goods are well packaged, stack neatly into boxes and can be put into the back of a lorry in large volumes, then having them delivered Just in Time is perfect.  But does this sound like a human being to you?  Clearly not; in which case, why do some organisations keep trying to apply Just in Time methods to people?

Let’s think about what does work well for us humans:

  • Good communications: a vision with clear messages, presented well, and repeated in different, appealing ways
  • Preparation: change – especially rapid change – works well when we’re well prepared
  • Commitment: it’s amazing what people are willing to do when they feel inspired and motivated; it’s also amazing how quickly things get done in this kind of work environment
  • Practice: change works well when we’re trained, practiced and rehearsed – well in advance, not dumped in it at the last-minute
  • Being heard: people deliver better when they feel that someone in authority cares about them and that their voice will be heard

The young people from the military we met at the Games security points  had long-term preparation, and when the call came to step up, they responded quickly and with pride.  So yes, you could argue it happened Just in Time – but they had invested effort over time to enable them to respond so quickly.  They have a strong sense of personal commitment and duty to their country – and thanks to them, this aspect of the Games was a huge success as a result.  These are our future leaders: many of them will develop their careers bringing leadership to our health service, to our transport infrastructure, commerce and industry.  Wherever they go, we can look forward to high quality logistics, and care and attention to the people who they work with.  Now we’re looking forward to the 2012 Paralympics – can’t wait!


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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