The Top 5 Essential OPEX Leadership Traits

By: Megan Shaw

In the lead up to OPEX Week Summer 2019 we have been speaking to leaders from a variety of different sectors across the operational excellence space. These leaders have shared with us an insight into what traits they think has enabled them to be a successful leader and what traits aspiring operational excellence leaders should have to ensure they, too, will be successful in their role.

Though we were offered an array of personality traits and focuses, including well-informed, good communication skills and knowledgeable, we picked the most common and important traits that were continuously suggested by our leaders. In this infographic we share the top five essential traits any successful operational excellence leader needs to have.

1. Curious

Of all the leaders we spoke to, almost every leader said that being curious is undoubtedly what makes a leader successful. Curiosity has allowed successful leaders to expand and develop their own personal skillset, learning from other leaders in their industry as well as having a genuine interest in keeping up with the fast moving environment that is operational excellence. A curious leader is a leader that is willing to go out there and discover new approaches or initiatives and is able to come to the table with solutions and ideas that have a well-informed impact on projects, business results and the overall culture of an organisation.

Maddy Del Monte, a former Director of Lean Processes explained, ‘A successful leader needs to be curious and question-driven. They have to ask the questions that will bring realisation to whoever they’re working with.’

2. Analytical

As well as being curious, having an analytical mind-set and the capability to work with data can help leaders to make well-informed and knowledgeable decisions. Data, and being able to work closely with it, is integral for a leader when it comes to being able to drive business results.

According to Jim Hinderks, Global Continuous Improvement Director at Hertz, ‘being analytical means taking the emotion out of the discussion. People trust data and analytics more than emotions, so to me, honing those skills makes you a successful leader.’

3. Compassionate

Building and maintaining relationships is a significantly important part of business leadership. As a leader, you are continually involved with people, whether that be your internal team or externally with stakeholders and customers. Having compassion and an understanding for people’s needs will help to build better relationships with all. This leads to positive engagement from employees and team members as well as positive business results.

Jennifer Hurst, the current Global Process Excellence Lead at Nielsen explained, ‘coming from a service background, when I think about the projects I’ve been doing throughout my career there’s a huge human component to it. So, understanding implications and keeping your compassion front and center as you’re working with people is vital.’ 

4. Involved

Similar to being curious, every leader we spoke to discussed the importance of being an involved and hands-on leader. No successful leader should expect their associates or team to do work that they themselves wouldn’t do. By being involved, leaders can set examples and expectations on how work should be completed and what results should be achieved. Ways to be involved included attending meetings, sitting in on calls and offering up solutions and ideas.

‘If you have someone that is willing to do more listening that telling and actually work in the trenches with the team as a servant leader, that is really instrumental in success,’ explained Amber Brown, current Director of Transformational Change and Data Management at MUFG Union Bank, ‘You’ve got to be willing to get in there and get your hands dirty, you can’t just manage the project and then method you intend to use.’

5. Quality Focused

As a leader, the underlying focus of what you do and how you do it should always be in delivering quality work for your customers, stakeholders and for the business. But importantly, a leader should be able to successfully deal with the pressures of an organisation to deliver results and set an example for the team.

When asked about how he became a successful OPEX leader, Ewan Goddard, AVP and Continuous Change Leader at Voya Financial explained, ‘In my first role, I was a doer. I had a young family and a strong desire to move up in the world and the only way I knew how to was by working hard and producing good quality work.’

With thanks to contributions from our operational excellence leaders; Jennifer HurstMaddy Del MonteAmber BrownLaurie BrooksJim Hinderks and Ewan Goddard.