During my years of involvement in business improvement, I’ve found that to effectively lead progressive change one requires more than the ability to define a problem, or analyse numbers statistically, or identify solutions. Amongst other characteristics, the most effective improvement practitioners / leaders exhibit four major skill sets.

And it’s these four skill sets that bring the emotional aspects of change together with the technical elements.

Skill 1. Build Rapport and Connect with People

Change to business processes requires the engagement of people, without which the change will simply not take place. To engage people so that they ‘buy in’ to change requires the ability to develop rapport.

In fact, the ability to build rapport is essential for our survival in this world; we cannot exist in isolation and expect to be successful.

If this is true, a process improvement project leader must be able to build rapport and connect with people from all parts of an organisation affected by an improvement project.

Skill 2. Maximise Team Productivity

In addition to this ability to connect individually to people, the team leader must also be able to bring a group of people together and manage the dynamics of how they interact for the purpose of maximising productivity. The power of a team is far greater than that of an individual, if and when they work as a team.

This means having solid facilitation skills, having patience as you work people through a process of generating ideas and building consensus, comfort with the ideas of people and not having to get your own ideas into the mix.

Skill 3. Cause People to Think at New Levels

Project team members are brought together because of their knowledge of the process and its input and output components. This knowledge can be both an asset and a liability. Their level of knowledge will be the foundation for analysing what is happening in a process. They will have a strong sense about what cause and effect relationships exist in the process, and be able to provide valuable input at all stages of a project.

On the other hand, this level of knowledge is that which created and supports the current level of performance – i.e. the thinking that created the existing problem.

The challenge for a team leader will be to take the team beyond the level of process knowledge that created the current state, to a level that can identify ways of raising the performance bar. As Albert Einstein eluded, the level of thinking that created the problem will not solve it.

Skill 4. Cause Change to Take Place – Permanently

The final and perhaps most important skill for a project leader to develop is that of change leadership. As we already know, change is all around us, we experience it everyday in our lives. The sad fact is, this is an area where many leaders are challenged. In the absence of formal authority, change will only occur when the thinking, emotional, behavioural and contextual aspects associated with a specific change are effectively addressed.


To consistently and effectively lead improvement through people, you need to develop four primary skills:

  • How to build relationships through establishing rapport and connection;
  • How to manage team dynamics and build an effective / productive team;
  • How to generate new thinking in order to identify and treat the critical few variables that cause process results to be the way they are; and
  • How to accelerate change in a way that the new state is sustainable over the long term.

Mastery of those skills will be accelerated if you:

  • Never stop learning,
  • Read everything of relevance that you can get your hands on,
  • Try new tools and new ways of doing things – stepping outside your comfort zone,
  • Be open and responsive to feedback, and
  • Model successful behaviour.

Thanks for reading,


100,000+ students around the world have enjoyed the fruits of professional development with George Lee Sye. Now his training content is accessible through his professional skills development platform located at the 9 Skills Factory platform here.

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