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FOLLOW A LEADER
By Patricia Panchak
Ron Harper: Interdependent leadership leads to
fast decision-making—and competitive advantage.
Tailored solutions? That sounds like
a competitive advantage.
Those are the kinds of things that build
a lot of loyalty–when we take a business
problem-solving approach as opposed to
what I call a product and policy approach.
What’s involved in learning to
practice interdependent leadership?
It involves two things: one is reflection
and two is a necessity to continuously
look at everything from the enterprise
perspective, not your functional
responsibility’s perspective. It takes
a lot of coaching, counseling and
Early on we touched base weekly and
monthly to deal specifically with the
business-wide enterprise perspective and
some challenges we had. Now the lead-
ers do weekly reflections, with a partner,
coach or our HR leader.
What obstacles did you have to
The early problem—and I’m sure this is
normal—was everyone thinks they’re
being collaborative, but nobody else
is. I’ve got great leaders, but the reality
was, they were way less open to the
other team’s perspective than they
thought they were at the outset.
Patricia Panchak is managing editor of Target magazine.
ME Chairman Ron Harper,
president of Cogent Power
Inc., in Burlington, Ontario,
is well known within the
association as a leader who
both practices and works
to extend the power of lean. Having
joined Cogent in 1995, he’s helped lead
the company’s lean journey since its
inception in 2004. He’s also a leading
member of AME’s strategic initiative for
Now Harper is working to further refine
lean leadership. He recently described
the work he and the Cogent team have
been doing to implement interdependent
leadership, which is fast becoming
accepted as the next generation of
leadership practice and development.
What is interdependent leadership?
It’s a leadership team concept. Interde-
pendent leadership is about taking the
vision of the company, your goals and
direction, the improvement initiatives,
etc., and collectively working on that as
an interdependent leadership team, as
opposed to having a single top leader
working through the functional hierarchy.
With it, we’re looking to create a shared
responsibility for the business, and the
ability to work with and trust each other,
to avoid siloed thinking, and really work
collectively, arm-in-arm on the business.
How does it relate to lean?
It allows us to use some of the tools,
practices and thinking of lean in a more
enterprise-wide approach at the leader-
Why do you think this is a better
approach to leadership?
Two reasons: First, it allows an enterprise-
wide approach to the business at the
senior leadership team level, and
therefore you can start looking at the
business systems as they transcend
different functions, not just inside of
them. You’re not just looking at improve-
ments in process, or outcomes on
sales, purchasing, or operations, etc.
You start looking at the whole enterprise—
on how to create improvements that will
be shared between, let’s say sales,
purchasing and operations, as an
example. And the leaders of each of
those functions are all working collabo-
ratively to set the right direction for the
Second, you can create a much, more
nimble organization that creatively
solves problems and takes care of
opportunities in a rapidly changing
business environment. Interdependent
leadership requires the team to be able
to understand the vision and strategy
of the company, and be able to alter
course when needed, without a directive
from the “top.”
Can you give an example?
With the steel tariffs, for example, we
need to be able to figure out how to
navigate around that to give our clients
the best solutions at the most competitive
cost, and still have a viable business.
We work at the client level because our
products go directly into our customer’s
products. So, we’re needing to develop
enterprise solutions. If our team is relying
on me to direct traffic as the business
leader and them as the functional
managers, we’re not going to be able
to react fast enough.
Also, where many of our competitors
have said, “o.k . our new approach is
‘x,’” we didn’t do that. We tailored a
different solution for different clients,
and it’s because we had a level of
interdependence and a high level of
collaboration among our leaders that
we were able to do that.
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