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The Art of Refining Your Process in Leadership

The SERVE Model

By Bruce Witt

(Editor’s Note: This article shares content from Bruce Witt’s upcoming book, SERVE: The Five Leadership Disciplines for Extraordinary Results. Due for release in Fall 2016.)

When developing leaders we need to answer the following basic questions of Why, How, and What. We’re continuing a detailed dialogue about The SERVE model that we use in training scenarios around the world connects with all three of these elements.

Apollo 13 - A Lesson in Leadership Processes When Things Go Awry

Apollo 13 was the seventh manned mission in the American Apollo space program and the third intended to land on the Moon. The craft was launched on April 11, 1970, at 13:13 CST from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days later, crippling the Service Module (SM) upon which the Command Module (CM) depended. Despite great hardship caused by limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and the critical need to make makeshift repairs to the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth on April 17.

After Mission Control decided to cancel Apollo XIII's moon landing following an explosion of an oxygen tank in the Service Module, the astronauts moved to the Lunar Module in order to save power that was going to be needed later for re-entry.

The only problem with this plan was that the Lunar Module was designed for only two people for a 36-hour period, not three astronauts for 96 hours. They quickly discovered that carbon dioxide was building up fast, putting their lives in extreme danger. They had to change the circular CO2 scrubbers in the Lunar Module for clean ones, but they only had spare square CO2 scrubbers from the Command Module.

In record time, the Crew Systems Division put together an improvised adapter using all sort of weird and random parts, like a flight manual cover, suit parts, and socks that would be available in the spaceship. CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) transmitted the instructions to the astronauts in order to assemble this "mailbox" rig—as they called it—working against the clock and trying to survive fight the effects of the poisonous gas which was quickly asphyxiating their brains.

Refine the Process

The word refining means to purify or to improve one’s quality or nature. Leaders apply this idea to the internal processes and structures of the business in order to monitor progress and identify opportunities to improve. 

Every business has key processes that structure, organize and deliver the work. Leaders must work on the business not just in it. This meets the need for stability and requires acquiring inputs and resources necessary to accomplish the mission. It is necessary to be highly focused on the details and continually improving the processes for superior performance. Being the best always attracts people and customers. Processes: Select best people, Orient (buy-in to vision), Train and Equip, Review values constantly, Measure and improve (don’t compromise)

Some important points in refining your process are –

1. Work With Excellence/Benchmark Others – Excellence always stands out – it is a light in the darkness.

2. Establish your Systems, Processes, and Resources – Look at the priorities and gaps that are uncovered in an honest self-assessment.

3. Continually Improve – Build momentum, and work on your business not in it.

The desired outcome is for your work to be accomplished with an attitude of excellence and going the second mile in serving others (going above and beyond that is asked or expected). Each employee ought to be asking “How may I serve you?” They also should respond when asked “It is my pleasure” and mean it!

Next month, we’ll take a closer look at how to refine your process work on the business (the “V” in SERVE). In the meantime, please share your comments in this post – thank you