Leaders vs. Lean Leaders: Which Are You?

Lean is often a difficult choice between what is easiest for an organization or what is right for an organization. Leadership is about making a choice. Lean leadership is about making the right choice.

We often talk about the importance of leadership on a lean journey and the distinction between a leader and a lean leader. Lean is often a difficult choice between what is easiest for an organization or what is right for an organization. Leadership is about making a choice. Lean leadership is about making the right choice.

These choices can be described in conflicting pairs. As a lean leader, on which side of each of these pairs do you see your behavior? Remember, leadership is not a position, it is a role and responsibility.

     Training vs. Learning: Training is often just simply the transfer of information. Learning requires application, repetition and evaluation. Every training "program" needs to include elements of application and validation of its effectiveness. Also, remember the tremendous power there is in repetition. You can never repeat a message or an application too often.

     Stress vs. Tension: Stress is generally the result of a feeling of helplessness wrapped in a cloud of uncertainty. Tension is recognizing the gap between a desired state and the current, and realizing the potential to narrow the gap. Obviously, stress is not a good thing simply because of the wear-and-tear it puts on an organization. Interestingly enough, tension will relieve the stress.

     Support vs. Engaged: Webster defines support as "to aid the cause by approving, favoring or advocating." Webster defines engaged as "to involve oneself or become occupied – participation." This contrast should prove the better choice.

     Demand vs. Direct: It is easy to make a demand of anyone. It often does not require a vision or a plan and frequently does not even require knowledge. Direction, however, is providing the beacon or guiding light for an individual or an organization while illuminating the pathway toward that beacon. Direction cannot occur without a vision and certainly not without knowledge. Many leaders take the easy choice, which is not always the best choice.

     Preach vs. Teach: Preaching can certainly be emotional and inspirational, but preaching doesn’t guarantee, nor often is it a reflection of, practice. I’m sure you remember that old adage – "To teach you must first learn" – and if you have truly learned, your thinking and behaviors (practices) will change. People often will follow a preacher, but they will always copy a teacher.

     Walk vs. Observe: Management by Walking Around (MBWA) was a popular yet highly ineffective management concept of the '80s and early '90s. It wasn’t that it was a bad concept, it was just poorly executed. MBWA without the skills to surface waste; observe activities, connections and flows; and identify abnormalities is simply "industrial tourism." It’s just a walk. Maybe it’s good exercise and it does provide some visibility of the individual to the organization, but not much else. Observing requires skills. Walking only requires movement.

     Quick Results vs. Slow and Sustained: Every organization wants quick results, as they should, but there should also be a parallel path in the lean implementation that assures incremental and sustained results. There is no need to sacrifice one for the other.

     Transfer vs. Empower: We often subrogate or transfer responsibility and accountability to others without first providing them the skills and knowledge to succeed. We somehow expect they will pick it up along the way. Some do, but most don’t. Whether they do or don’t, it is still going to be costly to the organization. Empowerment requires enlightenment and education first, before requiring responsibility and accountability. An often-repeated example is when we promote our "superworker" to a "supervisor," often getting a bad supervisor while losing a superworker. As many of you consider a small Work Group environment in an attempt to emulate Toyota, don’t forget the skills development that will be required.

     Tools vs. Culture: Lean is not born from what you see; lean is born from how you think.

The Lean Learning Center

More in Operations