Monday, March 5, 2012

Lean Leadership Excuse #3

By Al Norval

I work with leaders in many organizations that are making the transformation from a traditional way of thinking to Lean Thinking. Some are doing very well and some struggle with this transformation. In previous posts I’ve described a couple of the excuses I hear coming from Leaders about why they can’t make the transformation to Lean Thinking and Lean Leadership and truly lead their organizations to become the best they can be to deliver exceptional value to their customers.

Some of these excuses I’ve talked about in previous posts include:

I don’t have time” and

It’s so hard

Today I’m going to talk about another excuse I hear more than I’d like to, which is:

It’s easier just to tell people what to do

This excuse goes right back to our Mental Model of Leader as a Teacher. In a traditional hierarchy with traditional thinking, the leader was the boss who often saw his role as telling people what to do. In a Lean environment, the Leader is a teacher who uses Socratic questioning to build the capability of the team. This is best done at Gemba by using real problems encountered by the team. By building the capability of the team, the team grows and is better able to solve problems in the future. The more capable people are, the more problems they can solve to root cause, the more time they free up for leaders to coach and mentor their team. It’s a very different skill set but one that starts a benevolent cycle of teaching, learning, and improving.

Leaders acting as teachers build the capability of the team but this takes time. Thus the dilemma – If I just tell people what to do, it’s easier and takes less time but people don’t learn, grow and develop their thinking. They learn to go to the boss and in extreme cases learn to do nothing until the boss tells them what to do. Since they keep coming to the boss asking what to do, there isn’t time to build the capability of the team.

So, I hear the excuse – It’s just easier to tell people what to do. Get it done, get it over with and just move on. Short term thinking with short term gains but no foundation for the future. Lean is a journey to True North with our people pulling us into the future. For our people to do that, leaders need to invest in building people’s capability one step at a time. It’s long term thinking with respect for people at its core and it’s not easy.

But just because something is easy, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. That’s why it’s called Leadership, the ability to do the right things not just the easy things.

For more on Lean Mental Models, please see Lean Brain Boosters.


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