Change Leadership, Not Change Management

The Hithchhiker’s Guide to Lean is one of the top 10 books on Lean thinking and a must read. We’ve never done a proper, full book review of Jamie Flinchbaugh and Andy Carlino’s book. This is not that full review, but a reflection on one of the chapters in the book.
The chapter is titled Leadership, Not Management and contains the five ideas that 1) leaders must be teachers, 2) build tension, not stress, 3) eliminate fear and comfort, 4) lead through visible participation, not proclamation, and 5) build Lean into personal practice. Instead of summarizing or attempting to paraphrase what’s in the book, here is what these have meant to me.
Leaders Must be Teachers
The most interesting thing I have learned both about putting this into practice, and about helping other leaders put this into practice is that it requires a lot of learning on the part of the leader. What to teach? How to teach it? What if you don’t know enough about Lean or kaizen to teach it? This is where fear and comfort (see below) come into play and prevent leaders from putting this first principle to work for them. Taiichi Ohno got around this problem by saying “What do you think?” or “Think for yourself” or silently taking people to see for themselves. When in doubt that you can teach, go see, and learn together.
Build Tension, Not Stress
I’ve always thought that the idea of pull applied well to leadership. You can’t push people, you have to pull them along. It’s like aikido or other martial arts that use the momentum of your opponent to throw them. Tension comes from pulling. Stress comes from applying pressure against something that is resisting with equal or greater force. You can use gravity to help you pull (think of tug-of-war). You just need to find what the “gravity” is in your situation, grab onto the people you want to lead, and lean into it.
Eliminate Fear and Comfort
Fear and comfort may seem like an unusual pairing and candidates for elimination. Comfort leads to satisfaction, which leads to a lack of motivation to do kaizen, so it makes sense. The same is true with fear. The authors do a great job of using the illustration of concentric circles to explain the idea of creating a “learning zone” be shrinking the comfort circle and pushing the fear line way out. This is so true.
Lead through Visible Participation, Not Proclamation
About a decade ago, in the British Midlands, two successful kaizen teams and I waited for the group President to arrive in his jet to hear the kaizen workshop summary report on Friday afternoon. “We have word that he’s just left Manchester. We mustn’t start without [name withheld]. Any minute now.” And on it went for two hours. When he did arrive, nobody was particularly impressed by this example of “visible participation”. What possessed us (me included) to wait? I suppose we wanted to please this man. Yet the singular importance of his position was the louder message (proclamation) everyone heard that day.
Build Lean into Personal Practice
This is what it is all about. In the real world, “Do as I say, not as I do” creates cynicism for a good thing like kaizen. Being able to demonstrate what you have done this month to kaizen your job, your self and your work environment is one requirement of a Lean leader.
Pick up this book and read it or drop it on a leader’s desk if you’ve already read it. If you’ve done that, look for Bob Emiliani’s new book Practical Lean Leadership which can be considered an advanced class in how to build Lean into personal practice.