Avoid the Ambush

As I’m writing this, I’m attending the Toyota Kata Summit in Atlanta.  The early keynotes of the conference touched on several important aspects of Lean leadership.  Among them were the general topic of respect for people; and the more specific topics of quick wins; and the overlap of thinking, behavior, and feeling.

One comment, and now I don’t remember what it was, triggered a memory I have of feeling ambushed as a kata learner.  This ambush is something I’ve been guilty of as a kata coach as well.  This morning’s keynotes turned these previous experiences into a learning lesson for me.

Quite some time ago, I was discussing a business problem with my boss.  I was just starting to think through the issue with all of its complexities.  My boss was very receptive and was doing a great job of listening–at first.

Once I had spelled out what little I knew of the problem, the boss started using the kata method to coach me.  At that point, we’d both read about kata, but hadn’t really put it to use.

During the discussion the boss asked, “What’s your target condition?”  I wasn’t sure at that point, but felt as though I had to come up with an answer or be seen as incompetent.  He followed with “What’s your current condition?”  Again, I didn’t know.  I hadn’t really thought the problem through that far, but, again, I felt compelled to come up with a response other than “I don’t know.”

This discussion left me feeling like I had failed.  I was discouraged.  I don’t blame the boss for this feeling.  After all, we had just started learning about kata and he was sincerely trying to help.

Despite the fact there was no ill will, I still felt incompetent.

Some time later, after kata had been in use for a while, I did the same thing to one of my direct reports.  She was dealing with a problem and was seeking my help.

I was genuinely trying to be helpful, but sensed some tension in my learner’s voice.  I was certain the kata method would help us learn what we needed to know in order to solve the problem.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t given any thought to how using the method, without helping her prepare, would make the learner feel.

What I learned today was that I had ambushed my learner just like my boss had ambushed me.  I made her feel as though she had failed.  She was completely unprepared to answer the coaching kata questions.

As a coach, it’s my responsibility to help the learner be successful–to help get quick wins.  Winning, in this context, is a feeling of success and not a matter of outscoring someone else.

The outcome for my learner would have been completely different had I changed my approach ever so slightly.  Rather than making her feel as though she was unprepared to speak with me, and as a result making her feel resistant to dealing with the issue, I could have inspired her to drive on with working to solve the problem by providing some initial support and direction.

Rather than jumping into the kata questions, I should have prepared her for the kata.  I should have acknowledged her struggle with the issue and said something along the lines of “Let’s dig into this more deeply by using the kata method.  We’ll work together to define the challenge you’re trying to overcome.  Once we’ve done that, we’ll work on deeply understanding the current condition.”

With that one simple change to my approach, I could have created a feeling of success by helping her move forward.

5 Comments

  1. Ron Pereira

    February 23, 2018 - 9:58 am

    Steve, I am so sorry Kevin did this to you! I am going to have a serious discussion with him about this… bahaha! So happy to be on this never ending learning journey with you my friend! Enjoy the rest of the Kata Summit.

    • Steve Kane

      February 26, 2018 - 2:34 pm

      Ha! Yes, please speak with him about that. I suppose, to be fair, you should also have the same conversation with me.

      Likewise, Ron, I’m grateful we’re on this journey together!

  2. Steven Bonacorsi

    February 23, 2018 - 1:05 pm

    Steven Kane, in your article you write “What I learned today was that I had ambushed my learner just like my boss had ambushed me. I made her feel as though she had failed.” I have 2 thoughts i would like to propose – the first is on your choice to use Ambush as if you were a predator awaiting to ponce on your prey. I think your being to harsh on your self. This person came to you for help and using questions like What is your target or current condition is not an ambush but a good use of inquiry skills that gets the person to think about the problem in a different way. Sure they may not know the answer, that is not their fault, it is common for there is no answer but it gets one thinking about ways to measure the problem. Second, is the statement that you made her feel a certain way. and as a coach, you are powerful, but not so powerful as to now be able to create feelings in human beings. The mentee has feelings, agreed, but you did not make them, they did, and they own them.

    • Steve Kane

      February 26, 2018 - 2:42 pm

      Hi Steve,

      Thanks for the feedback! An important point for coaches/teachers/leaders is to put the learner at ease. This is a point that is stressed in TWI Job Instruction. The reason is that people don’t learn if defensive or fearful. This is a respect for people issue and also matter of effective coaching. Putting the learner at ease should have been my first concern. Effective coaching will avoid the “Gotcha” experience.

      Thanks, again, for the comment!

  3. Vijayata Singh

    February 24, 2018 - 12:00 am

    I think sometimes there has to be someone to trig you , otherwise a less knowledge may block you for further information.
    But at the same time , every human take it differently , if I were immature I may take my boss wrong and thought that he is demoralising me but if know that I have to understand the method correctly and as a responsible person has to implement correctly and may in future deliver correct information to my preceding. I will take it as a challenge and will try to get answers.
    But since you said as a coach that is different , in that case you have to give examples and ask simple questions to first get the impression of what exactly your team member understood and than you ask them to put the understanding into the clear targets and conditions.