By Steve Kane
I attended the AME Regional Conference in Denver last week and had some great conversations with Lean practitioners from a wide variety of organizations. It seems the topic of discussion in Lean circles has gravitated away from Lean tools and toward culture and leadership. The pillar of respect for people is getting more attention these days.
Culture is defined as the behaviors and beliefs of a particular group. As Aristotle put it, we are what we repeatedly do. Our actions define who we are. This applies to both individuals and groups (or organizations).
Great organizations, according to Jim Collins, confront the brutal facts, no matter what they are. This is the willingness to take a close, hard look at ourselves and truly see the gap between what we are and what we aspire to be. This exercise in reflection is valuable when it is followed by action that leads to improvement. Action starts with leadership.
One of the great challenges of Lean transformation is translating tools and concepts into concrete results through people.
Recognizing and living up to one’s responsibilities as a leader is an element of respect for people. I believe this to be true regardless on one’s role in an organization. It’s not necessary to have direct reports to be a leader. Each member of the organization has leadership responsibility to some degree.
A large part of leadership comes down to two questions: What do you demonstrate? And, what do you tolerate? The answers of these questions define the culture. If the culture needs to change, that which is demonstrated and tolerated must also change.
Perhaps Gandhi said it best. “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Change for the better will require leadership. It requires us to set examples for other people. We have to encourage others through our actions. This might even require us to change the way we think about ourselves.
When you introduce yourself to strangers and are asked what you do (for a living). The easy response is a job title. “I’m the ______ manager” or “director of. . .” But, a job title is just a title. The question still stands: what do you do?
Would you introduce yourself as a leader of people? Okay, introducing yourself as a leader of people might be a little over the top. But, do you even think of yourself as a leader of people? This might well be the most important part of what you do (personally or professionally).
If thinking of yourself as a leader of people makes you uncomfortable, I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone.