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.