The 16 Habits of Lean Leaders

Are you ready for the 16 Habits challenge?

Parables have been used for centuries to help us understand and change for the better, hopefully aiming for meaning and purpose in our work as well as private lives. There are many ways we can interpret and associate with parables, depending on where we are with our own-roadmap for life. Often, my teachers at Toyota used stories to sow the seeds in me.
Here I take a psychological, economic and leadership take on the Parable of the Sower of seeds and real life examples from Continuous Improvement initiatives at various organisations that I have had the opportunity to support.
Is there any significance, do you think it’s possible to be successful in business and be a values driven leader?

Have you experienced any of these scenarios below?

Parable Meaning – Business context Significance for today
A man went out to sow grain. The man is represented by the Sensei teacher who is wise and good. The seed is his knowledge on how to engage employees and implement lean leadership into an organisation. I am sure you have heard of the expression “planting the seed”. At Toyota I heard this many times. Just as the advice of the teacher begins to be understood and grow in the now conscious employee, process performance & behavioural attitudes begin to deepen and grow.
Some seed fell on the path and the birds ate it. The birds represents those in the organisation who don’t want to change for the better. The seed on the path represents those employees who hear the message, but it is immediately lost. They fear the backlash from those who don’t not want to change. There are bosses and employees who are too pre-occupied with their own way of thinking, behaving and doing things. The stone age cartoon of the wheel barrow with a square wheel and the bright guy who has thought up the round wheel but no one is interested in what he has to say, I think is very apt here.
Some seed fell on rocky ground where there was little soil. The seed soon sprouted, but when the sun came up it burnt the young plants. The seed on the rocky ground represents people who respond with initial enthusiasm, but the words of the sensei does not sink in deep. When office-politics or hard times (represented by the sun) come along they give up at once. The sun can also be considered as the direct line supervisor or boss. Some employees cannot commit to the new way of working and thinking. They are initially attracted but give up when the going gets tough. They often receive no internal support.
Some seed fell among thorn bushes which grew up and choked the plants. The thorn bushes are the negative people in the organisation, they choke the message of the sensei. It is heard, but people’s concern for riches (chances of promotion, bonus, doing what the boss wants not what is necessarily right) and their worries cause the plants (the lean leadership programme) to die. Some people are too concerned with what others think and they worry too much. They may be jealous, angry or concerned with materialism. Often this is also referred to as short term thinking. What can I get out of this now!. At work and in life we should distinguish between what is important and what is necessary. Your answer to this question is a direct reflection of your value system.
Some seed fell on good soil and the plants produced corn. Good soil represents employees who hear the message and start Doing – PDCA, the changes to processes and behaviours. The corn are the positive outcomes of the lean leadership programme: Engage employees, Respect, Trust, Team work, Shorter lead times, less waste (muda) and so on…employees gain meaning & purpose in their work. Some people have a strong commitment to a lean leadership programme and remain dedicated to learning and living the new way of working, thinking and behaving, even when things are difficult. It is this group of employees who champion the way forward for others to follow. Its not easy being a Lean Leader in mind, spirit and body, but very rewarding.

I know this may sound crazy, but culture change in any organisation, especially when you are trying to know, understand and implement to becoming  truly excellent performing organisation, requires a personal journey of change from everyone in the organisation, particularly those in senior management positions.

I believe that we, advisors, consultants, mentors and coaches, need to be much more supportive of senior management who have a plethora of challenges and opposing priorities.

It’s too easy to criticise them. Yes, it’s true, some are so swamped with their own status and importance that sometimes it’s too much of a challenge to support them. Remember though, just because someone does not agree with you and is even aggressive, it does not mean they are not listening to you, and that’s a good start, if you can take it.

Many, many times I experienced push-back, aggression and many choice words from members, unleashing the malevolence, frustration and whatever else they had burdened themselves with. How many stories I have heard and been witnessed too from team leader’s to middle, senior and top executives who have given the most inappropriate behaviour you can imagine, only to develop into the finest leaders you can possible want.

Maybe it’s the beginning of a difficult process for them. One of the 16 Habits of Lean Leaders is Humility. We shall explore this fundamental habit during the programme.

“Process Improvement Led Leadership – PILL”, is the one most organisations understand and readily follow as it entirely fits in with the top management agenda. Values Driven (sometimes referred to as Servant Leadership) Leadership and PIL are close friends, but they have different mind-sets. Process Improvement Led Leadership says “Show me and I will believe. Values Driven Leadership replies, “Believe and I will show you”.

I vividly remember how often my sensei would explain that the Toyota Way was about the journey in reaching the goal. It’s all about how we travel together, supporting and developing each other through problem solving (not only).  Most process driven organisations don’t focus on the road, just the outcome, leaving many employees frustrated and demotivated. And this is prevalent in private as well as corporate organisations everywhere.

To change, you must want to change first.

Once, one of my sensei said to me, “A leader is like a gardener in a green house. The diligent gardener tends with care and patience all that grows in the green house. Each produces its finest colours and tastes as the seasons pass by. Your team, your department, that is your greenhouse. How good are your gardening skills !.

Well, I wonder how you feel after reading this article! Please share your comments.

Look out for the next posts which will lead us into “The 16 Habits of Lean Leaders”.