Being fairly young and new to the world of management—I work as the Director of Productivity at a company that designs and manufactures wind tunnel models—I often feel I am blessed (and cursed at times!) with a different perspective on management and leadership than those of some of my more seasoned colleagues.
I see the ways of old still very much a dominant driver in how so many managers and leaders view their departments and employees. Similar to ancient monarchical societies, “Leaders are born, not made” is the idea. Those few with the divine touch are blessed with the ability to lead and preside over the unfortunate many! An image comes to mind of a pharaoh perched atop a gaudy throne, a half completed pyramid… workers struggling to move mountains of stone with nothing but their bare hands.
Exaggerated analogies and caricatures aside, that is the all knowing, all powerful approach we often see leaders take when interacting with those they lead: “I am the boss, do as I say.” Working in Lean and Six Sigma, I often see the “upside down pyramid” explained, in which organizational charts are flipped upside down in a vivid display of sweeping change. The theory is great, but how often is this really practiced and how much value does it add beyond a great performance?
I think it’s time we start thinking outside the pyramid. From my view, I don’t think it’s a matter of flipping any shape up, down, or sideways. When you work together intertwined within the team, there are no sides, there’s no real top or bottom. There are only people working alongside one another. When leaders strive to empower their workforce, to facilitate success within their teams, and communicate effectively with their colleagues and team members, that’s when true leadership shines and real work gets done.
Managers can’t be above going to the gemba and rolling up their sleeves. I don’t mean once a week walking through and giving orders, conveying schedules, or shooting the breeze for a few minutes. I mean really rolling up their sleeves and helping out. How can you request your team to complete a task by a deadline if you don’t know exactly what goes in to getting it accomplished? How can you build trust and relationships with your employees without knowing what they do every day?
I once worked for a dictator (excuse me, boss!) who demanded my team and I ship a product out that we had already shipped the week prior. When I tried to convey this information, I could almost hear the air sizzle as steam left their nostrils and hit the cool warehouse air. They had never set foot in our department and had absolutely no idea what part numbers or descriptions were what. They had only heard of schedules and products in management meetings inside a comfy conference room. The result of this conversation was a huge drop in respect for this manager as well as loss in general productivity in our department. This type of “leadership” was commonplace, too, which didn’t help. No one was willing to give 100% to someone to who didn’t share in their plight and instead, just made things worse.
As leaders, we need to make ourselves a part of the team, not position ourselves at the top or at the bottom of it. Working together is something you do; it’s not just something you say you do or say you value while keeping separate silos.
I have to disagree with Machiavelli in The Prince when he says, “It is better to be feared than loved.” Sorry, but those days are over. It’s better to respect people and be respected. This only happens when teams feel they are working together to accomplish a goal as opposed to being told what to do. People need to take on ownership of a goal and feel personal pride in its completion. When they do, you'll be amazed at the boost in moral and quality of work. A good leader provides his/her team with the tools and opportunities they need to succeed. A good leader doesn’t say, “I am the boss, do as I say” but, “How can I help you succeed today?”
How can we, as lean practitioners, eliminate the wasteful ideas surrounding management and change the status quo of old? I would love to hear others thoughts on the subject: What are the best ways you have found to change ideas around leadership? How have you empowered your team members or seen others do this?