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The Essence of Developing People and Yourself

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Jane Delaney is the CEO of a medium sized software company in the UK. As her company faces crisis upon crisis she finds herself forced to reexamine everything. Herself. Her role as a leader. Her own learning throughout a career that has led her to this point successfully. As she faces the fact that she has much more to learn in order to solve her company’s messy problems, Delaney realizes that the nature of the learning she needs has more to do with her than with the company. Ouch – company crisis becomes personal crisis.

Jane Delaney is the fictional character of Freddy and Michael Ballés' newest lean novel, Lead With Respect. But, while it may be a fictional story, I have seen, and experienced, the same thing in real life, time after time. With this book the Ballés dive head first into those most fundamental and ever-present of lean principles: developing people and respect.

This is the Ballés' third novel about lean learning—and they all deal with a common theme. “The overarching theme of all three books is learning by solving problems,” says Michael, and it goes like this:

  1. The characters are faced with a business difficulty
  2. They learn a lean tool
  3. Which makes the underlying problem appear starkly
  4. They partly solve it and learn something (as well as improve the business situation) but hit obstacles
  5. Which leads into the next lean tool
  6. And so on

If you extrapolate from those steps, you might create a set of principles or phases (the Ballé “Four S” for lean learning?) along these lines:

  • Situation – motivation
  • Search – curiosity; think, think, think
  • Struggle – often conflict and always challenge
  • Satisfaction – profound feeling of fulfillment

The implications of this journey are obvious for those of us in roles of leadership, management, or teaching in any way. Perhaps you’ve encountered “Flow,” defined as “Optimizing Performance” by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, who tells us that humans experience flow as:

  1. Involvement (alienation gives way to engagement in the situation)
  2. Enjoyment (curiosity replaces boredom)
  3. Feeling of control (helplessness replaced by competence)
  4. Sense of self

Czikszentmihalyi caps off this chain with the pronouncement: “Replicating moments of optimum flow is the job of educators regardless of domain.” So, add UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s observation that, “we are all teachers”, and suddenly both the Ballé Four S model and Czikszentmihalyi’s Flow take us – as leaders and teachers – inexorably down a distinct path.

Consider lean leaders to be educators: our job, then, is to seek ways to create flow not only in the work itself (one-piece flow!) but the experience of flow on the part of individuals as they learn their way along their lean journey.

Lean leaders have two primary responsibilities (which are preceded by a practical requirement). The two responsibilities are: (1) get the work done and (2) develop your people – and accomplish those two at the same time. The practical prerequisite is: in order to do that, you must first learn yourself. Back to the personal journey.

As for how to develop our people, what does that mean? How can one accomplish it and embody the principle of respect? And just what is respect? Is respect the same thing as politeness? Positive statements so people feel good? An award for every child?

Lean thinking holds that respect entails, above all, an obligation to help each individual reach his or her highest potential. Which raises the question, then, of how can we do that? You start with basic education and instruction (how do I do algebra, how do I attach the part to the product?), and designing and assigning jobs that can be successfully accomplished. And then, unending development comes from challenge. Individuals seek challenges. As leaders, we provide challenging opportunities.  That’s where “struggle” comes in.

Does lean learning always, as Ballé maintains, entail struggle? It’s always hard to say “always.” I’ve encountered individuals to whom acting and thinking in a lean way – once discovered – seemed immediately revelatory and, from that point, quite natural.  But, struggle or not, there is always a clear dimension of searching for more, for more challenges, for more learning. A hunger for learning and to make things better. Problem solving and continuous improvement that is unending is a process that grows individuals as they encounter situations that call for response of a nature that is beyond their current capabilities. The learner seeks the specific learning that will inform better responses to each unfolding situation.

For those of us in leadership roles, this propagates a whole new level of responsibility. Leaders/managers aren’t just responsible for getting the work done (and perhaps merely telling their version of the answer to the situation); they are also responsible for developing the individual so they can develop the answer (the same one, a different one, maybe a better one!) on their own.

We’ve been saying that lean is, "Continuously developing people and improving processes to create value and prosperity using the least possible resources." Lean transformation is at once personal and organizational. Both, at once, each feeding into the other. 

That is the essence of leading with respect. And that is the journey that Jane Delaney experiences in Lead With Respect.

Best regards,

John Shook
Chairman and CEO
Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc.

P.S. I’m sorry to report that the strong-arm tactics that Amazon has been applying to larger publishers has now spilled over to its practices with a small not-for-profit institute -- LEI. Should you go to the main product page for a print copy of Lead With Respect on Amazon, you will see a prominent message from Amazon that this product is “Temporarily out of stock.” Unfortunately this is not true. We have done everything we can to supply the book to Amazon, and have worked diligently and in good faith for the past three weeks to remedy this situation. Customers who placed orders with Amazon directly in late July are still waiting for the company to fulfill these orders despite the fact that it has physical copies available, victims in this company’s campaign to convert all printed material to $9.99 ebooks over which they have complete control. You do have other purchasing choices. This book is available in print from LEI. We also sell it as a third party vendor on Amazon, a link you can access here. (And, given the way that Amazon has been behaving, I would suggest that you consider other ebook formats as a purchasing option.)

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