Senior management leadership is almost universally identified by the assorted experts as a critical ingredient for a company’s success on the road to lean. That being the case, I thought I’d take a brief stroll through the pages of Amazon to see exactly what that is all about – to see what educational resources are out there for the big execs to prepare them for lean leadership. What I learned is mind boggling.
To be a leader, a manager should master Accountability Leadership, Collaborative Leadership and Contagious Leadership. He should get his or her arms around the Tao of Leadership and learn how to Lead From the Front and know Leadership That Works. There is Zen Leadership (perhaps this is the 102 version of the Tao of Leadership?), Spiritual, Ethical, Inspirational and Moral Leadership – all separate approaches. There is a 5th Wave of Leadership to master (no first through fourth, however), along with Thought Leadership, Facilitative Leadership, Systematic Leadership and, most important, I would imagine, Grown Up Leadership.
In order to keep all of this straight, leadership has been organized into 4 E’s, 5 Personalities, 6 Priorities, 7 Zones, 8 Keys, 9 Lessons, 10 Common Sense Lessons (apparently the 9 Lessons defy common sense), 21 Principles, 50 Basic Laws, 124 Actions and 180 Ways – each a separate tome.
For help along the way, the would-be leader should read up on Abraham Lincoln, Attila The Hun, Santa Claus and basketball coach John Wooden. Jesus, the Founding Fathers and the US Army Rangers all have leadership lessons to teach, as do Teddy and Eleanor Roosevelt (not Franklin, though), Alfred Sloan, Martin Luther King and Six University Presidents (the rest of the academic folks are not leadership examples – just 6 of them). Jack Welch, the old rebel Robert E Lee and TV characters the Sopranos are leadership paragons to study. George Patton, Ronald Reagan, Alexander The Great, the Navy Seals and arctic explorer Robert Shackleton have leadership principles, practices and secrets to adopt, as does Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – better known as Mahatma.
This leadership business is clearly tough stuff. It takes a solid commitment to life long learning and a hefty Amazon account to become a leader.
It seems to me that, since we blame much of the lack of lean success on a lack of leadership, we ought to point the execs through this maze and tell him or her exactly which of these models of leadership is the one best suited to lean. My thought is that Jesus is probably the one we expect our execs to mimic because He is the only one that had a track record of walking on water, and miracle working seems to be what we want.
The leadership solution seems to be advocated most often when those of us in the lean community cannot provide a logical, business case answer to a tough question. The bosses ask, "How can we provide stable employment like Toyota in the face of varying market demand and swings in demand volumesfor our products?" "Leadership" sounds better than "I haven’t a clue", which would be the truthful answer. We are asked about the economics of replacing a supplier with long lead times and mediocre quality, but low prices, with one that can perform better, but charges more. Again, we too often demand leadership and a commitment to lean principles, rather than address the messy, ugly cost numbers.
The lean journey we map out for the execs is usually a series of logical baby steps in the factory that takes the company right up to the edge of a deep, unknown chasm; then we expect the boss to make a great leap of faith to take the company to the other side, where Toyota does business. It is awfully easy for us to recommend, since it is the boss’s job that is on the line if the company tumbles down into the pit, rather than ours.
Leaps of faith should be reserved for principles – freedom, God, liberty – not for business. The common thread among the great leaders listed above is that they took those leaps for such principles that could never be mathematically proven. It seems to me that when we ask the CEO to take a Lincoln or Gandhi like leap of faith, we are simply asking him to overlook his and our ignorance, but leadership cannot compensate for ignorance.
This is manufacturing, folks – a very logical endeavor. And the companies we work with and for are all about dollars and cents – math. If we have to include leaps of faith and Gandhiesque "leadership" in the equation, we are missing something. Far better, I believe, to demand that we and our leaders commit to deeper learning about lean. Eliminating ignorance by wrestling with the lean body of knowledge until we have logical answers to all of the questions is a tougher, but far better and more honest approach than sending the big bosses down the path of ‘The 21 Principles of the Tao of Santa Claus’.