It is probably no coincidence that this time of the year brings thoughts of charity and giving back to the world. As the result of some family medical issues I’ve been dealing with, this holiday season has made me think even more about how lucky I am and how I’d like to share some of that good fortune.
Today Time magazine announced that Bill and Melinda Gates (as well as Bono) were the magazine’s "people of the year" for their incredible generosity. I might argue that there were others that had more of an impact on this world, but there’s no question that the billions that the Gates’ are giving back, in a very well thought-out manner with defined objectives, will have a very positive impact. Most of us do contribute cash to various charitable organizations, although the average is a rather paltry 2%. Giving back is usually taken to mean charitable giving, but that’s just one opportunity.
General Electric’s CEO, Jeff Immelt, has a checklist of ten things that leaders do. Number five is giving back… by teaching. As Mr. Immelt puts it, "A leader’s primary role is to teach. People who work with you don’t have to agree with you, but they have to feel you’re willing to share what you’ve learned." Teaching in a leadership role is often circulating articles, sending people to seminars, or establishing "stretch metrics"… valuable in some forms, but probably not what Immelt meant. True teaching, especially in a Lean environment, is defining a vision of the future, encouraging creative problem-solving, and working as a team to achieve excellence. It is walking the talk, sharing different insights from your experience, breaking down barriers to change, supporting people when they take appropriate risks. It is about optimizing and leveraging the power of a positively-energized workforce… something that Toyota has long believed in but is unfortunately missing from the "lean" efforts of most U.S. companies.
Bud Bilanich at The Common Sense Guy describes another way of giving back in the power of one. One person can make an incredible difference in this world, and not just by giving cash. Bud describes how his wife Cathy is a volunteer tutor at a local school. In addition to providing basic help in the school, she is also a positive role model to the kids and is helping them learn how to learn. And as Cathy realized, a simple act of kindness can mean a great deal in the life of someone else, and it can even change the path of that person’s life.
The Association for Manufacturing Excellence is embarking on even another way to give back. Their 2006 annual conference will be in Dallas, near the gulf states region affected by Hurricane Katrina. In recognition of this, the conference committee has established the AME Katrina Fund in an effort to support manufacturers in that area who suffered losses. This fund is taking a variety of forms, from cash donations to donated workshops and consulting time. How many manufacturing experts and executives have considered donating some of their time to help other manufacturers? Lawyers, often disparaged by manufacturers, have very organized and even mandated pro bono activities. The AME Katrina Fund is just one way for us to do the same.
Finally, Lisa Haneberg at Management Craft has a more humorous perspective. Technically the subject of her post wasn’t intending to be overtly generous, but he did understand that there could be a benefit to giving something in return instead of just asking for a handout. Giving back – be it financial, time, teaching, or otherwise – just feels good. You are making a difference. And it can be rewarding as well.
The manufacturing industry has been generous to me by providing a good income and challenging work. The unpaid time I spend on the Superfactory website and Evolving Excellence blog has always been one of the ways I try to give back. The mission of the website is to disseminate manufacturing excellence information, and I know the website reaches a few thousand people a day, the monthly e-newsletter reaches 50,000 subscribers, and the blog now reaches almost a 1,000 readers a day. I like to think that we have helped at least some people improve themselves and their operations. And by giving back through the website and blog, I have been rewarded with the privilege of meeting hundreds of rather incredible people, such as Norm Bodek and my co-blogger, Bill Waddell.
This holiday season think about how you can give back… in addition to helping improve our world, you might just get something positive in return.