By Kevin Meyer
Dr. Henry Mintzberg of McGill University's management school penned an article in the latest Business Week decrying a lack of management… not leadership. He eventually comes to the correct conclusion that traditional "leadership" needs to change… into something similar to what many of us know as "lean leadership."
It became fashionable some years ago to separate "leaders" from "managers"—you know, distinguishing those who "do the right things" from those who "do things right." It sounds good.
Yes, and then many organizations began to think use catchy phrases like "everyone's a leader" and "individual leadership" and such… without truly diving into what real, effective, leadership is. So what happened?
But think about how this separation works in practice. U.S. businesses now have too many leaders who are detached from the messy process of managing. So they don't know what's going on. We're overled and undermanaged. Corporate America has had too much of fancy leadership disconnected from plain old management.
So traditional "leadership" has evolved into ego-driven uninformed pontification…
I hear stories about this every day: about CEOs who don't manage so much as deem—pronouncing performance targets, for instance, that are supposed to be met by whoever is doing the real managing.
Moreover, studies show that vital information is typically transmitted to a CEO informally—orally, often, rather than in formal reports. Leaders removed from managing aren't going to get these messages.
So what's missing? Lean leaders know: the gemba. The place where it all happens, where value is created, and innovation is born. Dr. Mintzberg comes to that same conclusion.
American enterprise, so admired around the globe, was not built by currently fashionable "heroic" leadership but with leaders tangibly engaged in managing—and without today's bonuses, I might add.
Being an engaged leader means you must be reflective while staying in the fray—the hectic, fragmented, never-ending world of managing. The reward: access to the ideas flowing around you. As Stanford University emeritus professor James G. March put it: "Leadership involves plumbing as well as poetry."
Very true. Real leadership, lean leadership, involves a direct and ongoing relationship with the gemba… be it the factory floor, data center, classroom, or lab. Real leaders teach, challenge, support, and especially learn from the gemba.