Posted by: Knightbird | January 14, 2011

Lean Leader: Call Yourself A Teacher

College coaching is big business, and there is intense pressure for the top programs to deliver results. I have watched a lot of coaches put the same intense pressure on their players to deliver as well. And the players put that same intense pressure on their fellow players. In my experience, this is done by yelling and hollering (using words that John Wooden wrote). The owner yells and hollers at the coach, who yells and hollers at the assistants, who yell and holler at the players, who yell and holler at each other. In this environment, we look upon each other as meal tickets, not colleagues or co-workers. I have to be careful as a leader to avoid creating this kind of environment, and to insulate our employee’s from those who would lead to this type of angry workplace.

I mentioned John Wooden again because he has experiences that I can learn and grow from. One such experience was that leaders need to “call yourself a teacher.” He wrote:

“I believe effective leaders are, first and foremost, good teachers. We are in the education business. Whether in class or on the court, my job was the same: to effectively teach those under my supervision how they could perform to the best of their ability in ways that best served the goals of our team. I believe the same is true for productive leaders in any organization.” ( Wooden and Jamison, “Wooden on Leadership”, McGraw-Hill 2005, page 92.)

A Lean leader needs to be that teacher. I wrote some time ago about a conversation I had with another leader who wanted the tools of lean, in order to delegate the teaching of lean to a subordinate. I tried to encourage that leader to learn in order to teach. Learning is difficult for all of. I pored over books, blogs, articles and talked incessantly to successful lean practitioners. I attended conferences and listened carefully. I modified my behaviors based on my learning, and then modified them again with new learning suggested change. My goal was to achieve the second and third parts of Coach Wooden’s statement. I want my employees to perform to the best of “their” ability. And I want their abilities to serve the goals of our organization-which is to deliver value to our customers. This seems to be to fit in with Lean management well.

In my world as in Coach Wooden’s, being a teacher requires patience. Not all students learn at the same pace. But I do want them utilizing “their” abilities at “their” highest level. I have to treat them as individuals, and not imply that they should be at the same level as a more experienced employee with different training. I can only ask them to be the best they can be.

I also have to have knowledge that I can transfer to our employees. And like coach, I have to wear a lot of hats. Many times I need to be a diplomat. Some times I need to be a father figure. Other times I need to be the politician. At all times I have to be the fact based, non judgmental intellectual that uses science, not emotion, to advance the organization.

It  helped me become a Lean leader by understanding that the workplace does not advance if I take my Mother’s advice, given to me as I was growing up, which was “Do as I say, not as I do.” I need to live the skills that I am trying to teach.

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