Sunday, December 7, 2014

Learning Who Your Leaders Are


If you are one of the thousands and thousands of American companies embarking (struggling) on a lean journey (trip from hell), you pick up many "rules of thumb" that at first glance, make zero sense. 

One example is the concept that "Toyota builds leaders, then cars." 

Common sense tells you that you need chiefs AND some Indians. You just can't have EVERYONE running around telling people what to do. You also need a few to do the doing, no?

When former Toyota Motor Manufacturing North American President Atushi Niimi was asked about his greatest challenge when trying to teach the Toyota Way to his American managers he responded: “They want to be managers not teachers.” 

Managers fight tooth and nail to maintain the current condition, the status quo. They work to make sure that everything is done exactly the way it has "worked" in the past. You might hear (gulp) "that's the way we've always done it" (like that's a good thing). 

Leaders constantly challenge EVERYTHING, and there are no sacred cows.  Standard work means "how we ALL do the work and the best way as of today".  In the companies I have the good fortune to work in, there have been hundreds of improvements made using A3 as the vehicle. A3 can be thought of as a great way to find out who your future leaders are.

To lead A3, you need to identify a problem, recruit a team of 3-5 of your peers, take them through the DMAIC while leveraging diversity and gaining agreement, and then teach everyone else what the team learned. A3 leaders don't solve the problem, they lead a team that solves the problem. Doesn't that sound like what great leaders do? At the end of the year, when you look at the A3 scorecard, look for the people who have led a dozen or more. In many cases, not only are those people pretty good at leading A3, but they are probably good leaders, period. Think of A3 as a constant audition for leadership. Once identified, these folks can be engaged to help others lead A3 and teach lean to people who haven't done it yet, or new employees. 
 
Like you've read many times in this column, TPS is all about "learn by doing". That includes leadership. If you want to find out who your absolute best leaders are, give people the opportunity to seize the baton and lead. A3 is the way to do that!

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