I have seen this topic come up in forums many times, and seen wide ranging responses. If I were to summarize them all, it would be “I’ll know it when I see it.”
A couple of weeks ago I heard a great quote from a co-worker that puts things into perspective.
I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.
And therein lies the crux of the issue, because at its heart, the Toyota Production System emerges as the leadership applies a specific set of mindsets, practices and skills to every decision, every problem, every opportunity.
Few leaders who have reached senior positions in any company outside of Toyota have acquired those mindsets, practices and skills, and fewer still rigorously apply them. This isn’t anyone’s fault. They simply came up in a totally different context.
Worse yet, they have been taught that “leadership commitment” means “deciding, budgeting and checking on status.” Thus, many companies have leaders who fully believe they exhibit complete “commitment to lean” when, in reality, it is just another initiative or program – managed like a new product development might be.
The process outlined in Mike Rother’s book, Toyota Kata, is one of learning these skills. And I would contend (as I believe Rother is contending) that unless these skills are being actively and deliberately learned and applied, no mater what else you are doing, it isn’t “lean.” (or, if you want to quibble about the definition of “lean,” it isn’t the Toyota Production System.)
Now we are at a core issue. While it is possible to learn these skills, mindsets and practices on one’s own, it is extraordinarily difficult. That isn’t because there is anything particularly difficult about these practices. But most people, if they truly want to learn something new, have someone to teach them.
If that senior executive wants to improve his golf score, he hires a pro to give him lessons, because it is an individual skill.
The skills we are talking about are also individual skills, further complicated by the fact that they are individual skills for interaction with others.
So what is “leadership commitment?” Is it a commitment to learn these skills?
Actually, I would contend that is not enough. My current working definition is one which overcomes Churchill’s reluctance. It is an acknowledgment that, not only is there something which must be personally learned, but that someone must be found to teach it.
Leadership commitment is demonstrated by the willingness to be taught.
If you think about it, every “business novel” out there follows this same format – a leader is confronted with a problem, realizes he cannot solve it with his current skill set, and another character emerges to teach those skills to him.
What are your thoughts? I am interested less in paragraphs and more in alternative short definitions.