Confusion over two words

element-of-confusion-teeThere are two words that are bandied about organisations, often interchangeably…but I think we need to take great care over their use.

These two words are ‘Manager’ and ‘Leader’.

Using the example of a sports team to explain:

  • the person installed as Captain may not be a leader i.e. if the Coach has got the wrong (wo)man for the job; however
  • many players may lead, despite not being bestowed with the role of Captain.

One is a hierarchical/ formal role granted from above, the other is natural.

You can be given the title of ‘Manager’ and this be a fact, whether people like it or not.

Conversely, you can’t give yourself the moniker of ‘Leader’ (or have this formally bestowed on you) if this is not so! You either lead or you don’t. People follow or they don’t.

You can become a leader by your words and deed. Equally, you can lose your leadership mojo. You aren’t really someone’s leader, just because you say so. Conversely, you may be leading (influencing) people without this being obvious to ‘Management’.

I am not suggesting that there isn’t a relationship between ‘Manager’ and ‘Leader’:

  • the formal position you are given (and, with this, the likely resources at your disposal) will impact the degree of influence that you can have; and
  • obvious leaders may very well be given formal management positions…but this doesn’t secure them as a leader going forwards.

All the more reason to understand the distinction between Management and Leadership.

Finally: It’s worth noting that being good at leading shouldn’t be mistaken for being a leader for good: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot etc. were clearly leaders! They inspired many people to dream, learn, do and become more….but not as we would consider towards a purpose that we would agree with.

I’m right behind you…

man-309490_640How many times have you heard your hierarchical ‘superiors’* say “I’m right behind you” when you explain what you want to do/ are doing and ask for their support?

Is this where you want them?!

How many times have you said it to your ‘subordinates’*?

The following quote from Deming relates to management’s (obvious) stated desires to improve ‘their’ organisation:

It is not enough that top management commit themselves to quality and productivity. They must know what it is that they are committed to – that is, what they must do. These obligations cannot be delegated. Support is not enough: action is required…

…A quality program for an [organisation], launched by ceremonies with a speech by the [sponsor], raising of flags, beating of drums, badges, all with heavy applause, is a delusion and a snare.”

It’s not about support. In fact, as Deming’s last words above allude to, such support is often worse than none at all. It can create false expectations, cause misreporting and distortion, eventual disillusionment and witch hunts for ‘blame’…causing immeasurable damage.

I don’t want my ‘leader(s)’ behind me. In fact, I don’t want them in front of me, (heroically) telling me what to do. I want them with me, where we are working in partnership towards the purpose of the system.

But what about if ‘the leader’ is busy?

Well then, it can’t be that important then can it.

I love the words of William E Conway on this “…and if you can’t come, send nobody.”

Deming expanded on this by saying “In other words, if you don’t have time to do your job, there is not much that I can do for you.”

* …just in case you hadn’t worked it out: I hate the words ‘superiors’ and ‘subordinates’. I also hate the concept of a ‘boss’ and what it implies….I see all of us simply as people with roles to play within a system, for the overall good of our customers in respect of the purpose of the system. One of THE traits of a great leader is humility, such that people never feel like the leader thinks that they are anything more than them.


5325139336_871c2e57b4“We trained hard – but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganised.

I was to learn later in life we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.” (Petronius Arbiter, 65 A.D.)

Now, this isn’t suggesting that there isn’t a need to reorganise every now and then. It does signal the folly and pain of continual reorganisations dictated ‘from above’.

Another quote helps to put reorganisation into perspective:

“As tempting as it sometimes seem, you cannot reorganise your way to continuous improvement and adaptiveness. What is decisive is not the form of your organisation, but how people act and react.

The roots of Toyota’s success lie not in its organisation structures, but in developing capability and habits in its people. Anything unique about Toyota’s organisation structures…evolved out of them striving for specific behaviour patterns, not the other way around.” (Mike Rother)

i.e. develop the right environment, and a suitable structure will evolve….not the other way around!

It is far far better that you provide an environment in which:

  • the purpose of the system is clear (to you and those who perform it);
  • any/all ‘contingent reward’ management instruments have been removed;
  • your people are provided with visible measures of the capability of their system* (against its purpose); and
  • are allowed and encouraged to experiment with changes to their system, whilst observing the effects on its capability.

(* this is NOT numeric activity targets!)

In this way, it will be the people who will consider whether a change to the form of the current organisation is a valid countermeasure to experiment with and, from studying the outcome, whether to adopt, adapt or disregard this change.

The difference between:

  • management imposing a reorganisation on its people; and
  • the people suggesting, and trying, a change that will likely improve their system

… is the difference between chalk and cheese.

Proud…and excited!

businessman-432663_640The Oxford Dictionary defines the meaning of the word ‘proud’ as:

“Feeling deep pleasure or satisfaction as a result of one’s own achievements, qualities, or possessions or those of someone with whom one is closely associated”

i.e. If you are ‘proud’, it is essentially about yourself, even if it is about the actions of others that is making you feel proud.

What compelled me to look up this definition?

…because I find myself with feelings of (almost sub-conscious) irritation when I hear or read about leaders feeling ‘proud’ about what ‘their people’ have achieved (essentially for them) and I wanted to understand why I should feel this way…it was bugging me.

It seems obvious now that I have studied the dictionary definition.  For someone who isn’t, say, your parent to say “I am proud of you” is condescending. It suggests superiority.

It happens to be a phrase used often by command-and-control leadership towards their people.

I’m not really getting at the leaders who write or say it – they are trying to do their best to use ‘happy talk’ because they think this is good for us.  I am trying to point out to them the lack of humility and respect shown by using the word in their congratulatory phrases.

And ‘excited’? This is the other half of the dastardly duo. They always want to come across as ‘excited’ about what lies ahead in the vain hope that this will simply ‘rub off’ onto us….because, after all, that’s all that is necessary to motivate, isn’t it?

If you read an email, or watch a video (as I did) before the Christmas/ New Year breakup from your ‘leaders’ saying something like:

 “I’m proud of what we’ve achieved this year, in spite of the many challenges we’ve been through…and I am very excited about the opportunities ahead of us next year and what we can achieve….so have a relaxing break.”

…this could equally be translated as saying:

  • I am pleased that those of you who are still around (who didn’t leave or weren’t pushed) have put up with what we’ve done to you this year, and I got my bonus on the back of this….
  • …expect lots more stuff to be done to you next year (we’ve got loads of stuff in our heads to impose on you), and we will be holding you accountable for a set of stretching targets on brilliantly crafted personal objectives that will be SMART DUMB
  • Have a good break…because you are going to need it!

Meet the process

IvoryTowerAll rational leaders appreciate that, rather than sitting in metaphorical ‘ivory towers’, they need to understand what actually happens in their business.

But how do many leaders go about this? I suggest that the following two techniques are the norm:

  • hold a regular ‘road show’ in which the leaders present to ‘their people’ and hold a Q&A session, usually at the end.

What usually follows are questions from the floor that are:

    • generalist in nature and which can be answered safely, politically with ‘happy talk’…and everyone appears content; or
    • highly specific and which need to be answered ‘off line’ because how could you expect your leader to be able to answer that on his/her feet…and no one is the wiser

Whilst such leaders are usually great orators and the people like what they hear….it becomes somewhat of a show divorced from reality.

  • perform ‘tours’ of their facilities, usually starting with a (very carefully prepared) workshop presentation by that function’s management team, and then being introduced around the floor by the duty manager…along the lines of “Leader, this is your worker…worker, this is your leader…now have a polite chat as if he/she were the Queen”.

What usually follows is a discussion with a random set of workers who are conveniently at their posts that:

    • is full of pleasantries: “so how are things”…”very good thanks”….”that’s great to hear, keep up the good work”…and everyone is happy; or
    • is used by a ‘plucky worker’ as a golden opportunity to air a particular soap-box issue (which may have little relevance in terms of size and occurrence)…and management MUST now act immediately on that issue because the leader now ‘knows about it’ and has to be seen to be ‘listening to the workers’

How much of reality do the leaders actually get exposed to? How much ‘polishing’ is likely to be performed before a management presentation? How distorted (subdued, careful or biased) is the process performer’s voice likely to be?

…how is this really helping the customer receive a forever improving service?

I suggest that ‘leaders’ (whatever level in an organisation) switch their mentality from ‘meeting the people’ to ‘meeting the process’. This means:

  • listening to, and observing actual customer demand at the point it comes in; and
  • following actual units of demand through the value stream (not just a silo within!) until its successful conclusion.

Now, it should be obvious that to do this the leader has to meet the process performers along the way…but the purpose is totally different. Instead of focusing on a person, there is a joint focus (leader and process performers) on the unit of customer demand and how it is processed through the value stream – with its warts and all. This is likely to garner a level of trust with the process performers as and when they believe the leader is really interested in the process, not in judging them.

Meeting the process is often referred to as ‘Gemba walking’, where Gemba is the Japanese word for ‘the real place’ or place of action/ where the work gets done. A Gemba walk involves walking with a unit of customer demand, from its trigger all the way through to its resolution (to the customer’s satisfaction). In performing this, the leader will see the environment that their management system requires the people to work within and probably a great deal of waste along the way.

To be clear: A Gemba walk isn’t a one off thing…it is a management practise that is regularly performed. This regularity is hugely important:

  • one walk won’t uncover the variety that exists within customer demand, or the subsequent process;
  • establishing the trust of the process performers will come over time (as and when they believe in you); and
  • we want to see the process actually changing for the better as leader, management and process performers continue to make changes to improve their capability of meeting the customer’s true purpose.

The act of actually ‘meeting the process’ will ensure that the leader really gets what’s going on and what’s possible…and can ensure that the appropriate management system is put in place that ensures continual process improvement.