Let people make mistakes? Tough Love of Leadership!

[tweetmeme source=”leanisgood” service=”ow.ly” only_single=false]While leading an event this week, I came across a common situation that I have faced over the years.  The group, very new to pull, wanted to implement a particular piece of the pull system in an exact same way that I have failed in a past life.  Despite my best efforts through education and description of the past shortcomings, I couldn’t convince them to set it up any other way.  As an event leader what do you do next?    Impose your will on the group or let them make the mistake and learn the hard way?

My answer is the dreaded “it depends.”  These situations are where you really earn your money as a leader!  Obviously if it’s a safety concern you absolutely cannot compromise but these seem to very rarely come up with a long standing debate.  More often I come across situations like this week, where the group is fairly inexperienced in an area that I have previously failed and learned.

The correct answer comes from a deep evaluation of the situation.  I have done both in the past, imposed my will and also allowed the group to make (what I thought) was a mistake.  I strongly prefer to allow the alleged mistake to happen, have the group monitor the situation closely, and eventually allow the group to analyze and solve the issue themselves.  Obviously this creates the best learning atmosphere and builds a very strong team.

However, there are situations where I impose my will on the group.  This normally comes when the team is focusing on an area of the plant where I feel success on the first try is crucial.  This may be due to a large amount of negativity towards lean in the area and I don’t want to provide ammunition to the naysayers.  It may also be a situation where we would be putting our customer in jeopardy.

Whatever the situation, I don’t use the “impose my will” method without some serious analysis of the situation.  You can really crush your informal leaders and destroy momentum.  You will also be inadvertently teaching the group that its okay to impose your will at all times.  You are developing  leaders for future events and you can quickly spread this dangerous situation across your enterprise!  Some discussion needs to take place to ensure that everyone understands why you are pulling out the dictator card on them!

So in summary, make sure you allow your groups to make mistakes, learn from them, and are teaching your leaders to support this method.  In areas where you are imposing your solution over the group’s desire, use caution and good communication to limit this path to only extremely rare and crucial situations.

I’d be very interested in how you have approached this type of situation in your plants……..



4 Responses

  1. This is one I struggled with a lot early one leading lead conversions. Maybe I still struggle to some degree. I have learned that everyone has a learning curve. You can’t replace the need for this knowledge to be gained. You can only try to reduce the time it takes to gain this knowledge. If others haven’t experineced the same failures of a system for instance then they likely don’t understand it the same way. I think you try to show this but in the end you sometimes have to learn for yourself. This is necessary learning as we all know. I learned to only truly intervein when safety or quality is at stake. I know i have personally been suprised on a number of occassions when I thought I knew the answer to only be shown a better way. Alway keep learning is good advice. I think the worst thing that could happen is if they try it your way and it fails. Then where do you go. I know on the face this may not sound right but it works. A quick failure of a trial is not necessarily a bad thing. Then you know to try something else. If I have learned anything I know it takes experimentation and lots of it. Let them try. Let them fail. Help the team solve the problem through thinking. Never compromise safety or quality.

    Nice thought provoking piece. Thanks Bryan

  2. Failure is a great thing if you learn from it. I learned a great concept from a friend of my daughter in-law and adapted it to work – Kim’s Jar of Failure. Somewhere in my mess of a work area, my personal 5-S needs some work doesn’t it Brian?, is a jar that has folded slips of paper in it. Each slip has an event or process or a whatever that I or my team had failed at. I write this down and put it in the jar. Symbolically this allows me to move on. If there is an apparent lesson that I learned it added to the card. I emptied the jar recently felt good to do that. None of the failures stopped the teams or my self from moving forward. Some of them were the same theme different group. They all moved on and were successful. So I guess failure can be a good thing as long as your performance evaluation can see beyond the immediate.

  3. About the survey… “It depends” upon the consequences that are at stake. Unless the mistake a team may be about to make will bring the business to it’s knees and/or do nearly irreparable damage, let them make the mistake. It’s how they learn. It also avoids the command and control mentality and allows for better sensei/student relations in the long run. That’s why I am in the 5% camp…

  4. Your right. A cautious approach is required especially when you put others interests in jeopardy. Notice I said, “others interests”. This could mean responsiveness to orders, cost sensitivity, safety or just plain ol’ good will.

    I suggest to you that the kaizen event often puts leaders into the very undesirable situation that is often difficult to overcome: likely failure.

    Kaizen events have been so over-hyped based on short term results that their lack of lasting success is rarely considered as a deterrent to conducting one.

    What I mean to say is that as leaders we are supposed to develop people. If we put our people into a situation where we feel we must impose our will because we feel our teams mistakes will jeopardize others interests: well, then we have failed as leaders.

    An alternative approach is to put your people in situations where they can make safe mistakes. As their kaizen skill increases as an individual, you can then pull those skilled, developed people together as a team to make safe, large improvements that have been well thought out using the PDCA cycle – something honed as individuals under your tutelage.

    Kaizen Teian first. Kaizen Event last.

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