July 28, 2014

Respect for People is not Respect for Person, just ask Clint Eastwood

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On my mind lately is the concept of “Respect for People” that is at the core of Lean and one of the fundamental building blocks of the Shingo Model.

I remember just about 3 years ago, as I was first introduced to Lean via the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, there was a video in which Bruce Hamilton mentioned that, sometimes, leaders need to tell the late adopters to get with the program.  ”Wait a minute…” I thought. “Doesn’t that contradict the need for management to show concern for each of their charges, and guide them to accepting new ways of thinking & doing?”

I’ve carried that thought with me for some time, and as I continue to evolve my understanding of what the Lean school of thought teaches, I’ve come to realize the error of my previous assumption.

What I have finally come to realize is that Respecting People is a focus on People and not necessary any one single individual within the group.  If you are bending over backwards to accommodate each individual person, you are detracting from the ability of the group to survive, as a whole.  It has taken me a long time to come to this realization.

Lean is about systems.  More importantly, it is about how individuals within systems interact.  So, that necessitates an understanding of how the individual becomes a functioning part of a greater whole.  Coupled with that, is the belief that the role of Leaders is to build teams.  In order to lead individuals to become a valued part of the whole, to the benefit of the system for the benefit of the individual (and not the other way around), it is occasionally necessary to kick a person square in the ass.

The difference between most, traditional management we see and useful foot-in-seat-of-pants action is usually one of experience.  A good leader will make you better than what you are, because he or she knows who you need to become as an individual in order to become part of the team.  The leader knows this, not through some education received in a classroom, but through hard experience.  Simply put, the leader has been there before and knows the way, and is able to get you to the same point.  This does not, automatically, necessitate being nice and pleasant and sidestepping difficult, personality issues or simply telling people how wonderful they are.  On occasion, it requires a stiff hand and a stern voice.

While I suppose I could go on describing any number of situations or personal recollections to illustrate my point, I think there’s a perfectly good example already.  In the 1986 film, HeartBreak Ridge, Clint Eastwood plays Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and just about the toughest SOB to ever walk the planet.  His job is to take the ridiculously inept crew he’s been assigned to and turn then into a proper group of Marines.  While his men certainly don’t like the treatment he gives them, they also certainly come to appreciate it when their performance, as a group, turns around.  Most importantly they appreciate it when the long days of hard training and constant, cranky barbs from “Gunny” have prepared them for battle and helped them to stay alive.

Like the Recon Marines under Sergeant Highway’s command, I can also say that one of the toughest-on-me bosses I’ve ever had (which is very different from the “tough” bosses I’ve had) was also the one I learned the most from.  With that in mind, perhaps it’s time we take a step back and decide if we’re really thinking about respecting people when we talk continuous improvement, or just the person?

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