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Mike Rother

Mike Rother: Can You Teach Lean without Bullying People?

By Mike Rother, - Last updated: Monday, January 4, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Question:  Can you teach the lean ideal of respecting people without actually bullying them?

It depends on what you mean by respecting people and by bullying.

Toyota lists the five principles that underlie its managerial approach and business methods as Challenge, Kaizen (improvement), Genchi Genbutsu (go and see), Respect, and Teamwork. Interestingly, outside of Toyota lots has been written about the last four, but the principle that Toyota lists first — Challenge — has been overlooked.

Yet based on my research, what Toyota is doing is very much about challenge, which can be defined as “a test of one’s abilities or resources in a demanding but stimulating undertaking,” or, get this, “to present with difficulties.” A challenge takes you out of the predictable zone.

At Toyota it is considered disrespectful of people if they do not have challenges and are not taught a good way of working toward them, because that would be wasting human capability and failing to develop it; using people for their hands and not their heads so to speak. Toyota has developed and teaches a shared means for how people can work together through tough obstacles to desired new conditions and levels of performance that lie beyond our horizon. That is, to achieve things that are difficult to achieve. For more on this see the following short presentation:

The Role of Challenge in Continuous Improvement

For example, Ms. Hilary Corna, a former Toyota employee, wrote in her blog that her Japanese boss would say to her, “minimum, try ten times.”

“Bullying” is behavior intended to extend one’s power over someone else. Are there situations when something that may seem like bullying — something that’s taking you out of your comfort zone — is appropriate? For example, do you think of a good coach or teacher as a “nice person,” or as someone who challenges you and helps you develop new skills?

We should not automatically equate getting yanked out of our comfort zone with bullying, because if we do we’ll never move forward. I’ve heard a lot about tough behavior by lean senseis. It’s a fine line I imagine, depending in part on whether or not the manager or sensei truly has the learner’s well-being and development foremost in their heart and mind. What do you think… is the Otter mom in this video bullying her pups? (Thank you to Ms. Julie Hatten for pointing out this video.)

Otter Pups Swim Lesson

Mike


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