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Dan Markovitz: A lean leader achieves objectives by developing workers’ capabilities to deliver those results

By , - Last updated: mercredi, mars 28, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

Leaders are lauded for delivering results. Wall Street in particular prizes predictability above all. But reaching goals or benchmarks doesn’t speak to the sustainability of the accomplishment. “Chainsaw” Al Dunlop fired people at Sunbeam (and other companies he “led”) left and right on his way towards reaching profit targets. Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling of Enron cooked the books to hit its numbers. In neither case were the results sustainable.

By contrast, a lean leader builds the capacity of the people and the system, so that the results — and the ability to continue to deliver results —  transcends the leader’s tenure. The former chair of the pathology department at an academic hospital exemplified this kind of leadership. When he took the position his mandate was to reduce lead times and improve responsiveness. His predecessor tried to reach those goals by focusing on buying new equipment and scolding staff each week about their performance shortcomings.

He took a different approach: he watched how his staff read cases and how they worked. He walked up the value stream to see how slides were made. And then he led all of them in a discussion of the obstacles to shorter process times and lead times. Not only did this approach lead to significant improvements, the pathologists continued to drive down lead times even after he retired — because they had developed their own problem solving tools. Once the improvement trajectory — and the capabilities to drive it — were established, he could step down. That’s lean leadership.

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