Leaders: Learn to See Yourself

Learning to See Yourself

In the early 1990s, I was thrust into my first leadership position. Although I had participated in some team training programs, I was totally unprepared for the leadership aspect of the role. As often happens, the boss three levels above put me in the position because I had great technical skills. I suppose he assumed I would quickly develop the necessary leadership skills on-the-job. That did not happen.

I realized I was in over my head, So what I did was read furiously about leadership, organizational behavior, organizational development, and a lengthy study of Eastern philosophy. That did not help me much in the role I was thrust into because it takes a bit of time for the learning to sink in and emerge in daily practice. But it helped me greatly in my next three leadership roles.

One of the things I did was develop a skill to “see myself” as I was interacting with others, while at the same time comprehending how others reacted to me both verbally and in their body language. After the interaction, I would briefly reflect on it and make a handwritten note of the one thing that I needed to do to improve.

Real-time feedback and reflection require personal discipline. The two are important aspects of good leadership. But what was truly helpful to become a better leader was a third thing: seeing myself as I interacted with others. Meaning, have real-time awareness of my posture, facial expression, choice of words, tone of voice, and body language. I worked really hard for years to continuously develop the skill of seeing myself, and I got quite good at it because I worked in an environment where I could practice daily.

The breakthrough for “seeing myself” occurred when I first participated in kaizen led by Shingijutsu. Because of studying of leadership, organizational behavior, organizational development, and Eastern philosophy in prior years, I recognized connections between them, kaizen, and how I should lead others. Kaizen, it turns out, can be much more impactful than most people realize.

This was the start of my work on “Lean leadership.” It began with a presentation in late 1995 to the entire Pratt & Whitney U.S. operations management team (a few hundred people). It described how I applied TPS principles and practices to my own leadership development. Three years later, I wrote two papers that were published in peer-reviewed journals. They can help you learn to “see yourself” — the third leg of good leadership. Click here to download and read the papers.

CPI LB Papers
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