Motivating Leaders to Embrace Lean

The Lean community has always struggled to get people in senior leadership positions to view problems as something good and learn how to continuously improve in ways that do not harm people. Much of that struggle has to do with what motivates leaders to want to think differently and do things differently. Yet, different motivations yield different outcomes.

If you study Lean leadership, as I do, you find that the best Lean leaders are intrinsically (or internally) motivated. They want to become capable Lean leaders because they are curious and want to learn about problems (fact-based vs. opinion), they want to develop and improve themselves, they want to do good instead of harm, and because they love the personal and intellectual challenge that Lean management offers.

Reasons such as these are markedly different than extrinsic (external or instrumental) motivations. Extrinsically motivated leaders are motivated by fame and fortune. They are incurious, status conscious, indifferent to personal development, results-oriented, attention-seeking, and will happily do harm if it helps them achieve fame and fortune.

The best Lean leaders like fortune as well (who doesn’t), but it is not a motivator. Fortune is a byproduct of good work, not the reason for doing good work. Fame is even less of a motivator. The best Lean leaders do not seek the attention of others. True, others come to them, such as for speaking engagements, which they willingly do in the hope that they can motivate others. But what these experienced Lean leaders hope to do for others is develop a strong intrinsic motivation to succeed.

The problem with extrinsically motivated leaders is that they take shortcuts and focus on the short-term. Both, we know, are inconsistent with Lean principles and practices and will results in Fake Lean.

Can you be both intrinsically and extrinsically motivated and also be highly successful? No. It is intrinsic motivation that ultimately determines the level of attainment one achieves. Think about professional musicians (or professional athletes). The best musicians are not the ones who set out to be rich and famous. The best musicians are the ones who wanted to become excellent musicians, are were driven by intrinsic motivation to achieve that outcome.

Unfortunately, companies focused stock price and enriching top executives replace intrinsic motivations for doing good with extrinsic motivations that drive leaders to secure financial rewards for themselves. So, in addition to the need to hire intrinsically motivated Lean leaders, executive compensation must be carefully constructed to strengthen intrinsic motivation. It would also be wise to institute a no-gimmicks profit sharing program for all non-executive employees.

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