The Leader’s Prerogative

There is a continuing, decades-long, lamentation in the Lean community, that leaders do not understand Lean and that they misuse Lean for cost cutting which results in layoffs and other zero-sum outcomes. There is a belief that if only leaders understood the true intent of Lean, then they would adopt it and realize great outcomes for all stakeholders.Ottonian crown

From the executive’s perspective, it does not matter what the true intent of any management system, method, or tool is, including Lean. They exercise their prerogative as leaders to re-purpose them in whatever way they like to meet whatever need they have at any given time. It is their exclusive right to do so. As the privileged seat of an organization’s power, leaders can cheat if they want to — meaning, apply Lean as they see fit, even their understanding and use is wholly incorrect. Lean people are powerless to do anything about it. This is the common long-run pattern of how leaders have viewed Lean, which the Lean movement has always had great difficulty accepting and has been unable to overcome — except in rare cases.

It is the usual case for capitalist interests to trump the interests of employees, customers, suppliers, or communities. What is unusual is when business leaders do not do this and instead achieves better outcomes for all stakeholders. That is the unending hope of Lean promoters and advocates. But hope does not produce needed change.

The never-ending hand-wringing exposes a major weakness in the Lean movement since its inception in 1988: It does not understand business leaders. Specifically, it has not understood, in detail, the complex interests and multi-faceted motivations of executives. Absent that, honest critiques of leadership based on their limited (flawed) use or rejection of Lean are often interpreted as “bashing leaders” and “naming and blaming,” resulting in criticism that Lean people are inconsistent in what they espouse — learning and respecting people, yet disrespecting leaders and failing to learn about leaders.

The continuing disinterest in the facts gained by understanding business leaders is a detriment to both Lean and the customers who would benefit from improved management practice. The status quo (Classical management) exists because it is beneficial to the interests of leaders. For example, discord and conflict, which are viewed as waste by Lean people, are valued by leaders and seen as necessary in order to achieve business objectives and goals — and personal (e.g. status) goals as well. Various hidden and visible processes take place such that each new generation of leaders sees great merit in discord and conflict.

Most Lean people understand the importance of observation. Developing this powerful skill produces detailed information that informs experiments for improving processes. Yet, when it comes to leaders, Lean people have been blind. Because of this, they have been unable to expand the adoption of Lean and make it anything more than a niche management practice.

Lean people who wish to open their eyes and see the complex interests and multi-faceted motivations of leaders can begin by reading these works whose focus is understanding leaders: Moving Forward Faster, The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management, and the Supplement to Triumph of Classical Management. Once primed by these works, you can then move forward to deepen your observation skills on your own. This will provide the detailed information necessary for conducting experiments directed towards displacing Classical management in favor of Lean management.

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