In December, John Varney published an important book entitled Leadership as Meaning-Making Take the Hero's Journey to Transformation, which takes a fresh look at leadership as a systemic shared phenomenon. It is one aspect of the evolutionary principle of bringing people to maturity as human beings – transforming the immature through purposeful adventure.
I spoke with John this month and asked him: “What are the most common misconceptions about leadership and its meaning?” Here is his complete answer:
Leadership without leaders.
We are conditioned to think of leadership as what leaders do – and hence to look around for leaders to help solve the great issues of the day. But this is leadership only as it manifests through control and command hierarchies of power. Such leadership consigns the rest of us to be followers – subservient and powerless. Followers are there only to do the work and sustain the status of those who presume to lead. Followership is disempowering and often demeaning. As a follower, you do what is expected of you (your so-called "duty") and take the blame for any shortfall.
This kind of leadership sustains a whole industry of leadership training and development. This, we might cynically observe, teaches managers the manipulative techniques that get the followers to do their bidding, willingly and unquestioningly. Leaders are sometimes popular because they do our thinking for us and absolve us of feelings of responsibility.
A very different kind of leadership is latent in the relationships between us and comes to the fore when we come together in common cause. This is leadership as a flow of energy and resources directed by our sense of purpose. It engages all of us and all our talents and potential. It is leadership in which all participate, stepping into and out of the flow of energy and resources (the value-adding stream) as we intuitively respond to our calling.
Both modes of leadership have their place and their value but only one leads to freedom and wholeness. In self-organising communities of practice, individuals grow inwardly as they realise their potential in service to their elective mission. Nobody is pulling their strings as they discover and pursue their freely chosen purpose in life. This is leadership as meaning-making. As I say in the book, “Perhaps the hiatus of the pandemic will enable us to show that a more organic and holistic way of being is not only possible but is more wholesome and fulfilling."
How do you define "leadership" in your organization? How has it affected workplace culture? Has it evolved past "command and control"?
Of the different podcasts I host, the “Habitual Excellence” podcast provides the most opportunity these days to interview healthcare leaders who are doing great work. I don't post every episode here, but I do want to share this discussion with two leaders from Mount Sinai Morningside hospital in New York City. I'm joined by Lucy […]
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In this last post on “Respect for People” or “Respect for Humanity,” I will look at all the difficulties in having respect for others. There is often the cultural aspect. There is the problem that everybody is different. One great (but not always easy tool) is Feedback! I will also talk a bit more about ... Read moreThe post Respect for People – It’s Difficult… first appeared on AllAboutLean.com.
Today's episode of “My Favorite Mistake” is another one that Lean practitioners will especially like. My guest, Sabrina Moon, talks about how she (unfortunately) learned “command and control” management in her early days at General Motors. She talks eloquently about “leading with shame” and how she eventually (thankfully) learned new approaches, including Lean leadership. Sabrina […]
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Jim Womack had once written an insightful & heartfelt piece about where lean had failed. (Jim is a friend, supporter and visionary, not to mention a person of decency & kindness. It’s fair to say that Jim & Dan Jones kicked off the Lean movement twenty years ago. Their insights have penetrating ever since.)
Here are a few thoughts, building on Jim’s points.
Lean is hard and only fully succeeds when there is aligned motivation on many levels. While it’s true that few transformations succeed without the senior leader’s full-hearted participation, that’s not enough.
We need a single-minded strength of purpose throughout the organization. We need front line team leaders and middle managers teaching & doing the right thing – even when nobody is watching. And that, of course, means a management system, (a concept I’ve tried to illuminate, especially in all my most recent stuff - Andy & Me and the Hospital.)
Single-minded strength of purpose also requires full alignment between the organization’s Purpose, and each member’s Purpose. Toyota’s corresponding alignment is more or less: “You do the work that needs doing and help us to improve, and you’ll have an engaging & well-paying job here for as long as you want it.”
I believe each organization needs to develop something similar, in accord with its culture. Do not copy Toyota or any other strong Lean company. This alignment must resonate with your team members, culture and industry. In a number of our partner firms, the deal is subtly different: “You do the work that needs doing and help us to improve, and you’ll learn & grow more than you ever thought possible, and will do cool things for as long as you want to.”
People systems including Recruitment, Succession Planning and Compensation are central of course, and a very common impediment. We have to start with Strategy Deployment, the senior leader’s core methodology.
Negative motivators can be helpful too. A number of Lean Pathways team members are Toyota alumni and remember the acronym CLM – Career Limiting Move! Any selfish, destructive, random, political disrespectful to a team member, the customer or the community would quality as a CLM. Any action that compromised Safety or Quality was a CLM. A few CLMs and your future at Toyota was in doubt. These are, in effect, a healthy version of the corporate antibodies.
One more thing. After a decade & a half of practice, our Lean Pathways team has lived through many transformations. In every blow your socks off, get out of town, let’s do the Moon Walk in slow motion transformation, (pardon the body English), the CEO, COO and their teams have a) made significant time for Executive Coaching, and b) been wide open to making corresponding changes in their day to day work.
More to come.
In case you missed our last few blogs... please feel free to have another look…
What is Courage & What’s It Mean for Strategy?
"How Will You Motivate Your Team, Pascal-san?"
What is a Good Life?
To Learn Corporate Strategy, Study the Military Masters
Reflection is an...
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The power of AND How often do you find yourself using the word BUT or framing a situation as an EITHER / OR scenario? If you are anything like me, it’s often! When we use the word BUT when we could say AND, we reinforce an EITHER / OR mentality. We frame something as one […]
"We are not animals. We are not a product of what has happened to us in our past. We have the power of choice." ...
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I was excited to be host and moderate a panel discussion today on a very important and timely subject. Improving the COVID Vaccination Process: Lessons from the Field (Expert Panel Discussion) January 21 from 1:00 – 2:30 ET This was a collaboration between Value Capture (the webinar was their idea), KaiNexus (they provided the Zoom account […]
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Here, I wanted to share a few thoughts and ideas from yesterday's inauguration ceremony… First off, stealing the show was poet Amanda Gorman. I was really impressed with her words, her poise, and her delivery. It's a masterclass for any of us who are speakers, especially her gestures that match up with her words. As […]
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