Lean Transformations Group

Expanding the Conversation on the Lean Idea of Respect


2020 closed out as a year of powerful and provocative events, a year that has raised many questions about how we live together. The concepts of respect, trust, and responsibility have been brought to the front of the social dialogue and are buzzing in this background still.

What I saw in 2020 was a shift in thinking that we all need to listen better, understand more, and be more intentional about the consequences of the choices we make. These are all characteristics that will serve us well if we embrace them in 2021.

As a consultant, I find that clients often expect me to be the holder of wisdom, whether it’s on the topic of the lean idea for respect for people or anything else. But the reason I joined Lean Transformations Group with David Verble, Jim Luckman, John Shook, Tom Shuker, Guy Parsons, and Kirk Paluska—first as an associate in 2004, later as a partner—was because LTG acknowledged that the client and their team members (the real “value creators”) are often the true source of wisdom. As coaches, it’s our job to help lean leaders work with team members to realize their potential.

When I think about the role of coaches, I think of what Daihatsu Chairman said about Taiichi Ohno, father of the Toyota Production System:

“What became clear during my work with Ohno-san is that his chief interest was something other than reducing work-in-process, raising productivity, or lowering costs… His ultimate aim, I gradually learned, was to help employees assert their full potential. And when that happens, all those other things will occur naturally.”

This was from a January 1998 talk by Michikazu Ranaka that you can find in an excellent book published by The Lean Enterprise Institute in 2009 called The Birth of Lean: Conversations with the Founders of TPS by editors Koichi Shimokawa and Takahiro Fujimoto, translated by Brian Miller. This understanding, that the real role of the leader is to allow each person to realize their full potential is so easy to talk about and so hard to practice in real life. But it’s critical because ultimately, it’s about trust and respect.

For all of these reasons, my partners and I at Lean Transformations Group are excited to share Thinking About Respect, LTG's new reader on the theme of respect and care. We asked colleagues, clients, and friends to write essays on what the lean idea of respect for people means to them and how they have aimed to demonstrate respect for people in their teams and workplaces. As the essays started to roll in, I was moved by their collective thinking. The process of developing this reader reminded me of the benefit of asking powerful questions. The simple act of asking our friends to reflect, think, and share their wisdom (and do something with it) made a difference.

I appreciate all of the essays in this collection, but I’m particularly moved by Jim Womack’s essay which kicks off this reader and expands the conversation on respect. As always, Womack challenges leaders to think more deeply about what respect for people means and offers incredibly helpful insights about what it looks like in our organizations today. I also enjoyed my colleague Andrew Lingel’s extremely thoughtful essay which explores the idea that as a leader, you need a certain amount of healthy outrage to change your organization’s culture, solve problems, and succeed. I know I’ve found this to be true myself. We can channel our frustration to strengthen our team and improve the work experience for team members.

I encourage you to take the time to read each of these essays. Each author brings their own unique experience and adds another dimension to the lean idea of respect. As you read, I hope you reflect on your own lean moments where the dialogue was rich and the learning rewarding. Thought without action is waste, so I’ll close by asking you to do something different in 2021. Be thoughtful, and please, find new ways to listen well and show respect. When you can do this as a leader, I know you and your team will enjoy the outcome.

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