Leading without authority at Porsche.


John Shook often talks about "leading as if you have no authority." This kind of leadership is not only fundamental to a lean system and to A3 problem-solving, it's an equally valuable skill in any company. When you're working in a matrix organization or in a team, the odds are good you won't have the authority you might want to accomplish your charter. I thought of this principle when I read this statement by Michael Mauer, Porsche's head of design:

... at the end of the day, I do not tell them [the designers] to move a line exactly 50 mils lower or higher or more to the left or more to the right, because if the boundaries are too narrow you really kill all the creativity. I try to motivate people to think for themselves about the solution and how they could achieve the goal... Even if I have a solution in my mind, it is just one possible solution. There might be ten other possible solutions that are maybe much better, but by giving a direction that is too detailed or showing a solution, a way to the solution that is too detailed, I kill all the creativity. One of my major goals is to give the team freedom in order to have a maximum of creativity.

(Excerpt via Diego Rodriguez at Metacool. Full text of interview here.)

This feels to me very much like leading as if you have no authority. And more: it feels like the approach necessary for good problem solving. There's a recognition that there are always multiple solutions to a problem, and what you think is "the answer" might not be the best one, despite your knowledge and experience.

Leading as if you have no authority doesn't just mean not bullying people like Mr. Spacely. It also means avoiding the temptation to dominate -- however inadvertently, however well-meaning -- with your knowledge and experience.

2 Comments