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Leadership vs. Management

I've become quite a fan of Bob Sutton's blog recently. In addition to presenting interesting research that you probably haven't heard about, he's irreverent and funny. (No more so than in his post on the "asshole collar.") So I paid attention when he wrote that

one of the dangers of talking about leadership versus management is that the implication is that leadership is this important high status activity and management is the shit work done by the little people.  My view (and there is plenty of evidence to support it) is that effective management -- the work done by the collection of bosses and their followers in an organization, if you will -- is probably most crucial to success. After all, they are the people who turn dreams into reality.

This comment brought me back to the examples of lean leadership at Lantech and Group Health that I've learned about. In these companies, senior execs -- leaders -- have standard work that involves regular visits to the gemba and communication with the line workers. Even though they're responsible for the grand vision and strategy, they also know the nitty gritty of daily work. Sutton says that they realize they have a

deep understanding of the little details required to make [the grand vision] work -- or if they don't, they have the wisdom to surround themselves with people who can offset their weaknesses and who have the courage to argue with them when there is no clear path between their dreams and reality.

Sutton cites Medtronic's Bill George, Xerox's Anne Mulcahy, Pixar's Brad Bird, Steve Jobs, and Francis Ford Coppola as leaders who understand this. (Bill George spent about 75% of his time during his first 9 months on the job watching surgeons put Medtronic devices in patients and talking with doctors and nurses, patients, families, and hospital executives to learn about customers and users of his products.) I don't know if any of these folks are considered "lean" leaders, but by this definition of leadership, at least, there's not much difference between being good and being lean. (Something I touched on in this post for Mark Graban's Lean Blog as well.)

I think that one of the great benefits of the various lean tools is that they help leadership get deep into the weeds. Value stream maps, A3s, and the fundamental principle of "go and see" is all about understanding the details of daily life for front line workers and managers. These tools make management part of leadership.



The Productivity Myth.

Tony Schwartz asks this question over at the HBR Conversation blog:

But is it [the productivity gains in the economy since the market meltdown] good news? Is more, bigger, faster for longer necessarily better?

Tony argues that the fear of layoffs is driving workers to sleep less, work more, take fewer vacations, and have less downtime during the day. He says that this amped up work pace "ultimately generates value that is narrow, shallow and short-term." Personally, I think he takes his argument a bridge too far when he blames the more, bigger, faster ethic for Toyota's problems and the sub-prime mortgage crisis (more sales, more profits, damn the torpedoes).

And yet, there's an element of truth in his argument. Mark Graban penned a wonderful piece today on the perils of 100% utilization, whether for a system, machines, or people. As he says,

The goal of 100% utilization leads to dysfunction and waiting time. Yes, we don’t want the doctor to be idle anymore than ZipCar wants its vehicles to be idle, but you need some “slack capacity” in any system for things to flow.

I've never expressed this idea as concisely as Mark, but I talk about this all the time when I consult to companies. I see people who are stressed and overworked, and they come to me for ideas on how to get more done during the day. To be sure, there's often a high level of waste and inefficiency in the way they work, and we have no problem coming up with ways to reduce that waste. But if all they're going to do is fill up their new "production capacity" (usually with more stupid email, pointless meetings, or non-value added work), then their efforts are ultimately self-defeating. By pushing themselves up to 100% utilization, they're guaranteeing that the system will break: they'll get sick, they'll make mistakes, they won't be a good bosses or husbands or dog owners.

Bottom line: you need some slack time to relax, recharge, and you know, actually think and reflect for a bit. Your performance will improve (as will your health).

Schwartz say that

Getting more tasks accomplished — say, writing and responding to scores of emails in between other activities — may technically represent higher productivity, but it doesn't necessarily mean adding greater value.

I couldn't agree more.