Leadership and dogs look very different worlds with few common points. Well, they are certainly different things. Leadership is a very serious thing and training a dog has little to do with leading a person but, is there anything that dogs can teach us about leadership? Do dogs behave at a certain point like humans? The answer is YES. So, what lessons can we learn from dogs about leadership?
1. Give immediate feedback: Dogs can only associate an action and its consequence if one comes immediately after the other (no more than 5 seconds delay). This is the way they learn, through a mechanism called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning also works for humans. It is true that humans can associate more distant cause and effect relationships, but only at a certain point. The more immediate the feedback, the higher effect you’ll get.
- Tip for humans: Dogs don’t mind if they are corrected in public, but people prefer receiving negative feedback in private.
2. Be consistent: You can drive a dog crazy if the same action triggers a very different consequence: “chewing” on their toys is great but “chewing” on your shoes is wrong. It is difficult for them to understand why the same thing (“chewing”) drives such a different behaviors on us. We must help them perceive the small differences that make each situation unique. Humans are more intelligent and capable of seeing “these little things” that can completely change the circumstances, but we need anyway a consistent response to our actions. If receiving feedback is welcome today and makes you mad tomorrow, nobody will know how to work with you.
3. Don’t punish, reward: Dogs can learn using punishment, but learning is more fun, lasts longer and creates less frustration if you use rewards. Punishment must be the very last resource and is acceptable only if the life of the dog is at risk. The same applies to humans.
4. Teaching takes time and patience: A teaching session with a dog needs preparation (environment, tricks), time (patience, calm), a clear definition of success and persistence (repetition with progressive difficulty). People needs pretty much the same things:
- have a clear training goal: define the purpose
- prepare the session: what do you need?
- patience and time: things generally don’t work the first time
- frequent repetition setting the bar higher each time
This is a compilation of the most popular posts in 2016. Enjoy!
- Myths about PDCA: Learn why people don’t use correctly this powerful tool: link
- Effective vs. Efficient: Is there really a difference? Why does it matter?: link
- Book summary, “Hoshin Kanri for the Lean Enterprise”: How can you use Hoshin Kanri to do an effective policy deployment? Learn from the experts! link
- Hoshin Kanri and policy deployment: Learn the basics of Hoshin Kanri: link
- 3 signs that people are not on board: Engagement is key for the success of Lean. Do you know how to read people reaction to change? link
- Lean, common sense and apparent contradictions: Why are Lean principles difficult to understand? link
If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.
The philosopher John Locke, the statesman Benjamin Franklin, the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, and the President Woodrow Wilson all presented statements matching this theme (learn more here). All of them knew that simplicity is a final state that requires hard work and clear ideas. Work executed without proper reflexion tends to be erratic, messy, partial. Only time and work can develop a concept and present it pure and clear.
It is no surprise that one of the most important Lean ideas is looking for simplicity: simple solutions, simple management rules, simple visuals. And, ironically, simplicity is not simple. It takes time, practice and patience. The first solution / panel / management system you put in place is rarely good. It typically needs time for testing and for development based on customer feedback.
Give time to simplicity.
Lean principles are based on common sense and experience, but at the same time might be counter-intuitive and in contradiction to normal practices. A Lean mental journey takes time, hands-on experience and the help of experts to be successful and understand Lean concepts in-depth. A superficial analysis of Lean can create false myths, some of which are really popular today. Let’s discuss some:
- Middle managers hate Lean: Experience has taught some people that middle managers are always against Lean transitions. Therefore they must be fired upfront: FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean means abdication: Some think that Lean means letting people do whatever they want without ony type of management: FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean principles are not consistent: Some Lean principle are apparently inconsistent or in contradiction to experience after a superficial analysis. THEY ARE NOT. Learn more here
- Lean equals “Just-in-Time”: It’s a popular belief that Lean and “Just-in-TIme” are equivalent terms. FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean hates functions: Lean puts focus on the process, which is a sign for some people that Lean does not care about functions or functional knowledge. FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean kills creativity: Lean gives extraordinary importance to standards. Some people assume that standardization implies creating robot workers without ideas. FALSE. Learn more here
- PDCA myths: There several myths about PDCA out there, like “PDCA is only for engineering” or “PDCA is just do-things-and-see-what-happens”. FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean is a set of tools: Very popular, it is easy to think that Lean is just the sequential application of some tools like VSM, 5s, kanban,… FALSE. Learn more here
- Lean hates automation: Lean loves simplicity and easy to change solutions. Some may misunderstand this love for simplicity and believe that Lean hates automation. FALSE. Learn more here
Some days ago I was at a meeting where we were discussing how to improve a process. The process team members and the team leader said that they felt ultimately responsible [sic] of the process performance and requested more authority to test their ideas and do changes. This proposal is very well aligned with Lean principles like:
- Involve front line in improving their work
- Promote learning through repeated practice in solving problems
So we scheduled a meeting to present the idea to the area director and define how to give the team more freedom to try things and learn. To our surprise (well, not really), the area director refused to do so. Her arguments were “I want to keep control because I’m ok with delegating, but not with abdicating”. Off with their heads!
This situation is easy to find. Not every manager is ready to move from the classic thinking trio: “command and control” + “experts own improvement” + “compliance at any cost” to Lean management principles. The presence of these ideas is a very good predictor of problems during a Lean transformation, so please beware if you hear things like “control”, “this is too risky”, “do whatever it takes” or anything similar.
However, the area director was right in some way. How? Managers have to delegate and stop telling people what to do. Telling people what to do takes away responsibility from the person. But managers still have a job in Lean:
- Ask questions that provoke the right thinking
- Understand problems by observing the process (at the gemba)
- Challenge, enable and remove obstacles for workers while they are solving problems
In other words, “abdicating” in the sense of disappearing from the gemba, asking nothing, hiring Lean experts and asking them to do the improvement work for you, ignoring the process, avoiding coaching, etc… IS NOT AN OPTION. If we use the classic RACI matrix, managers must move from Responsible (do everything, take all decisions) to Accountable (make sure things happen, help those doing the job). Follow this Wikipedia link to the RACI matrix for more information (link here).
And now, a very important final warning:
Middle managers are a common source of problems during Lean transformations. They are typically hard to convince and, when they try Lean, it is not unusual to see them go back to classic thinking after some days / weeks / months. Why? It’s a “delegation” problem.
Lean transformations usually start at the gemba: operators, analysts, technicians… those people whose boss is a middle manager. Middle managers learn how to empower their people and give them freedom to try and learn. But the boss of a middle manager is a director, who has never been exposed to Lean and still uses the classic “command and control” style. Long story short: the middle manager feels he has lost power/influence/capacity because decisions are taken either by his people or his boss. He might think he is not useful anymore and might be fired. This situation is extremely dangerous for the Lean transformation.
That’s why education and communication are so important in Lean. Directors must be trained in Lean and know what to expect. Managers must have the opportunity to explain the Lean transformation at their area to their bosses and the new way a great manager looks like with Lean. This is REALLY critical for Lean success.
This is an old story (2009) I read many years ago but it is still valid and I keep using it very frequently to explain leadership and how cultural change works. It is a video by Derek Sivers, there it goes:
My main conclusions are:
- Leadership means being ready to stand alone and look ridiculous to many.
- You must be easy to follow: easy message, clear ideas, be public.
- You are not a leader until you get your first followers: treat them as equals because new followers will follow previous followers, not you.
Keep that is mind because one day:
- You will get momentum.
- Following you will not be risky anymore.
- Change will happen (learn more here).
The video finishes with the most important idea of all: if you find a crazy person doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to stand up and join in! Following others who deserve it is another way of leading, maybe the most important.
Many blogs shared this video before, here you have some: