Written by Jason Haines

“I think the real true success is when, yes, you have reached the goal, reached yours, but it’s how many others you have helped along the way.” -Darrell Green

When companies, or organizations, get rid of an employee it is typically not the team or the frontline employees. The person who they let go is the coach, manager, or the highest person in charge of the ship. Most leaders go into companies wanting to change a culture and develop their people, not just at their jobs but in their positions. This happens quite often, the new leader walks into a dumpster fire that has so many problems that they do not know where to start. Problems everywhere and no clear-cut path to get to that point. And on top of that one must build relationships with their new colleagues. The stress starts here.

But one should not not panic. First off, get to know your people and don’t get to know them in your office. Get out there and get your hands dirty and get to know your employees and the jobs that they do. This will give you two things, respect from the people because you are learning the jobs and an understanding of who is doing the work and who to go to at first for advice. Too many times leaders fall into the trap of trusting the people that come their office, and this can be fatal if we do not know the jobs or the people. Eventually we want to get to where we have trusted people coming to us, but when we start, we want to get out to where the work is done.

Why do leaders need to get out to where the work is done? Especially Lean leaders. When we understand the jobs, the flows, and the problems to help leaders understand where to make improvements first. If we don’t observe, we will never know any of these things and won’t know our people, which a lot of times is where many new leaders make a mistake. They worry more about impressing the big boss than they do about impressing the people in their stead. The people in our stead is who the leaders want to help because their improvement and performance makes us as leaders look better. It is not just improving as a leader, it’s also about improving everyone on our team.

When we don’t go about developing our employees, we are usually weak leaders. No leader should ever be more worried about an employee getting ahead. These types of leaders will only go as far as they are and usually are stuck in the same spot they were when you last talked to them. Yes, they are in charge, but they are not growing in any way and their people are not either. These are the types of leaders we don’t want to follow and if you look, they probably have high attrition within their ranks and a lot of unhappy employees.

As a great leader we want to teach and grow our people in all ways. There are many ways of getting your employees to grow in your company. There is mentoring, coaching, teaching, training, and many other hats that a leader must wear when growing their people. All of these are a type of serving our people and being a servant leader. Now remember serving people is not pleasing people.

When we are pleasing people, we usually end up unhappy and the people we are guiding end up feeling the same. As they say, if everyone is happy then usually no one is happy, and if we are only into pleasing our people then we are not really leading them. The employees will, just like your children, realize you are a pushover and try to get what they want and not what they need. Many parents and leaders make this mistake when they first get into leadership. As a servant leader, or Lean leader, we learn what our people need and that is true leadership. True leadership in many ways.

One of our big problems with leadership, and this is because of past experiences, is trying to get our people to find solutions to fix problems. Most employees, or leaders for that matter, do not know how to fix their problems because they have always had to trust and rely on their previous so-called leaders. Those leaders didn’t teach people, didn’t allow them to make mistakes, and wanted total control, never allowing people to think for themselves. This is the first step for a new leader to help their new colleagues along, and that is to help them learn how to think.

When teaching people how to think we can’t tell them what to think, though some people today may feel otherwise. When we tell our people what to think, we are not teaching or helping them. Therefore, how does one teach their people how to think? It starts by the “what” and the “where” they will be solving the problem. Explaining to employees the “what” is much different than simply telling them what to think, which gives employees permission to not put forth any effort because they are being told their marching orders. What a leader must do is explain the “what” of the process to challenge their employees to figure out how to solve the problem.

Leaders, true leaders, want people to solve problems on their own and ask for advice, not the answer, if they are stuck on finding the solution. This will not only empower your people but yourself; you will create discipline amongst your group and not forcing or fighting with employees on things they must be doing. When we tell people what to think and do, we empower them to learn from their mistakes or apply previous experiences to determine a solution. In essence, we don’t give them a voice. Employees that blindly follow leaders do not critically think and will not grow or improve within the organization or themselves.

When we give the “what” and “where” and not the “how”, the leader is allowing the people to come up with ideas and make mistakes that will help them research what to and what not to do. The people will be given the freedom to research things and experiment with things until the find an answer. Toyota Kata is a perfect example of this and a great example of going to the Gemba and finding out what exactly is going on. When our people are given the answers or put into a place of firefighting, they never develop the skill to grow and think of all the things that will develop their critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is ultra-important to growing your people and your organization and is also an important part of Lean management.

Lean has two pillars, and one of those is respect for people. This respect comes in many shapes and forms from servant leadership to teaching problem solving skills. Growing your people shows them how to think and teaches them how to lead. From there, people will start to collaborate and work as a team to solve bigger problems. They come to agreements and don’t just expect things from others. When we know what is going on and communication becomes more open more things will get done with less push back. So why not teach our people how to think by giving them the “what” and “where” and allowing them to figure out the how to solve the problem.

Helping grow your business through process improvement!!