The Intrinsic Discipline of the Lean Leader

A recent George F. Will column referenced the sign recreated at left. While I don't necessarily believe that the signage encompasses the complete definition of discipline, it certainly provides food for thought.

A lot of folks think of discipline, especially in the context of lean, as something extrinsic. It's something that is applied and reinforced through the rigor of leader standard work, daily accountability processes, and value stream improvement plan and strategy deployment checkpoints, etc. Discipline is leaders on others. Obviously, not even close to the full story, but we are not so naive as to believe that extrinsic discipline is not important or necessary.

What about the lean leaders? Sure, the leaders of the leaders can drive discipline. But, purely extrinsic discipline is more like a dictatorship. Lean leaders must have intrinsic discipline. It's got to come from within.

Lean leaders must have sufficient commitment to, and faith in, lean principles (lead with humility, respect the individual, flow, pull, PDCA, identify and eliminate waste, rely on data, etc.) such that they will discipline themselves to do what they don't want to do when they don't want to do it. Because it's worth the pain.

And their peers, teammates and subordinates watch and learn from the leader's example as he or she:

  • Sucks it up and goes the extra mile to visit the gemba and directly observe the current reality,
  • Guts it out and takes the 5 whys to the fifth...or tenth in order to get to the root cause,
  • Remains super-humanly patient mentoring an individual through yet another revision of an A3,
  • Requires a number of painful desktop simulations to see if, when and where the kanban system breaks (before it's piloted for real),
  • ...and so on.

Related posts: Want a Kaizen Culture? Take Your Vitamin C!, Lean Leader Principle – Show Them Your Back