by Jamie Flinchbaugh, co-author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean
Decades of knowledge in lean have been passed on, written down, turned into curriculums and even documented in the annual reports of some companies. But why do so many fail to achieve the potential of lean? When I speak at diverse industry conferences or programs, I ask who is doing something about lean and who is wildly successful. Unfortunately, both based on those surveys and my own observations, the rate of companies succeeding at lean is probably around 1 %. This is far too low.
What is the differentiator? It is far too complicated to suggest one answer, however if there were one answer, the one that has universal agreement is LEADERSHIP. Lack of leadership, or lousy leadership, can prevent any organization from moving forward, and it can be blamed for many failures beyond lean including the slew of corporate ethics collapses.
Why present Leading Lean concepts in A through Z. Well, if I didn’t limit it to the 26 letters of the alphabet, I would probably never finish the project. Here I will actually start with Z. Enjoy.
Z: Be a Zealot
What is a zealot? Defined, it is a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in pursuit of their religious, political and other ideals. If I were to only pick one single leadership trait, it would not be zealotry.
Being a zealot can have both a good side and a bad one. In isolation, zealotry can be narrow-minded, blind, unforgiving and ultimately destructive to the objective. Zealotry must be balanced with pragmatism, partnership and a focus on others’ real needs and perceptions. With the right balance, being a zealot is a critical component of leading lean.
The obvious reason for being a zealot is to convince others. But a less obvious reason is that if you’re not a zealot, it is too easy to give up. A zealot spends most of his or her days frustrated. Why? Because not everything is the way you think it should be, and not everyone thinks the way you think they should either.
If you are not frustrated, you are probably not working on the right problem. Being a zealot helps you keep your focus and direction through that very frustration. Without it, you may focus on what is easy and doable, instead of the important, right and seemingly impossible things. To accomplish big goals you must be deeply committed to what you are pursuing.
Being a zealot helps you win others to your cause. The passion you show in your words and actions has many benefits. If you were pursuing something just because it was assigned to you, you would find it hard to show real passion. Passion and zeal can be contagious. People want to believe in something. They want passion, and will never jump in with both feet if they don’t think they’ll feel that same passion. And perhaps most importantly, when you become a zealot you never again deliver a canned speech or presentation. You speak from the heart. You speak from experience. You own the idea.
To be a zealot you first must become one and then must sustain that role. The first can take some time, but the second takes forever. To become a zealot takes belief, which comes only through experience. Don’t attempt to become a zealot without experience because that leads to the kind of unbalanced zealotry that can be dangerous. To become a zealot you have to start with the head. Is getting it into your head the same as experience? You have to get the ideas, language, and knowledge in there. You have to learn it. Then, you must get it into your hands. What about your heart? That is the real test. Lean begins with you.
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