Leading Lean A-Z: "I" for Integrity

by Jamie Flinchbaugh, co-author, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean

Some of you have read the beginning of my Leading Lean A-Z. You can see the introduction and the first post here. I continue, quite out of sequence, with I.

I: Integrity

Integrity is paramount. Integrity begins with yourself and then can be extended to others. What is integrity? A dictionary definition is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. In common language, it is keeping your word, saying what you mean, and doing what you say.

Many will confuse integrity with intent. Intent is “I meant well”. Integrity is about acting well. It is about connecting your actions consistently with your intent. Our intent might be not to insult someone, but by flaw of our actions, we end up doing exactly that. This is a breach of integrity. Even intending to be home in time for dinner is a breach of integrity if you fail to do so.

Being a liar is of course not having integrity. That means your intent isn’t even consistent with your words, let along your actions. This is quite rare that we’re surrounded by liars. But to those around us, there is little difference. To another person, your actions and your words do not match. They do not care about your intent, only their experience. To them, there is a little difference between a liar and a failure in integrity.

Obviously this matters in life. So is this a generic principle that we can assume also applies to lean or is there something more? I think there is something about lean that requires a specific look at integrity. In a lean journey, leaders ask their employees, peers, and bosses to adopt certain principles and exhibit behaviors that attach to those principles.

For example, we teach, preach, and cajole the principle of systematic waste elimination as a principle. This means that we want to develop an intolerance for waste, and that intolerance compels us to take action. This behavior requires risk-taking and stepping outside our own comfort zone. Like the rest of the lean principles, this is a tall order to be able to exhibit on a daily basis. Every leader will fail at some time to live up to those same principles they are teaching others about. This is, in fact, a breach of integrity. The more we do it, the greater the breach, and the people around us will quickly draw the conclusion that we are not serious about this lean journey. The ideal state is of course that we never falter, but since a few stumbles are inevitable then we must be prepared to repair and maintain our integrity. Otherwise, not only will lean be a program of the month, but so will we.

The most important act you can take to maintain integrity when you fail to live up to lean principles is to admit it. You must acknowledge your own gaps, your own failings. You have two choices. You can either acknowledge the gaps first, or hope that no one notices. Of course, the latter strategy is just a fantasy. It will not work. Of course people notice. They probably notice more than we do.

Integrity also requires insight and reflection. To be honest with yourself means reflection and corrective action on the gap between your intent, and your results. Intending to help someone when your actions achieve the opposite is a violation of integrity, and only a “good look in the mirror” will enable one to improve the ability to connect their actions and results to their intent. This is continuous improvement of the self, and that’s all people can ask of you.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh is a lean advisor, speaker, and author. In addition to co-founding the Lean Learning Center, he has helped build nearly 20 companies as either a co-founder, board member, advisor, or angel investor. These companies range from high-performance motorcycles to SaaS tools for continuous improvement. He has advised over 300 companies around the world in lean transformation, including Intel, Harley-Davidson, Crayola, BMW, and Amazon. Jamie co-authored the popular book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lean, and continues to share his experiences as a Contributing Editor forIndustryWeek and as a blogger at JamieFlinchbaugh.com. He holds degrees from Lehigh University, University of Michigan, and MIT, and continues to teach and mentor on campus. Jamie is best known for helping to transform how we think about lean from a tools-centric model to one based on principles and behaviors. His passion for lean transformation comes from seeking to unlock the great potential that people possess to build inspiring organizations.

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