I generally avoid politics here on the blog… In October, I broached the subject when I blogged about a company that uses Lean principles to make Donald Trump hats in New Jersey (and interviewed the owner of the company), but that was during a time when Trump seemed like a novelty or fringe candidate. It might be a “third rail” to even bring him up… but I’ll limit my remarks to one particular context – his view of “leadership.”
As reported by FORTUNE and other publications, Trump said the following on March 3, when asked about his earlier comments about wanting the military to follow orders that violate international law and treaties:
“I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about.”
No. Leadership is not about telling people what to do. What Trump calls “leadership” is an outdated strategy, the “command-and-control” model. That’s a model that many call “Taylorist” — a system where the boss thinks and gives orders, the workers just keep quiet and follow orders. The FORTUNE writer writes that Trump’s “retro style is not set up for today’s complex world.”
You can hear Trump’s own words:
When I started at GM in 1995, it was a command and control culture — and everybody suffered: customers, employees, shareholders. But, some managers got to yell and scream at others, acting like the tough guy. But, employees (including me) laughed at them behind their backs. Things didn’t start turning around at that plant until we got a new plant manager who had learned the Toyota style of leadership at NUMMI.
The Military is Moving Away from “Command and Control”
“Command and control” is associated with the military, but even they are moving away from that model, which you’ll know if you’ve also read the great book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal. The military has learned that, in this day and age when fighting non-traditional enemies, the military needs to put more decision making capabilities in the troops and lower level leaders. Command and control is too slow and decisions are too often wrong when made by leaders who are disconnected from the front lines.
I want our military officers and soldiers speaking up and questioning (and disobeying) illegal or immoral orders. Trump wants people to do as he commands. That’s not how the U.S. Presidency works. The military swears allegiance to the Constitution, not the President.
I want employees speaking up at work when they think the boss is wrong and I want leaders asking employees for input into decisions, engaging them in a “Kaizen” approach of continuous improvement.
Many aspects of Team of Teams remind me of Lean thinking and the Toyota Production System. Command and control is outdated (forgive the name dropping here, but the late Stephen Covey said as much when I interviewed him a few years back). As it says in this book summary:
“McChrystal argues that most organizations–and the resulting leadership styles–resemble the command-and-control structure popularized by Frederick Winslow Taylor at the turn of the twentieth century. This “sturdy architecture” works well when there’s a known and relatively stable set of variables.
But it wasn’t working for the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command in the mid-2000s as they fought the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. To combat the threats there, McChrystal needed a resilient organization that would respond rapidly to constantly shifting environments. He needed a “team of teams” and that would require:
1) Restructuring from the ground up based on extremely transparent information sharing–a concept he calls shared consciousness
2) Decentralizing decision-making authority–a concept he calls empowered execution”
Command and control might have worked fine in the slow moving, less competitive business world of the mid 20th century. Toyota and other companies have shown us that a more engaged workforce is the key to success. The GM model was very authoritarian. Managers gave orders, employees weren’t supposed to question them. That was a failed strategy.
Trump would probably say, “That was how I ran my businesses and I am very very rich, that I can tell you.” OK, but some of his businesses failed and went bankrupt. It’s a hypothesis that can never be proven, but maybe Trump would be more rich if he had a more modern leadership style?
Lean is not “Command and Control”
Lean is an evolution from command and control thinking. Henry Ford used to complain, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” Toyota leaders talk about about TPS being not just the Toyota Production system, but also the “Thinking Production System.”
Editor’s Note: Ford was not talking about the SIZE of anybody’s hands… or whatever.
John Shook of the Lean Enterprise Institute speaks eloquently about how Lean and the Toyota Production System are neither fully top-down nor fully bottom-up approaches. It’s a hybrid approach, where executives need to set strategy and goals (with input from those lower in the organization) and ideas about how to improve generally come in a more bottom-up way from employees and lower-level managers.
If you re-visit Taaichi Ohno’s classic book The Toyota Production System, he makes it quite clear that TPS is not a dictatorial approach. He describes a business as a human body, not a machine:
“A business organization is like the human body… At Toyota, we began to think about how to install an autonomic nervous system in our own rapidly growing business organization. In our production plant, an autonomic nerve means making judgments at the lowest possible level… The plant should be a place where such judgments can be made by workers autonomously.”
Decision making is generally pushed down to the lowest level possible in a Lean culture. Ohno continues:
“Plans change very easily. Worldly affairs do not always go according to plan and [production] orders have to change rapidly in response to changes in circumstances. If one sticks to the idea that, once set, a [production] plan should not be changed, a business cannot exist for long.”
“I think a business should have reflexes that can respond instantly and smoothly to small changes in the plan without having to go to the brain… The larger a business, the better reflexes it needs.”
This sounds like the Team of Teams approach, doesn’t it?
Is “Command and Control” Here to Stay?
To me, it’s sad, dysfunctional, and counterproductive that “command and control” leadership is still too prevalent today in different types of organizations, including in healthcare. Command and control, combined with a “name, blame, and shame” culture isn’t just demoralizing… it causes harm to patients. Patients deserve better. Employees deserve better leadership.
How common is that style of “leadership” in your organization? “Do this because I said so I’m the boss” leadership. What harm does it cause? Do you see hope in ridding our organizations of that mindset?