Respect for People


Much has been written and talked about over the last two years about the “human side of lean” and the “respect for people” pillar of TPS. Only through our own failings, my colleagues and I learned the hard way that lean is a human system as we started focusing on how we manage, lead, engage and build a culture of lean many years ago.

In talking about ‘respect for people' much of the focus, including on this blog, has been on leaders in companies NOT respecting people and exhibiting behaviors very counter to this belief. I'm not going to disagree with anything specific, because most of it is justified, but do want to offer a shift in perspective. We make a big deal about respecting people, and at the same time we engage in CEO-bashing as if they were not humans themselves. When I visit companies and people start complaining about the executives, words are often thrown around like ‘morons,' ‘jerks' or ‘narrow-minded self-serving greed mongers' (OK, that last one is an extrapolation).

If we want others to practice ‘respect for people' then we need to master it ourselves. If you feel your executives are ‘morons,' I can promise you that this belief shows through in your behavior, tone and words no matter how hard you try to filter it out. Even if justified, this ultimately makes you ineffective at changing any of these behaviors.

Before you dump on me with all the specific examples of people that don't deserve respect, I agree that there are many, many people out there that may not deserve any respect. But most executives, even if you don't understand them, want the same things. They want the business to improve, for people to be valued, for the ‘team' to be on one page and for the organization to move forward. They too are stuck in a ‘bad system' and often feel equally helpless. Even the CEO has a boss, whether it is the board of directors or even the bank.

So whether you agree with that or not, I'll come back to and focus on my premise: the best way to spread ‘respect for people' is to master it yourself. What does this mean? Don't jump to judgement without first understanding. Put yourself in that person's shoes. Seek to understand their point of view. And help them eliminate the burden and frustration that surrounds them.

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Jamie Flinchbaugh
Jamie Flinchbaugh is an accomplished Entrepreneur, Senior Executive, and Board Member with more than 20 years of success spanning finance, manufacturing, automotive, and management consulting. Leveraging extensive operational experience, Jamie is an invaluable asset for a company seeking expert guidance with process improvements, lean strategies, and leadership coaching in order to transform operations, reduce costs, and drive profitability. His areas of expertise include continuous improvement, entrepreneurship, coaching and training, process transformation, business strategy, and organizational design.


  1. Although I have been known to refer to an exec as a ‘moron’ from time to time, you are absolutely correct, Jamie. There is no excuse, in most cases, for attacking an executive’s character with terms like ‘moron’ or ‘greedy’.

    At the same time, however, if there is a “bad system” – and most often there is – the CEO has the power (in fact, the responsibility) to fix it. The underling cannot. The exec cannot sit in the big chair in the big office and draw the big paycheck, then declare him or herself to be a victim of a bad system.

    What I find inexcusable among most manufacturing executives is a woeful ignorance of lean manufacturing principles. I cannot fathom how someone responsible for the leadership of a manufacturing enterprise can fail to see it as their fundamental responsibility to thoroughly learn the best practices in their industry.

  2. I have tried to take Jamie’s posting to heart also, as I’ve slung an insult or too at execs and finance folks. As paychecks get bigger, though, I have less sympathy for their feelings. Maybe it just makes me look bad to hurl insults.

    As for the “system”. I agree, Bill, that the CEO should try to fix their company’s system. But, CEO’s aren’t always “the boss”, they answer to Wall Street. The system forces them to do short-term things, or at least the $$ incentives are there. No single CEO can be expected to fix Wall Street and that “system.”

  3. In his last paragraph Jamie restates Covey – “Seek to understand…” The issue with Executives is a lack of understanding and/or a lack of focus on “the system.” They don’t have the time to spend on shop floors where hands are making the company money by increasing the value of the material being processed. They get a well scripted tour and they see the PowerPoints. The divide that separates Top Management and the workforce is supposed to be filled by the Supervisors and mid-level managers. If the mid-level management valued the relationships with either the workers or the top managers, the divide would not be as deep or as easy to recognize.

    Kaizen asks that we make small improvements frequently. In many companies the small improvements would be a return to gemba by all concerned parties and a series of brief discussions about the need for change.

  4. You are certainly right about everyone having a boss, but an employee has an obligation to take suggestions and recommendations to the boss that he believes will benefit the organization. When a production supervisor or manager comes to believe in lean, he has to take his best shot at trying to convince the boss, even if he has to back many times to do it. I have encountered many people who claim to be big supporters of lean, but have never pushed it up in the organization. Typically the fear of the political fallout resulting from making an unpopular recommendation outweighs their principles. It is hard to have much resepct or sympathy for them.

    I rarely hear of CEOs making a concerted effort to explain and convince their board or Wall Street of the need for a long term commitment to lean. It would be a breath of fresh air to hear of a CEO who arranged to have the entire board of directors go off somewhere for a week for a serious lean education.

    If the exec took his best run at Wall Street and the board and failed, that would be one thing, but most either do not really understand lean or, like that supervisor, let their personal political aganda trump their principles.

  5. These are all great points and I appreciate the effort.

    I learned a long time ago, the hard way, that its more important to be effective than to be right. This was a hard lesson for me, but what it means for this discussion is that particularly from inside the organization, if we want CEOs and other executives to respect people, the most effective path to that end is to practice what we preach.

    I will take issue with one comment. CEOs don’t have as much “power” as we like to think they do. They can’t just make a decision and the organization falls in line. They have bosses, constraints and limited bandwidth. They do, however, have the responsibility. We should hold our executives accountable. We call these people leaders, but leadership is not a position, it is an act. We should expect leadership, not just managers in these roles.

  6. Respect is not a birthright. It must be earned. The production people, by and large, have earned respect by showing up to work every day and doing a tough job.

    My twenty years plus in factories have proven to me that, by and large, the execs who have earned the respect of the plants, get respect from the plants.


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