Different Times, Different Roles


DailyKaizen » Role Playing

From the excellent DailyKaizen lean healthcare blog:

I think every Internal LEAN consultant struggles with when they need to consult, when they need to mentor and when the need to lead. Changing roles is necessary when you work in an organization with a high variability in leadership competency and LEAN knowledge. It can also be dangerous, if you as the consultant lose track of what role you are planning at any given moment and why you are playing that role. My greatest challenge lately has been holding back from the temptation to take over leadership at the first sign that a leader is wavering in their support or floundering in their action.

There's a right time for each role. I see this as an external consultant to hospitals. There's a time to ask questions and try to lead others to see the problem (or solution). Sometimes, you have to just tell them and demonstrate a way of thinking or a method once so the client can learn. But, you can't let them get dependent on you.

Let's talk about something simple such as visual controls — putting tape outlines or shadows around items so waste is eliminated (wasted time looking for items). I'll often go through this progression:

  1. Show them once (demonstrate — this is how it should be done…. and explain WHY)
  2. Ask them to try it and coach them as they do it
  3. Have them do it on their own and come back to give feedback

You have to build confidence in people to do it themselves. But, you also want to make sure they learn how to make a good positive impact and to avoid costly mistakes. The amount you're willing to let someone make mistakes depends on the impact of such a mistake. If it's a minor cost impact, let them make the mistake and learn. If it's a safety item, you have to intervene and make sure it's done right.

As a lean leader, I've always thought you play dual roles also:

  1. Knowing when to ask questions, to be Socratic, to guide and steer
  2. Knowing when to be directive, when to set demanding specific guidelines

I think the real art of leadership (as manager or consultant) is knowing when to “ask” and knowing when to “tell.” Just make sure you're asking more than you're telling.

What do you think?

Please check out my main blog page at www.leanblog.org

The RSS feed content you are reading is copyrighted by the author, Mark Graban.

, , , on the author's copyright.

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

Did you like this post? Make sure you don't miss a post or podcast — Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.

Check out my latest book, The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation:

Get New Posts Sent To You

Select list(s):
Previous articleOops, I ruined a Masterpiece
Next articleWe Need to Error Proof Voting
Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I agree that its alot more about asking than telling. Unfortunately, most consultants dont realize that. I am inclined to believe that is the ultimate reason that most consultants annoy me – because so many tell me and few ask me.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.