Part 3 – 3 Strategies for Leaders Who Have No One to Lead: An Apprentice


3 strategies Part 3Mark's note: Here's the latest in the series by a guest blogger, Paul Serafino. Click here to read earlier posts in this series about leaders who have no one to formally lead.

By Paul Serafino:

The second strategy in this series is about relationship building, much like the first strategy you read about (and tested for yourself) last week. And in the same fashion, a short one-page PDF guide is available here to help you get started.

There are 2 major differences with this strategy from last week:

  1. In Strategy 2, you'll focus on developing a 1-on-1 coaching relationship (less of a partnership like in Strategy 1).
  2. You should expect this to take more time than Strategy 1, as you'll not only be coaching an individual through improvements, but you'll also be learning (and teaching) how to coach and be coached (these are not automatic skills, so seek additional help with this, or dig back into your own experiences where someone effectively coached you).

Good luck, and remember: it's OK to ask for help from a senior manager or peer you respect and trust, or from an external source that can guide you through this process.

Strategy 2: Find an apprentice

The Point: Hollywood can get this across very effectively. In just about every film where the wily ol' master has dug himself into a deep rut, an energetic, under-skilled but overachieving youngster comes along and quickly evolves into the master's source of inspiration; a motivational force stemming from a one-directional relationship that evolves into a mutual teaching experience.


Pay It Forward.

Million Dollar Baby.

The list is long, the emotions are powerful, and the message is the same: you can't do it all forever; eventually you'll burn out and lose your will to go on. If, by chance, you meet someone else whose survival depends on your revival, consider yourself blessed.

That's great, but this isn't Hollywood, is it?

Don't leave this encounter up to chance! Deliberately seek out an apprentice, and you'll discover a new sense of determination in yourself that will lead to big accomplishment. Plus you'll develop the next master to help spread the good word.

The Process: Similar to the first strategy, there are three key personalities to search for that will make an exceptional apprentice for developing Lean behavior and studying Lean thinking.

“The Barrier Buster” — She gets onto teams and assumes roles that are above expectations for her position, rank, or title. He speaks out in meetings at the risk of getting shot down every single time. They reply to your emails with at least the same amount of detailed thought that you put into yours (in other words, someone who read your message more than once to make sure they fully understand it).

“The Wanderer” — This is someone who wanders from his or her primary responsibility and tries to get in on the action you're in charge of. He even offers critiques of your plans and results, but follows up with suggestions or a different spin. She challenges you with new perspective, making your “pitch” to others more likely to resonate or instill action.

“The Idea Collector” — This person doesn't tightly hold onto his or her own ideas, and can't wait to grab the dry erase markers and record what everyone else is saying. Some people prefer to compile ideas and then apply their creative genius to the selection process. Think Watson to Holmes, or Woz to Jobs.

As you search for potential candidates (or they search for you), don't let age or experience play into your selection. Look for the signs of any of these three personalities and spend some time getting to know the person one-on-one. Go out for lunch or set up some meeting time when things are calm, and have a conversation about goals. Listen intently for phrases like “I wish…” or “if only…” and see how closely their imagined ideal state matches yours.

Once the connection is made, establish a framework to move forward. Express your interest in coaching the individual and learning from each other. Set some common objectives you can measure so the relationship remains productive in the context of the business. They'll learn a new philosophy and approach to the work. For you it's about keeping motivated to press on and fight the good fight.

The Payoff: Just like in Hollywood, there's a moment of greatness where the apprentice shines bright and the master looks on, proudly. Those moments will reinforce your self-confidence in what you know and what you teach. Spread it, share it, use it wisely. You'll notice an increase in favorable response to your ideas and recruitment of help to knock out some of those long-overdue kaizen opportunities. The added bonus is a capable sidekick who can assist you in the quest.

Download the PDF worksheet:

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Read the next post, strategy #3: Host free events

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Paul Serafino
Paul's mission is to provide Lean and Continuous Improvement change agents with the tools they need to influence up and accelerate real change in the absence of the right support structure. Paul has held positions in the high-tech arena, the old-school manufacturing space, and the Lean training and consulting world. He taps into these experiences to share what works, what's possible, and how to make it happen in very simple, highly effective ways. He writes and coaches with the goal of helping creative thinkers find the best path to launching their improvement ideas into action. You can learn more at his blog “Accelerated Journey."


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