When a CEO Falls Down on Their Gemba Visit — The Leader Behaviors That Matter

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Here is a short, insightful clip of Dr Seán Paul Teeling from his KaiNexus webinar from Tuesday.

He raises an important point — is it always good when a leader, including the CEO, “goes to the gemba” (workplace)? It can be harmful if the leader doesn't act respectfully to the team.

Are they fully present and engaged… or physically there but on their mobile phone?

What do you see? What do the employees in your organization notice? What do you wish leaders would do?

Sean-Paul Teeling: Oh, there's there's what I found in my own research, is my own Phd, there's leadership.

And then there's visible leadership like the management by walking around, the leaders who go to Gemba.

What is most off putting to staff and to lean practitioners is where there's token…

I'll give you an example of a CEO, turning up to a report out from the lean initiative, and standing at the back of the room on their mobile phone or their cell phone, as you guys call it, the whole time.

So actually, I prefer if you weren't there because that's not respectful. And then to afterwards take them aside and respectfully say, you know, that really was noticed today, people.

I think that's your role as an improvement facilitator to take that. Really, you know, that's not actually what we need. That's not what we need. And people notice, because when that particular report that was over that the effect that had on staff morale was was was palpable.

People were furious.

If I'd be honest, people were very, very annoyed, and it took a lot of work to bring them back to a point that we can move forward from here because they just felt their improvement work wasn't valued.

Now in fairness contextually, the CEO was probably under pressure to be there that day, but I think if you're going to be there and be there and then be but yes, I think it is a challenge.

And again, I could give an example. I've worked in public hospitals where the CEOs will be there, and they may just, you know, do the tokenistic thing. And I've worked in private hospitals, where I think the last time Mark was over he was at a hospital with me, where the CEO goes to everything, he turns up, he goes to. He makes sure he's there. He offers comments. He supports the staff.

And you can see the difference in those people, you know.

So I think I think. You know there in in lean deployment, and that's why there's an entire Phd taking place now, my colleague Ann-Marie, one of our Phd students. She's looking at that. What are the attributes of lean leadership? And one of them is, you know, the concept of respect, obviously. And how do we instill that in leaders?


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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.

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