Embracing the Lean Mindset in GE Aerospace: A Conversation With Two Leaders


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My guests for Episode #487 of the Lean Blog Interviews Podcast are two Lean leaders from GE Aerospace. They are Samantha Ruehle, Lean Operations Leader, Lean Transformation Team and Greg Pothoff, Executive Director – Business Management Aviation Supply Chain.

I interviewed each of them after the GE Lean Mindset event that was held last month in New York.  Two separate conversations, but common themes — and the same questions of two Lean leaders at different stages of their careers – Sam being a recent college graduate and Greg having 25 years of Lean experience, starting first in the auto industry (which is actually where I first met him 20 years ago). 

I asked the same core questions, found below, but each conversation is unique as we learn about their roles at GE and their reactions to the Lean Mindset event.

Sam emphasizes the importance of the Lean mindset as being framed by three essential pillars: Respect for People, Continuous Improvement, and Customer Focus. As a young leader, she combines this Lean mindset with a touch of humility, an open mind, and an emphasis on collective problem-solving to catalyze impactful changes.

One of Greg's core beliefs is the importance of focusing on the smaller, incremental changes in addition to the larger, more noticeable ones. He also stresses the need for establishing a blame-free learning environment, where employees are encouraged to experiment, make mistakes, and more importantly, learn from them.

The Lean Mindset - See the entire series of posts

Questions, Notes, and Highlights:

  • How would you describe a “Lean Mindset”?
  • What is an underappreciated aspect of the “Lean Mindset”?
  • What surprised you most about the Lean Mindset event?
  • What advice would you have for others about developing a “Lean Mindset”?
  • What is one change you have had to personally make to lead in this way?

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Episode Summary

Embracing the Lean Mindset: A Conversation with GE Aerospace Leaders

In today's in-depth interview, we explore the inspiring perspectives of two Lean leaders from GE Aerospace: Sam Ruehle and Greg Pothoff.

Sam Ruehle: A Young Force For Lean Leadership

After graduating from university, Sam Ruehle entered the world of Lean, becoming a Lean operations leader in GE Aerospace's Lean Transformation Team. Here, she is tasked with the important role of leading Lean operations on six-month assignments across various sectors of the business. From working with the Digital Technology team on value stream mapping to planning and executing impactful Kaizen events, Sam's role is dynamic, innovative, and demanding.

Greg Pothoff: Drawing from years of Lean Experience

With a long career spanning 25 years in Lean–including a foundational beginning in the automotive industry–Greg Pothoff now serves as an executive director in the GE Aerospace supply chain function. Greg emphasizes that everyone in an organization should possess and foster a Lean mindset. He identifies a common misconception that Lean is solely the domain of a select Lean team. Instead, he firmly believes that any true organizational transformation requires the participation and buy-in of all members.

The GE Lean Approach: Continuous Improvement at its Core

Both Sam Ruehle and Greg Pothoff provide remarkable insight into the world of Lean leadership, projecting a powerful image of the Lean mindset in action within GE Aerospace. From continuously leveraging Lean tools in daily tasks to maintaining a focus on rapid experimentation and learning, these leaders exemplify how Lean principles can be harnessed to drive substantial, long-lasting improvements.

Whether it's the emphasis on team collaboration and respect, the willingness to learn from mistakes, or the habit of viewing both big and small improvements as victories, every aspect of their Lean leadership approach places a strong emphasis on continuous improvement. The fusion of these principles creates a Lean mindset that sets the scene for success–not just for individuals, but for the entire organization.

Their perspectives reinforce that Lean leadership is neither mysterious nor overly complicated. Rather, it employs straightforward practices such as good visual management, establishing inspect-and-adapt cadences, fostering an environment of continual learning, and last but not least, celebrating every victory, no matter how small. By adopting these principles and fostering a culture that encourages growth and continuous improvement, leaders can begin their journey in practical Lean leadership and contribute significantly to their organization's success.

The Importance of Mentorship in Lean Leadership

A pivotal aspect that emerges from the experiences and perspectives of Lean leaders such as Sam and Greg is the critical role mentorship plays in fostering a thriving Lean culture. Young professionals entering the Lean space are encouraged to seek environments that offer opportunities for learning and growth. Finding a mentor who can guide them through the principles and practices of Lean and help them navigate the challenges is equally important. As they gain expertise and grow in their roles, the obligation to give back arises. This entails embracing the coach's hat and helping others in their Lean journey.

Indeed, this principle of ongoing mentorship applies regardless of one's position in the Lean hierarchy. As experienced by Greg, even a seasoned executive continues to learn and grow while mentoring others. Mentors often probe and question not necessarily to know the answers, but to provoke thought, encourage dialogue, and facilitate understanding. Such interactions, while based on trust and respect, propel both the mentor and mentee towards professional growth and organizational success.

Personal Evolution: A Key to Effective Lean Leadership

Leading Lean transformations requires continuous personal evolution to adapt to changing roles and responsibilities. As a Lean leader progresses from leading a plant to directing a region, and even up to supporting globally, striking the right balance is crucial.

Leaders often have to straddle the fine line between being in the trenches working on detailed specifics and setting the broader business vision. They must effectively communicate the organization's direction, its purpose, and the rationale behind it. The ‘why' question forms the cornerstone of any Lean strategy; hence, it is something every effective Lean leader should seek to answer clearly and consistently.

Cross-industry Movement: A Rich Source of Lean Learnings

Switching industries can be intimidating, but also immensely rewarding. The Lean approach's universal applicability means that the principles and methodologies remain relevant across sectors. As Greg demonstrated in his transition from automotive to aerospace, the learnings from one industry can be effectively applied to another, thereby enriching the Lean discourse.

Such a move, while challenging, provides personal development opportunities and allows Lean professionals to broaden their understanding and perspectives. But the choice of industry should be carefully considered–organizations that embrace Lean culture and strive towards their strategic goals and objectives using Lean principles should be preferred.

Advancing the Lean Mindset

In continuation of their Lean leadership journey, both Sam and Greg vouch for the life-changing impact of adopting a growth mindset, as endorsed by eminent psychologists like Carol Dweck, among others at the GE event. A growth mindset, characterized by the belief in one's potential to learn and grow continually, aligns perfectly with the Lean principle of Continuous Improvement. This mindset, coupled with the Lean culture, fosters an environment where learning and improvement are a never-ending journey. Understanding this and internalizing it serves as a stepping stone for personal and professional growth within the Lean spectrum.

Both Sam and Greg's collective insights serve as a resounding reaffirmation of the power and potential of Lean leadership. As such, the GE Lean Mindset event presents a golden opportunity for Lean enthusiasts and practitioners to delve deeper into their reflections and enhance their understanding of Lean principles and practices. The event recordings available on the LeanBlog provide an avenue to further explore these insights.

Full Automated Transcript (May Contain Defects)

Mark Graban: Hi, it's Mark Graban. Welcome to Episode 487 of the podcast. It's October 11, 2023. In today's episode, we're joined by two different Lean leaders from GE Aerospace. First is conversation with Sam Ruehle.

Mark Graban: She is a Lean operations leader as part of the Lean Transformation Team. And then I'll be talking with Greg Pothoff. He's an executive director in the GE Aerospace supply chain function. I interviewed each of them a couple of days after the GE Lean Mindset event that was held last month in New York. You can learn more about that LeanBlog.org slash Leanmindset.

Mark Graban: It's two separate conversations, but there are common themes, and I asked the same base questions of both of them, and then we have a conversation based on that. Sam is a recent college graduate and Greg has 25 years of Lean experience, starting first in the auto industry, which is actually where I first met him 20 years ago. So it's great to reconnect, great to have these conversations with them so you can learn more about them and the GE Lean Mindset event. You can look in the show notes or go to LeanBlog.org. Four, eight, seven.

Mark Graban: Well, we're joined now by Sam Ruehle from GE Aerospace. Sam, how are you?

Sam Ruehle: I'm great, how are you?

Mark Graban: I'm doing well. I'm still reflecting on the great event, the Lean Mindset event. We have a chance to chat about that here today and some of your reflections on it. But first off, tell everyone about your role at GE. A little bit about your background, if you would.

Sam Ruehle: Thanks, Mark. I am currently a Lean operations leader at GE on the Lean Transformation Team, which is a leadership development program focused on Lean. So you're a Lean leader on six month assignments throughout different functions of the business. I'm currently working with the DT team specifically looking at value stream mapping and a lot of Kaizen events. So we have a lot of room for improvement and for implementing Lean.

Sam Ruehle: And we've got a lot of focus on it now, which is really exciting.

Greg Pothoff: Yeah.

Mark Graban: And what's that team that you're working with at the moment with So?

Sam Ruehle: Digital Technology.

Mark Graban: Okay. Digital technology. Thanks. So I had to do the acronym check for those of us who are side of GE. So then it sounds like you're in a role where you're working with leaders to help plan and organize and facilitate Kaizen events, among other things.

Mark Graban: Is that right?

Sam Ruehle: Yeah. This year we have quite the schedule of Kaizen and value stream mapping events where we'll pull together about 15 people who are digital technology experts throughout different areas of our business. We get them into a room for five days and we focus on either one process or one problem with undivided attention. And so you can pull together a ton of different knowledge and people with completely different expertise and get them really focused and you can make insane improvements and changes by the end of that week. So we do those once every couple of months and we'll have four events simultaneously which allows us to really improve quickly.

Mark Graban: Yeah, there's a lot of improvement happening and improvement and continuous improvement was certainly one of the core themes at the event last week. So the overall theme of the event, of course, was lean mindset. So Sam, based on not just last Wednesday, but your time at GE working and learning about lean, how would you describe in your own words what a Lean mindset is?

Sam Ruehle: I think Lean mindset goes back to those three pillars of lean that we talk about, which are respect for people, continuous improvement and customer focus. Starting with respect for people, really understanding that the people who do the work are the ones who know best what the process is, what it requires of them, and a lot of times what the improvements are that can be made. And so with respect for people, going to Gemba is the first thing to do and really understanding that pulling together people to solve problems collaboratively is the way that we come up with the best solutions. Continuous improvement. The next pillar is focused on how can we find a better way, how can we always be looking for waste in our processes and see where to target our effort.

Sam Ruehle: And even if it's a small change or a large change, just always looking for how you can be better. And then customer focus, we always put the customer first. And with that it's important to understand where the value is in what you're doing. So you have value add activities and non value add and seeing what those are, what the customer is willing to pay for the value in doing things right the first time. I think when you put all of those things together and you ingrain that into your everyday life, that's when you have a lean mindset.

Mark Graban: Yeah, it's very well said. And those three pillars, you think about what pillars would hold up or sometimes people talk about a three legged stool. I mean, those three things really all work together like a two legged stool falls over very quickly. What have you learned about the need to really have all three of those in place? If an organization is missing one of those three, for example.

Sam Ruehle: If you're missing the respect for people, I think you see that very quickly that your organization can become frustrated and it only takes the weakest link to really turn your culture the wrong way. And so I think you can see even the rumblings of that if respect for people isn't being followed and that can be devastating. Obviously for the work that's been done, the work you want to do, you have to show that respect and be able to work together to come up with the best ideas and to make sure that everyone is bought in and willing to make the change for continuous improvement. You have to be problem solvers if you want to be better in the future. And we of course, want to always be better.

Sam Ruehle: You see things that are like line stoppages in our shops. How do we learn from that and then prevent it the next time? It's easy to get into firefighting mode, I think, especially in our manufacturing shops where things are so fast paced, but you don't want to live in firefighting mode. And so you have to learn how to be problem solvers. And then with Customer Focus, I think that's the newest pillar that we've added, but a lot of times you don't view things as non value added.

Sam Ruehle: There are things that we have to do, like necessary waste, and we haven't really distinguished that as much in the past, but now it really helps us to focus our activities on those value add sections of the process and then minimize the necessary waste, eliminate the unnecessary waste. And customer satisfaction should be number one that keeps us in business, that keeps our doors open. And so have to put them first, have to see the prioritization in what you're doing.

Mark Graban: Yeah. Now is there something, Sam, that you would think is maybe an underappreciated aspect of the Lean Mindset in general?

Sam Ruehle: We heard this in the Lean Mindset event from a few of our speakers, but they talked on the importance of having a plan. And a lot of times that gets missed or it's viewed as further down the road in our you know, Peyton Manning, for example, he talked about the importance of having a plan when he talked about the audibles that he'll call. So very famous for calling audibles. And he know he never calls an audible without a plan. There's always a background, whether it's weeks, months before that audible is called.

Sam Ruehle: The team knows what they're going to do when it happens. Peyton is scanning the field to look for certain signals that would make him call that audible. And so I think that ties back to what we do at GE. And a lot of times you're firefighting, like I said, and we're really good at solving problems once they come up and pulling people together and moving forward. But sometimes that planning is, like I said, viewed down the road.

Sam Ruehle: And so how can we identify those major failures, single points of failure? How can we learn from our mistakes and come up with a plan for the future? I think that's something that we're still working towards in a lot of situations, but something that's maybe underappreciated and that we're learning from.

Mark Graban: Yeah, I loved how Peyton Manning described know, we're not just winging it out here that they are planning for the scenarios in which they would audible to know. He didn't use the phrase standardized work, but I think it's one of those examples where you think through different scenarios and you can't script out a game of football you have to the playbook that you go to for those different scenarios. So I appreciated the way he described that. And, Sam, I was going to ask you, thinking to the event, to me, it was a bit of a surprise. Peyton Manning as an NFL quarterback had things to say that were so connected to Lean leadership and the Lean Mindset.

Mark Graban: But what surprised you about that day, that event.

Sam Ruehle: On the Peyton note, he said something really interesting during his talk, which was about him being a quarterback as a 22 year old coming onto a team where he felt he was in the position to lead 38 year olds. And he talked about some advice he got from his dad to go in and be the leader. And he learned pretty quickly that he needed to gain respect before he could boss anybody around.

Mark Graban: Right.

Sam Ruehle: It's surprising because you hear from these senior leaders and you see them where they're at and I think sometimes you forget where they came from. And it was really interesting to hear about him and his experience as an inexperienced leader. And he talked about silent leadership, how you can just go out there, be the best you can be every day, be the first in and the last out and show through your hard work that you're somebody worth following and kind of leading yourself so that others would want to be led. And he talked about building respect with his team in a way that I thought was very admirable as a young leader. I think I had a lot to learn from that talk.

Sam Ruehle: But in general, I think something that was really surprising about the event was how industries came together in Lean. At GE, it started with manufacturing and now we're really trying to expand Lean to our transactional spaces and see how it can apply across the whole company. And this event was an extension of that, seeing how it easily carries over into sports or into food or the automotive industry. You could see these leaders come together from all of those spaces and really find common ground through Lean culture, all of the things that we talked about in the event. And it was really cool to see how without much other motive other than just sharing, learnings how we came together.

Sam Ruehle: And I think we all learned from each other last week.

Mark Graban: Yeah. And there's so much opportunity to learn across disciplines within a company or across industries. And I think the Lean Mindset event was a great illustration of that. But on the topic of learning, as you're learning this, Sam, and you're helping others learn it, what advice would you have for others about kind of developing a Lean Mindset or helping others do the same?

Sam Ruehle: We had Carol Dweck at the Talk Lean Mindset event last week and she talked about growth mindset. And I think that is the most important thing to developing a lean mindset is understanding that you have so much to learn and so much that you can do to grow as a person and as a professional by really pushing yourself to always be curious, to be the best person that you can be, to value what you have to learn from each person. And so I think in my journey of developing a lean mindset, having a growth mindset first, but with that, just having a hunger for learning. There are so many tools in the Lean toolbox to learn, there are so many processes, you can apply it to back to the respect for people. Just every single person that you meet, you have something to learn from.

Sam Ruehle: And so I think that curiosity comes first and then you'll get your reps in is what we say with Lean, as you go out every day and solve problems and experience different types of problem solving. Once you get your reps in, you'll develop that lean mindset. And then my last advice for starting out with a Lean mindset would be to start small. There's a book about two second lean and so how can you just make your life 2 seconds easier every day? How can you do things 2 seconds faster?

Sam Ruehle: It doesn't have to be world changing each time you improve something. So I think just using common sense to how can I be a little bit better at what I'm doing, taking that second to think about it is a great place to start and then just using your curiosity to learn all.

Greg Pothoff: Of the tools.

Mark Graban: And being in the beginning of your career. Sam, maybe there's less for you to unlearn compared to somebody who's worked for decades without the benefit of Lean leadership or a lean mindset. So a lot of people have to sort of try to embrace this change. But what's an example of a change you've had to make personally to lead better with a Lean Mindset?

Sam Ruehle: I think that's a great question. Starting off. I've been with GE since I was an intern, and so I've seen myself through all phases of my career in this kind of environment where we've been on a lean journey. I've worked in a lot of different shops, and I think early on, when you're getting your footing, you want to be the problem solver and you have ideas that you want to share. And I think I've seen that throughout my career so far, is that I have ideas that I just want to go share and implement.

Sam Ruehle: And as I've moved from being a Lean practitioner to a leader or someone who's coaching other people in Lean, I've had to take a step back from wanting to solve problems on my own and really leaned into collaboration and having an open mind for the problems that are solved as a group. And so, especially as I'm in a lot of these five day Kaizen events. You do the pre work and you familiarize yourself with the problem and it's really easy to jump to a solution and think you have it all figured out. But then we put in the resources to pull together 15 or so people for an entire week. You're flying people in from around the world and telling them to ignore their normal job for a week.

Sam Ruehle: That's a prime example of the power that collaboration holds and the value that the company puts on collaboration or they wouldn't invest in those events. And so it's kind of foolish to go into the event thinking that your idea is going to be the best idea. And as I learn to lead, I would say that's the biggest thing is having an open mind, not trying to solve problems on my own.

Mark Graban: Well, that's a great lesson and I'm glad you're learning it and thank you for sharing that with all of us. Sam, back when I was the 22 year old, I wasn't a number one draft pick like Peyton Manning, but I think this is in my rear view mirror now. But thinking back to when I was a 22 year old working with people who teammates who are not just 38 but 48 and 58 yeah. And think back to moments where I'm sure they were looking at him in the huddle like, okay, rookie, what do you know? I know I was probably in similar situations and building trust and like you said, kind of letting go of the need to be the one with the answers.

Mark Graban: It's an exciting part of the journey to be going through.

Sam Ruehle: Yeah. It's tough, but it's worth it.

Greg Pothoff: Yeah.

Mark Graban: Maybe a final question for you, Sam. Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the benefits that you see of being able to learn about a Lean mindset here early in your career and doing so as part of the Operations Management Leadership Program?

Sam Ruehle: I would say that learning Lean, especially early in your career, is kind of like a secret weapon. And that's how I've heard GE leaders describe it. You can lead without Lean, but you're not as powerful without it. And so I think the way that we're viewing Lean at GE is that it is our key to success. And we see that, we see that in the improvements that we've been able to make so far and the improvements that are to be made down the line.

Sam Ruehle: They're really groundbreaking improvements that are freeing up cash, helping us to deliver for our customers. And once you see lean work and you see the results of it, it's hard to think of doing it any other way and it just becomes your everyday life. And I think we're seeing our teams get so excited to use the Lean tools and to make it part of what we do every day. And so there's a lot of energy around it as we see those results. And I think learning lean early in my career will only help me to be a better leader down the line and a better problem solver.

Sam Ruehle: It helps you to ask the right questions and really keep what's most important as the most important. So learning to prioritize, I think those are all things that come with learning.

Mark Graban: Lean that's very well. So. Thank you, Sam. Again. We've been joined here by Sam Ruehle from GE Aerospace.

Mark Graban: She's a lean operations leader on their lean transformation team. Thank you so much for sharing your reflections, not just from the event but from your career so far. At. Really, really appreciate it.

Sam Ruehle: Yeah. Thanks, Mark. It's great talking with you today.

Mark Graban: Stay tuned. For more my conversation with Greg Pothoff, we're joined here by Greg Pothoff. Greg, it was great to see you at the event. How are you?

Greg Pothoff: Good, how are you doing, Mark?

Mark Graban: I'm doing real well. Tell everybody a little bit about your role at GE Aerospace.

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, my name is Greg Pothoff, and I started at General Electric about a year and a half ago and came from the automotive industry. But this is my first time in aerospace, and I'm responsible for the lean transformation for our supply chain and factories across all the plants. So it's been a great challenge in a real fast year and a half, but looking forward to what's coming ahead.

Mark Graban: Yes. So we're talking about the Lean Mindset event that GE organized and held, and I hope everybody listening is able to go check out the video from that great day that's know. But Greg, with all of your experience and with what you're doing these days at GE, the phrase lean Mindset, how would you describe that to somebody who is just learning about this idea of lean management?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, that's a good question. And I think first, lean mindset applies to everybody in the organization. That's one misnomer. Sometimes we got to go to the lean team to figure out what's the next step or the next tool or process. And it really is not that at all.

Greg Pothoff: Organizations that really transform, transform with everybody involved. And it's something that everyone comes in every day that says, did I get better or did I get worse? And one of the speakers talked about, you don't ever stay the same. So if you're not getting better, then you're getting behind. And there are superstars out there that people depend on processes that shine, but then as soon as they move out of the role or you build a temporary tool in Excel or do something that's really based on the person, those don't live on.

Greg Pothoff: But if I come to work every day and I can instill that mindset in everyone that you have a target condition to move towards and improve with that mindset, I think that's really the unlock. And we heard that from Carol Dwak, who wrote The Growth Mindset as know that it comes from everybody in the organization.

Mark Graban: And it's funny you talk about superstars. I mean, there were some superstars at the event for sure. Janice Atsutsukumpo and Wolfgang Puck is a culinary superstar. But tell us a little bit more. You're talking about, I guess, the superstars in the workplace, people who sometimes are helping us work around a bad process, and that's kind of a shift to get everybody involved in improving that process.

Mark Graban: Fair to say.

Greg Pothoff: Yeah. We've started down the journey of some model lines within some of our factories and are, I would say, teaching this mindset and empowering those frontline leaders to make decisions. What's important is they think properly about what does True North look like, what does great look like, and if you can get that one by one flow, that zero waste mentality. And what does waste look like? They start to think differently and can create something that some consultant or some superstar wouldn't think of because they're not the ones doing the job every day.

Greg Pothoff: So I had several emails this week that were super exciting coming from three of our model lines, and the teams were so excited and proud. They broke a record that they had never done before and didn't think that was possible, and it wasn't because some superstar came in and said, here's how to do it. They were given some tools and some thinking to apply, and they achieved it. That was the critical mass that got them starting to move on their own.

Mark Graban: So you've touched on a number of aspects of the lean mindset. Is there to you an underappreciated aspect of the lean mindset that you wish more people knew about?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, definitely. I think that sometimes people always look for these big swings or know, I don't know, monumental change. And those are good. There are some out there. We have Kaizen events, five day events that wow at the end of the week.

Greg Pothoff: It's like, unbelievable when you look back. But what we should appreciate are the little things and the details. Rodrigo Castro was a plant leader. We invited to this event for this experience this week, and he's the plant leader in Saltillo. I was so impressed with that team there because they spent a little bit of time talking about all the successes they had up to this point, but were more excited to talk about their next experiment or the next challenges they're working towards from an already really good performing process.

Greg Pothoff: And it was little things that they were looking at. And that's what I appreciate the most, is when they care about an address label on a rack is, like, perfect, and I can read it and it matters because someone uses it.

Mark Graban: That's kind of an example, and it's great to hear about that excitement tapping into what I think is a pretty natural desire to improve and to perform well. Some organizations try to figure out how to force that. But I think when you engage as you're describing everybody and getting better, I think that really taps into something that people want to be a part of.

Greg Pothoff: That's right. If others see that those behaviors are being recognized as being good, something we desire, and those people are promoted because they are capable to go and solve other problems and improve other areas, it starts to spread like wildfire. And if people see the opposite, get recognized superstars or others who are loud and vocal, or some people naturally like the spotlight and come to the front, it's usually those humble players in the background that are the ones you look past if you don't have the right mindset to identify.

Mark Graban: So thinking back to the event, what surprised you most about that day and being part of it?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, you mentioned these were all superstars. This lineup was incredible. It was great just to see them in person. But the messages were simple, so I guess it was reinforcing to me. And sometimes we can get caught up in making things complicated or solutions that only somebody with a PhD understands and hearing from CEOs of Ford and Uber and these big companies, when they come right down to the bottom line, it's do you have good visual management?

Greg Pothoff: Do you have a basic cadence in place to inspect what we expect? Standard work, problem solving? These four themes came up multiple times. And what's funny is those are the same themes that we hear from Larry Colt and from our GE transformation. It's no different.

Greg Pothoff: It's back to the.

Mark Graban: As. As an engineer on the way home, I built a spreadsheet, a little grid of the different speakers and some of the core themes. And it's not that every speaker touched on every core theme, but that consistency of people coming from different professions and industries that focus on continuous improvement. One that stood out to me, everyone from the Cleveland Clinic, lisa Yerin and Dr. Mahalovich as CEO, wolfgang Puck, carol Dweck, the fire commissioner, and Patty Poppy all talked about the importance of learning from mistakes.

Mark Graban: And I think that's a really fundamental, basic element of a lean mindset of learning instead of punishing. That was one thing that I was happy to hear so many people bring kind of that key point up. So let me maybe turn it to you from your training and your experience with Lean, your thoughts on the importance of setting things up where people can learn from mistakes.

Greg Pothoff: Boy, that's really at the heart of Unleashing, the continuous improvement power of people because they have trust in their leadership, that they won't be punished, they won't be looked down upon because they did make a mistake. What's important is you learn from that. You keep making that same mistake over and over. That's a different situation. But when you set up an environment and that's really that scientific thinking approach and rapid experimentation, how quickly can I go and learn what I just did versus what I thought would happen, and then, man, and you fail three, four times, and then you succeed.

Greg Pothoff: And that success is the cue in your mind that says, man, I want to do that again, especially if we celebrate that. And I think Patty Popey talked about that as know. One thing she mentioned that kind of set me back a little bit. Hearing from an operational leader was to lead with love.

Mark Graban: Yeah, that's the word she used. Yeah. I was like, what?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, you're not supposed to use that word, but no, that was great because she said, man, you look at these football teams, basketball teams, and the players on the bench celebrating and hugging because of something that they did well, and here we are making parts that fly planes, and it's powerful, so we should be celebrating more. I thought that was great.

Mark Graban: Yeah. So what advice, Greg, would you have for others who are trying to get started developing a lean mindset or hopefully continuing to further develop their lean mindset? Piece of advice for the listeners?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, I would, one, make sure that you're in an environment that wants that. We have a short time here as we go through our work careers. It goes in a blink of an eye. I mean, I met you, Mark, what, 20 some years ago was the first time we met, and now we've touched base again, and I can't believe it that it's that long. So you want to put yourself in an environment that has a lean mindset, and I would make sure that you find a coach or a mentor, somebody that you have a relationship with, trust, but also that has been through the same types of problems that you're facing now.

Greg Pothoff: There's always somebody out there to give back, and they talked about that as well at this event, was once you've learned all of this, at some point you have an obligation to give back. I would say if you're early in your career, look for that environment, find a coach and grow and learn. And then as you go through your career, wear both hats, give back and be a coach. But also at the same time, don't let your success stifle you. Keep stretching yourself with another coach.

Mark Graban: Yeah. It seems like, Greg, you're personally in that situation where you're both mentoring and learning as you keep progressing through your work and your absolutely.

Greg Pothoff: You know, one of the benefits of de we're a very large organization, and there's tons of great talent within the company, and I would say at the top of the company with Larry Colt, too. He continues to stretch and coach. You know, sometimes I think he knows the answer when he's asking the question, and sometimes I think he wants to just hear the answer, but he doesn't give direction or tell you what to do. It's more about where we want. To be and how can we get there.

Greg Pothoff: And boy, that's fulfilling to one, have the trust of a leader in you to help do that and be part of that value something bigger than yourself.

Mark Graban: So when I think about leading in this way and asking questions is a classic, I think lean leadership style. Thinking back through your progression, what's one change you've had to make personally to lead in this way? If that's trying to build that habit of asking questions instead of giving direction or something else.

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, I've gone through several transitions in my career. I've been in about four major companies up until this point. I would say as you progress to leading a plant, to leading a region, to supporting a globe, there's a balance between being in the trench and getting really specific and micro and making some moves and changes. At Gamba. At point and at the same time having a balance to make sure that the business is being communicated to on what is our vision and where are we going and why are we doing this?

Greg Pothoff: And I think that why question is something that I've had to evolve over time to make sure that in my mind, I know where I think we want to go, but I think we've got to bounce that off others, get some consensus and then make sure that we're casting that vision to everyone. And that helps keep everybody moving as they move and take their steps. It's towards a consistent strategy or vision, so to say. So I think it's a combination of both day by day improvements but providing that vision.

Mark Graban: Well, thanks Greg. We've been joined again by Greg Pothoff with GE Aerospace. Maybe one final question for you, Greg. You talked about how you and I'd crossed paths 20 years ago. We both started in the auto industry at different companies and we crossed paths when I was working for a software company that was there working with you at an auto supplier.

Mark Graban: And as Larry Culp talked about, I think during his concluding remarks, something about the influence of the automotive industry being sort of loud and clear at the event. Not just having CEOs from Ford and Uber there, but Patty. Poppy, who you mentioned. She started at General Motors and then moved into the energy sector. And she's now CEO of PG E.

Mark Graban: You've switched, as you mentioned earlier, from automotive into aerospace. So having done that, I think the question is what have you learned or what advice would you have for somebody else who is changing industries, finding an environment that wants them in kind of a new and unfamiliar sector?

Greg Pothoff: Yeah, I can tell you it's intimidating because I had been in automotive for almost 25 years and at some point I'm either going to just stay in automotive and retire there or try to broaden a bit my background and understandings and learn. So boy, when I heard about the opportunity here at GE and the ability to learn such a great industry like aerospace and its evolution, I would say take the risk. Take the risk, provided you know what you're going into. Embraces, at least from my perspective, embraces a lean culture as far as how they want to improve and reach their strategic goals and objectives. So I think it was the best decision I made.

Greg Pothoff: I think, obviously, you want to partner with a company and you want to grow and support that company as they move forward, but you also want to look at your own personal career and development and what a better way than to jump into something you don't know how it works?

Mark Graban: Well, like you said, it's an important mission and there's a great opportunity to learn and keep growing and have a growth mindset, as Carol Dweck and so many of the other speakers talked about and to continuously. You know, Greg, I'm really glad we could cross paths at the event. Again, I appreciate GE's invitation for me to be there as an outsider. And thank you so much for taking the time to kind of share some thoughts and reflections with us here today.

Greg Pothoff: Thanks very much, Mark. And again, it was great to see you and I'm excited to hear more about the event and other folks that got to reflect on the great learnings from the Lean mindset.

Mark Graban: Well, thanks to both Sam and Greg for sharing their reflections. If you want to view the videos from the GE Lean Mindset event, you can look for links in the show notes. LeanBlog.org/487.

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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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