We’ve previously discussed leadership standard work (LSW) and employee engagement. Now it’s time to get personal: what can you do to facilitate change in your organization?  It has been demonstrated that the simple (not necessarily easy) act of leaders going to gemba and engaging employees in reviews and coaching of their improvement accelerates positive change.  We have advised, encouraged, cajoled and at times preached (when zeal and frustration overcome sound coaching principles) this simple yet powerful leadership methodology.  Yet when LSW is introduced to leaders, there is often a reluctance to fully embrace it.

Simply sharing or teaching the concepts of gemba walks and coaching is insufficient.  For leaders to truly embrace the discipline, often they have to shift their underlying assumptions of how they lead. This shift of underlying assumptions that inform who they are, as defined by themselves, and how they behave (well-tuned habits) is a significant challenge to an organization’s adoption and inculcation of Lean philosophy and discipline.  It can be too great a risk to abandon old ways that led to previous successes, though it is easy to ask subordinates to adopt new ways of doing things.  Comfort zones are powerful barricades to personal change.

In the book “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading,” authors Heifetz and Linsky describe an approach to identifying the habits that hold us in check as standing on the balcony, looking down on the dance floor[gemba].  This is the deliberate process of observing oneself within the act of leading. Very few of us naturally come to this. It is a discipline.  By observing ourselves and those we are interacting with in the moment provides powerful insights into our habits and behaviors as leaders, uncovering our blind spots and comfort zones.

So how do leaders get on the balcony?  One approach is to accept coaching from someone outside of the leader’s circle of influence.  A Lean Healthcare coach can observe the leader in action and reflect in a positive, constructive manner what has been observed.  The leader, receiving this feedback, can then make adjustments, often times incrementally, going back to the dance floor to test personal changes and Lean leadership practices. To receive coaching, the leader must, at a minimum, be open to the feedback and at least be willing to risk doing things differently.

Allow me to make an essential point to this approach.  Even if a leader sees anew how current habits and behaviors are impeding positive change, the true change occurs by doing.  The adage “behave your way into a new way of thinking” is essential and can be successful and less risky with a coach by the leader’s side.


KirkwoodBillRSToday’s post was written by Bill Kirkwood, Ph.D., Director at HPP.

Bill has 30 years healthcare leadership experience in both system and individual hospital settings in the Mid-West and North-East, and oversight of change management activities and Lean Transformation engagements.  This experience includes serving in an executive capacity in Quality, Operations and Human Resources. 

He holds a Masters in Health Administration from Xavier University and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Organizational Behavior from the Union Institute and University. 

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