By Mark Rounds, VP of Corporate Development
As I travel down the parallel paths of Lean Construction and Servant Leadership, I continue to find synergies between both approaches to leadership. The first synergy I discussed is the respect for the worker. The next synergy is seeking the optimal state.
The optimal state begins by bringing meaning to one’s work. It is the leader’s responsibility to provide an atmosphere of purpose to the work of the employees. Greenleaf emphasizes awareness as the method to reach the unattainable. Leaders engage with employees in the here-and-now to seek solutions together, and not simply giving them direction. Deming emphasizes this in his Point #7 where leaders help the workers do a better job. The Deming cycle of Plan-Do-Check-Act is the process of continuous improvement. Teaching this to each worker and enabling them to experiment with improvements allows a firm to have true process improvement. Allowing the workers to enhance their environment is the heart of reaching the optimal state.
Understanding why is important for intrinsic motivation. Simon Sinek poses “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Leaders inspire action from the employees when the worker understands why they are performing their work. Do the workers show up every day just to draw a paycheck? If so, how well do you think they will perform? However, what if the worker showed up every day understanding how his or her efforts make the world a better place. Would the worker be motivated? Certainly! Making work meaningful inspires employees to attain the unattainable – the optimal state. It starts with an understanding of why the work is being performed, and continues by improving every process (Deming’s Point #5). Deming directs leaders to break down barriers (Point #9) and allow people to work together to improve the company. Greenleaf echoes this sentiment by emphasizing that continuous improvement requires the involvement of the workers through people building, not people using.
Greenleaf states “Faith is the choice of the nobler hypothesis.” It takes strong faith by the leader to allow the employees to be fully engaged in the process. Many firms prefer to control the workers through policies and procedures. There is a place for policy; but to have the freedom to optimize, employees need guiding principles. Principles allow the employee to use their creative ideas to enhance their environment to reach the goal of the optimal state.