Do you follow me?

by C. Villefrance Moeller, TalesOfLeading

“In particular, it has been important for me to know what the leaders thought their task was” said a director once to me after a workshop. It had been a surprise for the management team of 8 how little they new about the company’s business process from end to end. In their every day life of keeping the business running they had each focused on their own department, considering the rest irrelevant for them. 

The director had been appointed director of a distribution company a year earlier and taken over from an old patriarch. At least, that was the way he and the CFO described him. Due to a decline in the numbers of magazines they where distributing there was a need to redefine the company. A new vision had been drawn and a search for new customers had started. The director and the CFO had been part of the process to define this new vision together with the owners. They had shared it with the rest of the management team and the employees, but they were still struggling to change the way they worked.

What is the task you and your team is trying to solve?

It might be a simple question, but it continuously strikes me how difficult it can be to answer. Working in silo’s makes it even more difficult. It like they are different companies within the company sometimes competing each other more than working together. In the case of the distribution company the management team consisted of 6 department managers in addition to the director and the CFO. Two of the managers had more than 30 years of seniority, two had about 8 to 10 years of seniority and the last two had entered the company within the last year. I had the chance to observe a few of their management meetings. The two senior managers knew a lot about what worked and what didn’t work in the company. Each time one of the newly appointed managers laid out a problem for discussion, the more senior managers always came up with solutions and rejected other proposals as not possible. This hampered the reflection process in the management team. Confronted with a problem the current situation wasn’t sufficiently clarified and possible actions wasn’t tested. An other thing I noticed was that the customers perspective disappeared from the discussions.

It starts with purpose

What I have learned from my personal experience is, that it’s very difficult to follow a leader if you don’t understand the purpose of the task. And the purpose can be perceived differently according to your position in the organization. Customer service might consider the purpose to give the customers what they want, production what they make and product development what they dream about. These perception can not all be right and not all be wrong. It depends on the business case. Somehow we will be trying to see the meaning of the work we do. Boaz Tamir from The Israel Lean Institute discuss what he see as the consequences of loosing the sight of purpose in his article Whiny Employees or Organizations Lacking Purpose and Passion? When people are not engage in their companies they do not feel free to innovate.

See the real world

I have found it very use full to do a value stream mapping (1) with a management team. It confronts them with the primary task of the company they lead and the way they serve the customers. I can be a way to check with reality in stead of relying on the organization you have in your mind.  I do not see the managers in the case story as reluctant to change. They have just been used to a director who always came with an answer. They were not used to take part of the reflection process creating a mutual picture of the purpose. This leads to one of my favourite quotes:

“Leadership is not knowing the answer; it’s the capacity to release the collective intelligence and insight of groups and organizations” (2)

What about you:

  • What is your objecktive?
  • What is your boss objective?
  • What is your team members objectives?
  • What are you all trying to attchive?
  • Is it the same task you are working on?

(1) Rother, Mike and Shook, John: Learning to see, The Lean Enterprise Institute, Inc. 2003

(2) Binney, George, Williams, Colin og Wilke, Gerhard (2012): “Living Leadership – A Practical Guide for Ordinary Heroes”. Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.