Leadership Move Four: Lead through Visible Participation, not Proclamation

Perhaps the greatest falsehood in change management is the myth of “management buy-in.” When different levels of an organization are asked if they have management’s commitment, they inevitably respond, “Oh yeah, we have their buy-in. They are...


Perhaps the greatest falsehood in change management is the myth of “management buy-in.” When different levels of an organization are asked if they have management’s commitment, they inevitably respond, “Oh yeah, we have their buy-in. They are 100-percent behind this.” However, being “behind” an initiative is quite different than being “in front” of it.

Pull don’t Push

A major element of a lean manufacturing process is pulling product through the process, not pushing it through. Change management is the same. The leader must be pulling the organization through the change process, not pushing it through. When a leader is pushing, people do not know if they are being pushed toward something better or off a cliff — they do not have this concern if leaders are out in front and pulling.

Too many leaders think that by allocating resources, attending some reporting sessions, and writing a few company-wide e-mails, they have done their part in leading lean. That may be enough for a new product launch, a fundraising campaign or a new computer system, but it is not enough for cultural and operational transformation. A leader cannot write a proclamation that the organization will become lean and expect people to automatically adopt new practices and different ways of thinking. Management buy-in must eventually turn into leadership commitment or the organization will never reach its full potential.

The Law of Buy-In

In John C. Maxwell’s best selling book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” he states that many people believe that if the cause is good enough, people will automatically buy into it and follow. But that’s not how leadership really works. People buy into the leader first, then the leader’s vision. Having an understanding of that changes your whole approach to leading people. You cannot separate leaders from the causes they promote. It cannot be done, no matter how hard you try. It is not an either/or proposition — the two always go together.

As a leader, having a great vision and a worthy cause is not enough to get people to follow you. You have to become a better leader — you must get your people to buy into you. That is the price you have to pay if you want your vision to have a chance of becoming a reality. You cannot ignore the Law of Buy-In and remain successful as a leader.

What Does Commitment Look Like?

Simply put — active engagement. Are leaders participating in activities that transform the organization, or are they watching from the sidelines?
Leaders often feel they do not have the time to commit to active participation. They think it is sufficient to proclaim the importance of lean. As the adage goes, “Actions speak louder than words.” The way leaders spend their time influences the organization’s priorities. People watch — some purposefully, others unconsciously — the everyday actions of leaders. If leaders spend their time on financial reviews, presentations and status reports, then the people will mimic those priorities. If leaders participate in (or ideally lead) kaizen events, waste walks, problem-solving and coaching, the organization will understand that lean warrants priority status. If “not enough time” is the leader’s excuse for not participating in lean, then everyone at the company will cite a lack of time as well. If in reading this you think you really will not have time, participation in lean does not mean micro-management. It does mean coaching, side-by-side engagement, encouragement and support.

Setting a good example is not the only reason to actively participate in lean. By participating, leaders directly observe how lean is being understood (or not understood) and applied. Seeing people solve problems, identifying and eliminating waste, and working with teams tells a leader more about the lean transformation’s current state than reports, walk-throughs and second-hand stories.

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