Friday, November 12, 2010

Lean Quote: Don't Tell How To Do It

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

In honor of Veterans day I thought it would be appropriate to highlight a quote from a great military leader. George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a United States Army officer best known for his leadership while commanding corps and armies as a general during World War II.

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." — George S. Patton

Unfortunately, ingenuity in many American corporations has gone the way of the hula-hoop. But intellectual capital is the name of the game these days - and it is the enlightened manager's duty to learn how to play. Only those companies will succeed whose people are empowered to think for themselves and respond creatively to the myriad of changes going on all around them. Simply put, managers must make the shift from manipulators to manifesters. They must learn how to coach their people into increasingly higher states of creative thinking and creative doing. They must realize that the root of their organization's problem is not the economy, not management, not cycle time or outsourcing, but their own inability to tap into the power of their workforce's innate creativity.

If you want to empower people, honor their ideas. Give them room to challenge the status quo. Give them room to move - and, by extension, move mountains. Why? Because people identify most with their ideas. "I think therefore, I am" is their motto. People feel good when they're encouraged to originate and develop ideas. It gives their work meaning, makes it their own, and intrinsically motivates.

Many managers, however, are so wrapped up in our own ideas that they rarely take the time to listen to others. Their subordinates know this and, consequently, rarely share their ideas with them. But it doesn't have to be this way. And it doesn't necessarily require a lot of time. Some time, yes. But not as much as you might think. Bottom line, the time it takes you to listen to the ideas of others is not only worth it - the success of your enterprise depends on it. Choose not to listen and you will end up frantically spending a lot more time down the road asking people for their ideas about how to save your business from imminent collapse. By that time, however, it will be too late. Your workforce will have already tuned you out.

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  1. Interesting quote. Of all people, Patton would have been one of the last persons I would have expected to have said this.

  2. Definitely an interesting quote from General Patton. He was tough and driven. You have to be able to delegate to be successful at his level.


  3. I am finding in my work in industry that dealing with ex-military officers is great. They seem to be able to give direction without telling them what to do. Quite contrary to what I thought originally.

    On the flip side, low ranking ex-military when put into management roles seem to do more telling of how to do something. It seems harder for them to give up the control.

    My personal speculation is an officer is trained on how to give direction. So they are used to doing this when they join a company after serving.