In today’s post I will look at the qualities of a lean leader. I have been using the term “lean leader” in my posts. This is not an official title, and this does not mean “supervisor” or “manager”. A lean leader is someone who takes initiative in improving one’s process and in developing those around them.
I have wondered which qualities a lean leader needs. I believe that the best source for this is Michael J Gelb’s 1998 book, “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci.”Michael researched Leonardo’s life and identified seven attributes to help one think like Leonardo Da Vinci. Michael listed them as Italian words to pay homage to the master. These are as follows;
- Curiosità – An insatiable quest for knowledge and continuous improvement
- Dimostrazione – Learning from experience
- Sensazione – Sharpening the senses
- Sfumato – Managing ambiguity and change
- Arte/Scienza – Whole-brain thinking
- Corporalità – Body-mind fitness
- Connessione – Systems thinking
Being curious is an essential attribute a lean leader should have. Being curious forces you to ask questions. Asking questions allows the other party to be involved. This leads to continuous improvement and discoveries. Michael defined this as “an insatiably curious approach to life and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.”
This can be described as a willingness to fail in order to learn from mistakes. Michael described this as “a commitment to test knowledge through experience, persistence, and a willingness to learn from mistakes.”The example I have here is of Soichiro Honda. Soichiro did not have any formal education, and he went on to build Honda Motor Co.
Taiichi Ohno would be proud of this attribute. Michael described this as “the continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.” As the lean learners know, Ohno was famous for his “Ohno circle”. Ohno used to teach supervisors, managers and engineers alike to learn to observe the wastes by making them stand inside a hand drawn chalk circle. They had to stay inside there until they start seeing the wastes like Ohno did.
Sfumato refers to the style of painting Leonardo used. Sfumato is the technique of allowing tones and colors to shade gradually into one another, producing softened outlines or hazy forms. Michael described this as “a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.” Toyota Production System has many paradoxes and counter-intuitive principles. Most of this is because of the trial and error methods that Ohno utilized. All of the manufacturing norms were challenged and broken.
This attribute represents the synergy between art and science; logic and intuition. The classic TV show Star Trek played around this theme since the two main characters Spock and Kirk represented logic and intuition respectively. A lean leader needs both logic and intuition in order to develop oneself. Michael described this as “the development of balance between science and art, logic and imagination”.
In the Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi talked about fluidity. “Really skilful people never get out of time, and are always deliberate, and never appear busy.”To me, this is the essence of Corporalita. Michael described this as “the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise.” The quality of Corporalita is achieved only through constant practice as one strives towards their ideal state.
Dr. Deming and Eliyahu Glodratt would be proud to see this attribute on the list. This attribute is about “systems thinking”. Michael described this as “a recognition and appreciation for the interconnections of all things and phenomena.” A lean leader should be able to see everything from a big picture as well as a small picture view points. My favorite meme about Systems Thinking is the Never Miss A Leg Day meme. Local optimization of the just exercising the upper body leads to poor system optimization (muscular upper body and disproportionate skinny legs).
Leonardo, the Writer:
Leonardo da Vinci was also a writer. In his notebooks, he wrote numerous “jests” and fables. I will finish this post with a jest and a fable from the great mind of Leonardo Da Vinci:
It was asked of a painter why, since he made such beautiful figures, his children were so ugly; to which the painter replied that he made his pictures by day, and his children by night.
The Tree & the Pole, A Fable:
A tree which grew luxuriantly, lifting to heaven its plume of green leaves, objected to the presence of a straight, dry old pole beside it.
“Pole, you are too close to me. Can you not move further away?”
The pole pretended not to hear and made no reply.
Then the tree turned to the thorn hedge surrounding it.
“Hedge, can you not go somewhere else? You irritate me.”
The hedge pretended not to hear, and made no reply.
“Beautiful tree,” said a lizard, raising his wise little head to look up at the tree, “do you not see that the pole is holding you up straight? Do you not realize that the hedge is protecting you from bad company?
Always keep on learning…
In case you missed it, my last post was Dorothy’s Red Shoes and Toyota.