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In the last segment we focused on some of the mental and psychological approaches and mindsets to be instilled and fostered in the leaders and members of successful high performance Lean team engagements. In this segment, we will focus a little more on the ethics and principles which should serve as some of the foundational Rules of Engagement for our teams and its members.

To continue:

1. Practice maximum communication and sharing. High Performance Teams display a higher degree of well organized inter-Team Communication geared towards rapid and easy absorption, assimilation and understanding of dense information.

2. Use power and influence mindfully, ethically, responsibly, and with empathy. This cannot be overstated. Bad seeds yield bad fruit, good seeds yield good fruit. A leader sets the nature and tone of an engagement. Set high standards and expectations and the team will respond and perform accordingly.

3. Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Period. This should need no explanation. Unless we are constructing a Win-Win scenario/engagement for ALL parties involved in an undertaking, eventually, at some point, the endeavor will fail.

4. Train for performance – not results. No end ever justifies unscrupulous means, under any circumstances, no matter how expedient it may appear in the ’moment.’

5. Understand the following formula: Adversity => Challenge => Opportunity => Advantage

Adversity leads to Challenge, which leads to a learning Opportunity and self growth, which leads us to a new Advantage.

Adversity has the roots of its own potential and eventual resolution in the source of the conflict. For those of us who love the teachings, philosophy and world view of Joseph Campbell, or who understand the meaning of the phrase spoken by Galileo Galilei, “We conclude that God is known first through Nature…,” or the real meaning of St. Francis of Assisi’s gifted ability to speak the “Language of the Birds,” I offer the following allegorical interpretation of a poisonous snake embodying the idea of Adversity, or the Adversary.

If someone is made ill, to the point of eventual death or serious injury, by the ingestion or exposure to a poisonous substance – be it arsenic, mercury, radiation or some other toxic agent – and are subsequently rushed to an emergency facility to deal with the exposure. Upon arrival, are they re-exposed or dosed with that same toxin to effect a cure? Does the victim of arsenic poisoning receive a dose of modified arsenic as a treatment for curing the effects of the poison? No, they do not.

Yet, when bit by a poisonous snake, what must be administered to immediately counter the effects of the poison coursing through the bloodstream? Antivenom, or more correctly venom antiserum, made by refining the antibodies created when smaller amounts of the same poison are administered to a living creature. It points to a greater principle, if viewed as suggested in the first paragraph above. The poison, or adversity, contains the seeds of its own overcoming within itself. The trick is in learning how to find and apply it. Adversity or challenges lead to the opportunity to learn and/or improve, and once that learning or improvement is realized or implemented, it leads to an advantage that one may gain for use in future engagements.

6. Understand the difference between, and guide for, Constructive Conflict versus Destructive Conflict. Conflict, just like variation, is almost inevitable in human engagements. It is what drives change. Learn to embrace it and constructively guide it to solution and resolution, not to dissolution and hostility. Lack of conflict leads to inertia. Inertia constrains motion. Conflict, when resolved correctly, leads to forward motion, learning and improvement. Conflict presents us with an Opportunity to move forward.

7. There are no mistakes, there is no fixing, there are only opportunities to learn and improve. Therefore there are no stupid questions. None. Ever.

8. Understand that diversity is a strength. We are all limited in our knowledge and comprehension by our beliefs, our views, our predilections, our experiences, our teachers, our mindsets, and a host of other limiting factors. Therefore no matter how much we try, all individual views are subjective. Remember the allegorical story of the Eight Blind Men and the Elephant. Including the opinions and perspectives of other members of a Team ‘lends’ objectivity to the final conclusions based on a joint understanding of a constraint, a challenge or an adverse situation. The closer we can get to the objective view, versus a subjective view, the more whole is our understanding of a subject and the more effective our derived solutions to constraints will become. Outward mindset vs. Inward Mindset.

9. Care about others, treat them with dignity and respect. Practice empathy. Colin Powell once said,

“Leadership is all about people. It is not about organizations. It is not about plans. It is not about strategies. It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done. You have to be people-centered.”
Respect for People, and for one another, one of the 6 Tenets of Lean.

10. Be humble, seek neither praise nor recognition. Surrender your ego. Practice real disinterestedness, meaning remain uninfluenced by selfishness, or considerations of personal advantage. Work for the greater good. Truly optimize the whole, not the parts.

11. Accept and expect non-closure and uncertainty. Be flexible in all things except one's principles. It is only by the adaptation of this frame of mind that new and unthought of solutions may present themselves. When we believe we already have the answer, or know the way forward with certainty, possible and unknown solutions remain closed to us.

12. Learn how to speak last. Speak less. Listen more. Allow everyone to express their thoughts and themselves uninfluenced by your own signaling, conscious or otherwise. When listening, do not nod, or shake your head, express approval or disapproval, or signal your own emotions while others are speaking. Here is a wonderful brief video by Simon Sinek expounding upon this particular important trait.

13. Learn, Understand and Practice Emotional Intelligence. No matter the scale or nature of any project or engagement remember that it is a human engagement. Human beings are the sources of the solutions we need to overcome challenges, constraints, and adversity.

Daniel Goleman describes five main components to Emotional Intelligence as follows:
  • Self-awareness – the ability to recognize and understand personal moods, emotions and drives and the effect of them on both ourselves and others.
  • Self-regulation – the ability to exercise self-control, to express your emotions appropriately.
  • Internal motivation - “a variety of self-management whereby we mobilize our positive emotions to drive us toward our goals.”
  • Empathy – the ability to correctly understand how others are feeling
  • Social skills – the skills needed to handle and influence other people's emotions effectively, which we only gain by first being self-aware, self-regulating and empathetic.

“Anyone can get angry — that is easy — or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy."
from Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics from Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Book II, 1109a.27.


14. Practice and know how to apply and facilitate the implementation of the Lean Principles and Tools:
  • Collaborate, really collaborate
  • Optimize the whole not the parts
  • Tightly couple action with learning
  • Understand projects and delivery systems as networks of reliable commitments
  • Increase relatedness
15. Understand, and know how to apply the Six Tenets of Lean:
  • Practice respect for people
  • Again - Optimize the whole not the parts
  • Generate value
  • Eliminate waste
  • Focus always on flow
  • And most importantly, in all ways and always, drive and implement continuous improvement at every level and at every opportunity

There is an old proverb that comes to mind -

"To change the world, change your country; to change your country change your state; to change your state, change your town; to change your town, change your family; to change your family; change your Self."
We cannot manage others until we can manage ourselves. Practice the Art of Self-Regulation as noted by Daniel Goleman above, and by so many others. Note that honest self-awareness is the prerequisite to our being able to do that. We cannot drive improvement in anything unless we start with our own Selves. We cannot master anything in life until we learn to master ourselves. It isn't easy, we each have our own challenges to overcome. But rarely is anything easy worth having. Often it is the things we work hardest to get that are the things we value the most. And, it is never over, Continuous improvement is the key. Small constant steps, perseverance and consistency make up the way.

When we are standing at the peak of a mountain of a personal achievement, we see the next peak in the distance, the one we seek to attain next. We go down the mountain side towards our new goal, through the valley between the peaks, and begin the difficult and upward ascent towards that new goal. When we arrive at the new peak of attainment, we see the vista of a whole new chain of mountains and potential achievements before us, that we did not even know existed before we made it to the newly reached summit. The reward was not in the attainment itself, it is what we learned, and the struggles we overcame, while making the ascent. The value of the quest is in the journey itself, as there is no end on the road to improvement.

In the next, and final part of this series, we will briefly explore Constructive Leadership vs Destructive Leadership and the idea that learning what not to do is sometimes more important than learning what to do.

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The founder of Project Leadership and Delivery with over 40 years of experience in Industrial, Commercial, and Residential Construction. Special emphasis in Lean Construction and collaborative project delivery, Teams, best leadership and management practices, change implementation. Approved Instructor for the LCI, certified Instructor – AGC-LCEP; Member – AGC Lean Construction Forum Steering Committee. He remains passionate about building, improving our industry, and thereby, our society. The goal is creating safer industry environments: physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.