Steve Jobs said “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” Often when teaching classes in Lean engagement and Lean methodologies, I post two banners on the wall with the following quotes:

“Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” Will Rogers

“Nemo Solus Satis Sapit” (No one alone is sufficiently wise, or, No one is wise enough by themselves.) Attributed to Plautus
These quotes should serve as reminders that “the Team” will always come to a better, more objective, more encompassing, and more complete solutions to sets of challenges than will the individual. This is why team engagement is so critically important. And, it is why understanding how to pull or inspire the best performance out of one’s team, and teammates, is to understand good Lean leadership practices. They also apply to leading high performance teams in high stress scenarios.

By no means complete, below some of these good leadership practices are encapsulated, in no order of precedence, and presented rather as a random list, with no single idea of being more important than another:

1. Empower others. Help people learn through doing. Help develop the capabilities of others so that they can find the answers themselves. Don’t micromanage. Here is a link to a brief, wonderful Nicolas Modig talk on this particular point.

In Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says, “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” John Maxwell once said: “Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.”

2. Practice patience and toleration. This needs little further explanation or development and are skills absolutely necessary to draw out the best results in one’s self as well as others.

3. Be a good storyteller. Teach by example, use real examples taken from your own learning experiences, make it personal, draw your audience in, inspire.

4. Understand and know how to implement and foster Vulnerability Based Trust. Patrick Lencioni defines vulnerability-based trust as a place where leaders, “comfortably and quickly acknowledge, without provocation, their mistakes, weaknesses, failures, and needs for help. They also recognize the strength of others even when those strengths exceed their own.”

5. Pay attention to the subtleties. Often the most obvious thing happening is the least important. Learn to hone one’s powers of discrimination. Seek root causes to implement root changes. “Thou shalt separate the earth from the fire, the subtle from the gross, suavely, and with great ingenuity.” Attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, the ‘father’ of the Greek school of hermetic philosophy.

6. Listen for understanding. Develop and practice one’s reflective listening skills. Most people hear, but do not focus on listening. Most people are concentrating on the defensive excuses to justify their own actions before a speaker has even completely finished their thought. Allow everyone to be fully heard. Use questions to help others develop their thoughts more fully, don’t make statements.

7. Foster Outward mindset versus Inward mindset. The following summary is taken from Leadership and Self Deception, by the Arbinger Institute.

Much of Outward mindset thinking can be summarized in the single thought that if one has the opportunity to improve something for another human being at any time, no matter what the circumstances or the engagement, be it a friend, a family member, a coworker, a team partner, or a stranger, and we do not take the action to do so, then we are engaging in an act self deception. This thought has far reaching consequences. Outward mindset also helps allow us to take responsibility for, and thereby constructively change and/or improve, every interpersonal relationship we find ourselves engaged in. Team engagements are made up of personal relationships.

8. Foster Growth mindset versus Fixed mindset. The concept of Growth versus Fixed mindset is developed out of the work of Carol Dweck, and was expanded upon by Joanne Boaler, both of Stanford University. Dweck's book, MindSet: The New Psychology of Success outlines her thinking.

In its simplest form the concept of Growth versus Fixed mindset is the belief that a person is either born with a limit upon their capabilities, intelligence, and other factors (Fixed mindset) versus the idea that a person can grow their capacities through education, practice, and training (Growth mindset). Carol Dweck explains that in a fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, and their talents, are fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that. Then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset students understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone is the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter, or improve, if they work at it.

This theory can be expanded into developing a deeper understanding of human behavior, such as how an individual learns, or faces failure, challenges, and constraints. It is now taken by some as a general fact that mindset influences outcome. It helps explain why someone, if they believe that they are not inherently smart, or capable, or that they are limited in some capacity, simply shys away from a challenge at the offset for fear of failure. To paraphrase from Prof. Dweck, mindset can help determine how one proceeds when faced with a challenge. This is countered by the belief that human qualitative skills can be cultivated or enhanced with effort. As with mindset itself – it can be modified by behavior. Or, as so brilliantly rephrased and stated on page 74 of the Lean Strategy by Michael Balle, et al.: “you don’t think yourself into a new way of acting, but you act your way into a new way of thinking.”

One of the more important takeaways from this is corollary to a point raised in Professor Renee Cheng’s brief but enlightening video presentation on debunking five myths related to Lean and IPD. One does not need the “A-Team” for a high intensity Lean Team engagement. Behavior can be modified with training.

9. Extend/Expand Growth mindset into Infinite mindset. Growth mindset may be extended into the concept of Infinite mindset. Based on Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game, and derived from James P. Carse's book, Finite and Infinite Games, its theories are applied to the domain of business and organizational structure. Carse distinguishes two different types of games: finite games (e.g. chess), played for the purpose of ending play consistent with static rules which pre-define winning; and infinite games (e.g. business) which are played for the purpose of continuous play.

The end goals and strategies are therefore very different. Leaders who embrace an infinite mindset should, based on the different end goals, build stronger, more innovative, inspiring, resilient, learning based organizations with a strategy targeting infinite sustainability. The infinite game is the long game, and as such, benefits may take longer to accrue over greater lengths of time than those associated with a finite mindset.

Business fits all the characteristics of an infinite game: there may be known as well as unknown players; new players can join at any time; each player has their own strategy; there is no set of fixed rules; and there is no beginning or end.

Further, business, when viewed through an infinite mindset, should not have winners and losers, but only players who simply come and go in the course of the continuous play for varying reasons. It has been said that if any business arrangement or negotiation is not based on a Win-Win scenario, then at some point the business, or the negotiation, or the endeavor, or undertaking, will ultimately fail. In an Infinite mindset, there are not individual winners, there is only the intent of an endeavor that ends successfully. If it fails then there was a flaw in the process. In the Infinite game, there is no failure, there is only the opportunity to learn, improve and continue.

An example of applied Infinite mindset thinking is there are no “Best Practices.” That is a superlative, the “Ne Plus Ultra.” In reality there are only “Current Best Practices,” each awaiting yet another potential improvement. Continuous Improvement becomes one of the guiding and driving forces of a system. There is always room for improvement, or refinement in any system, plan or undertaking. Plan, Do, Check and Act/Adjust. Then do it again, and magain, and again, ad infinitum. Solve et Coagula. The Ouroboros.

The great cathedral builders of old had a practice of always leaving an element of the building incomplete as a reminder that perfection, or completion, does not really exist on Earth. In their world view, Perfection existed only in God and the realm of the Divine. It is an ideal to which we might, or must, aspire, but a destination to which we will never arrive while here. Yet strive we must.

In the next segment we will continue, looking at 15 further Skills and Practices conducive to the successful guidance of High Intensity, High Performance Lean Teams.

add one

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.