What does operational excellence mean? How can leaders create a culture of continuous improvement? And what does leadership really mean and look like?
In his book The Façade of Excellence: Defining a New Normal of Leadership, John Dyer seeks to answer these questions by exploring four different leadership styles and illustrates through stories what it takes to transform an organization from a command-and-control culture to one of collaboration, engagement, and excellence.
John and I met in person at the 2022 Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference in Dallas, where he, Billy Taylor (another author featured in my author interview series about his book The Winning Link – check it out here), I and others were featured in an author showcase. I invited John to join me in conversation about his book and leadership – and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with you here. Check out the post below for the full video interview and highlighted excerpts from the discussion.
(It was also at AME Dallas that I had the honor of taking the stage with GE CEO Larry Culp to talk about his leadership journey and how he is creating a culture of excellence at General Electric – check out some of my takeaways from that discussion here).
Congratulations to the Double Book Giveaway Winner!
In February of 2023, John and I gave away one signed copy of each of our books to one lucky reader.
If you missed this giveaway, be sure to sign up here to get notified about the next one.
About John Dyer and The Façade of Excellence
John Dyer has been in the team-based continuous improvement business for almost 38 years now: ten years with General Electric, ten years with Ingersol Rand, and leading his own consulting practice for nearly two decades.
About nine years ago, he started writing articles for Industry Week Magazine and they became very popular over the years. You can find a link to all of John’s Industry Week articles here – they are engaging and insightful articles, and are the foundation for his book! One of the articles he wrote caught the eye of a publisher who asked John to turn it into his book The Facade of Excellence.
In the book, John identifies four styles of leadership: the Crisis Leader, the Idea Gathering Leader, the Team Gathering Lead, and the Empowerment Leader. He conveys the lessons in his book through two styles – the first are two fictional stories of two very different leaders with contrasting management approaches (and outcomes), coupled with his analysis and insights about the leadership principles – and how to apply them – along the way.
Readers gain insights about how to navigate these different leadership styles based on what is needed for their organization and how to cultivate an empowering culture of excellence. Established leaders, new leaders, and continuous improvement practitioners alike will all benefit from John’s book and leadership lessons – and how they can improve themselves, support their people, and achieve results all at the same time.
Author Interview with John Dyer and Katie Anderson: The Façade of Excellence
Without further ado, dive into my conversation with John here about his book and much more!
In our discussion, we explore many topics about leadership and John shares stories from his time at GE and Ingersol Rand. Don’t miss out on the rich discussion – watch the video below and check out some of the highlights from our conversation below.
Below are some lightly edited excerpts from our conversation with timestamps from some of the questions I asked.
1 – What was the problem you were trying to solve, or what inspired you to write this book? (2:33)
Ever since I learned about lean, I’ve been trying to understand, ‘why is this not catching on faster?’ Because everybody understands that this [lean] is great.
The companies that have adopted [lean] empower teams of employees that can drive problem solving right at the point of manufacturing have done extremely well over the years. Those that have adopted all the lean principles, all the six Sigma principles, have done extremely well.
So, I kept asking myself, ‘if there’s so much evidence out there that this works, why isn’t every company and every organization taking this approach?’ And that’s what led to writing the book.
2 – What are the four leadership styles that you describe in the book? (9:02)
Leadership Style #1 is what I call the Crisis Leader. This is the one that’s closest to that dictator site. There is a time and a place for a crisis leader, like if an organization is suffering, and they need somebody that’s going to take the lead and help get the organization out of crisis mode.
Leadership Style #2 is the Idea Gathering Leader. This is just simply starting to ask all people within the organization for their ideas for improvement. And what’s important about that is it starts getting them thinking about the future. It also starts engaging their brains to start thinking in a different manner than what they may be used to and start looking for opportunities for improvement.
Leadership Style #3 is the Team Gathering Leader. This style needs to be more formal teams with trained facilitators to help solve difficult problems or lead Kaizen type events.
Leadership Style #4 is the Empowerment Leader. By this point you’ve done a lot of training, you’ve gotten the employees engaged, you’ve solved some problems, you’re starting to gain momentum. You’re also starting to change the culture and build trust, and now you’re ready to start asking the employees to address problems real time as they happen.
3 – How can leaders help themselves, and thus their organizations, move from this sense of needing to be in crisis mode and move into the Empowerment Leader role? (14:04)
Leaders need to go back to the Leadership Style #2 (the Idea Gathering Leader) and start engaging employees again by asking for their ideas and then slowly work back into doing teams again. The organizations that do that soonest and the best will attract the best people.
4 – Especially coming out of the COVID crisis, what is your recommendation for leaders who recognize they need to move out of crisis mode but don’t feel like they can? (19:03)
The first thing is to carve out time in your day, or on your calendar, to start behaving the way you were behaving before COVID. Whether it’s an hour a day, or 30 minutes a day, to start talking to people about the vision.
I talk in the book about how important it is to have a well-articulated vision that excites and motivates your employees, and you really need to do that before asking for their ideas for improvement because if they don’t know where the organization is headed, how can they give you any good input on what improvements need to happen?
So, carve out 30 minutes to an hour every day, pull your trusted employees together in your office, and start developing a new post-COVID vision that will really motivate and excite people. Then start communicating with your employees again and asking for their thoughts and inputs – How can we get better? How can we start on this journey again?
You may have to do some additional training because if you don’t use the tools or methodologies for several years, you start losing it.
In a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like starting over again.
5- What was your vision behind writing your book in two styles, and how was it for you to write a fiction story coupled with a non-fiction business side? (21:33)
One of my favorite books is The Goal and the author used the same kind of storytelling style. When I started writing my articles for Industry Week, I started incorporating a small story in each article.
Actually, if people read the articles back to back, you start to see the development of the characters. There’s one named Mary, she starts off as a production leader in one article and ten articles later, she’s worked her way up to a plant manager. I enjoy that style of writing.
So when I sat down to write the book, I thought, again, ‘how do you convey the sense of culture, the sense of emotion that employees go through when they are asked to participate in these things? The reluctance and fear at first, and then eventually becoming a champion. And then maybe even getting to the point where they’re a champion and having the rug pulled out from underneath them…
How do you convey that emotion that’s behind the damage that can be done if this [lean cultural transformation] isn’t done the right way?’
So I decided to develop a story and specific characters to help me portray these things.
6 – What has been the biggest shift you have made for your personal leadership style that you believe has had the greatest impact? (29:48)
When I started at General Electric, I was part of their manufacturing management program for two years, and we learned the “GE Way” to manage. As I worked my way up the ranks, we were required to go through management training and I learned how to be a very good Frank Smith (who is the villain in my book). I learned how to do a lot of the things that Frank Smith does in the book.
But over the years, I had the realization that you just don’t go very far. You don’t get the people engaged. You just don’t get the teamwork in place. It’s like pushing a rope all the time, and it’s like being in crisis all the time. At a certain point in my career, I just realized that that wasn’t the way to get things done.
7 – What is one question that I haven’t asked, or you’re not often asked about the book? (33:41)
I guess the biggest question would be – ‘what do you hope happens with this?’
I wrote the book not to make money, not to sell copies but because I’m hoping to change the narrative on what it takes to really make lean and Six Sigma successful.
We all know the tools. We all know the methodologies. So what do we need to do to catch up with those organizations, especially those in Japan that have been doing this for decades? And how do we break out of this crisis cycle that we’ve been in for really since the early 1900s?
A chance to win a copy of The Façade of Excellence and Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn!
One lucky participant received a signed copy of the paperback versions of The Façade of Excellence and my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn in February of 2023 during our double book giveaway.
Register here for the chance to win during my next book giveaway!