Interview with David Veech: Reflections on his new book “Leadersights”, Lean, & his personal leadership journey

What does love have to do with it?

Most of us are familiar with this refrain from Tina Turner’s famous song from the 1980s, but the concept of “love” is not one commonly used when people talk about “organizational transformation”.

However, love is one of the three essential leadership elements that David Veech describes in his new book Leadersights: Creating Great Leaders Who Create Great Workplaces

This year I am serving as a coach for two students in the the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business Masters of Business Operational Excellence (MBOE) program. Through the program, I met David, who is one its senior lecturers.

I had a chance to read an advance copy of Leadersights and and asked David if he would share some of his thoughts with me – and you – here on my blog. Read on to learn more about how David thinks about the connection between love and leadership, and other insights into Lean and his personal leadership journey.

Leadersights Book Giveaway

The book giveaway has now closed. Congratulations to the three winners of the Leadersights book giveaway. You can also buy your own copy of Leadersights on Amazon if you aren’t one of the lucky winners.

Leadersights Overview

In Leadersights David describes how organizations can create systems that supports the development of leaders, who can in turn develop the capability of others.

I appreciate David’s focus on leadership habits and behaviors and his contribution to the literature about the importance of the “people side” of lean. In the book, David describes specific lean leadership habits, provides techniques for how to improve leadership skills and behaviors, and shares how management systems can help monitor and reinforce those behaviors.

(Side note: If you want to learn how to improve your own personal leadership habits and deepen your coaching skills to develop others, join one of the upcoming coaching classes I’m leading for LEI and Catalysis this spring!)

Interview with David Veech

Read on to see what David had to say in response to my eight questions – and don’t miss a chance to win your own FREE copy of Leadersights by clicking here.

1. What kept you up at night and led you to write this book?

I wouldn’t say that I had that burning ache to write. Despite wanting to be a ‘writer’, the task of writing was not especially appealing.

What compelled me to write was an intriguing observation by Michael Sinocchi of Productivity Press after I’d finished speaking at the Lean HR Summit that Lean Frontiers runs. This was a few years ago and the focus of the presentation was self-efficacy. Michael remarked that he hadn’t heard anyone else talking about this as a lean topic and would I consider writing a book about it.

That was, of course, music to my ears, and a few months later we had a contract. That’s not to say I’m not passionate about the contents of the book; I am. I firmly believe this is the power organizations need to sustain any change initiative.

2. Concepts such as joy and love are not often mentioned when most people talk about Lean or process improvement. Why do you feel like the concept of “love” is one that we need to incorporate as an essential “Leadersight”?

There is no more powerful decision than Love. And the actions that follow that decision have consistently changed the world; in fact they’ve been the only things to change the world.

We’ve mistaken love as some soft emotional idea instead of one of the most demanding and difficult decisions we can make. The commitment to the development of people can only be consistently made with this decision as it’s foundation, otherwise it is only superficial.

As the true value of lean thinking requires the relentless focus on developing people, I think it’s love that is what enables the successful companies to sustain gains.

Rather than hide it behind “respect for people”, which seems to be the more acceptable term, I thought it suitable to shine the light on love instead.

3. How are you applying your Leadersight principles of Love, Learn and Let Go to your life right now?

The discoveries I’ve made in preparing for and in writing this book have forced me repeatedly to assess my own condition. I simply fall very short. I have learned at great cost that love is the foundation for great futures.

As I look back in reflection I’m distressed at how I behaved as a leader and I hope the soldiers and civilians for whom I worked never took true notice of my weakness as a leader.

Today, every engagement with a client, every challenge I can offer to others to take another step toward their potential reveals how much I still have left to learn. I gain so much more now that I’m looking to learn instead of looking to teach.

I try everyday to respect those I’m around but invariably fail. I have had a couple of good conversations with colleagues who assure me that my tendency to maintain control is completely disguised, but I struggle every day. But this struggle has taken me years to appreciate.

I love, learn, and let go as a journey with its daily challenges, and like most, I often let those struggles get in the way of better decisions.

4. You write that if we want to develop a new culture and create new skills “we need concrete and measurable operational descriptions of the specific actions that we want to SEE”. What are two of the top specific actions that you believe are essential to leaders in a Lean environment?

The first action, or skill, is in building relationships. This ability to relate with others is perhaps the most prominent indicator of the purpose the leader brings to work. Building relationships requires human connection, eye to eye; hand to hand. Questions allow us to build a bridge to others, but only when they are driven by the heart.

That’s why it’s so important to build visual systems that show everyone the value they bring to work – through what we measure. If the measures take care of the work, then I don’t have to ask so much about the work and I can ask about the worker. The structure of the work itself allows me to behave differently as a leader and still have confidence that we’re moving in the right direction.

The second, though very much related to the first, is the ability to effectively challenge others. We use the word challenge very cavalierly (if that’s a word!).

In most instances when I hear someone challenge another the first response is to defend against the challenge; to fight back against this threat. And we talk in circles about how “healthy” it is, and yet the negative affect (with an A not an E) of an attack couched as a “challenge” has lasting detrimental effects (with an E not an A) on both participants.

We need to cultivate a new meaning for challenge. When we challenge our teams, it should be a positive experience. It should excite and motivate us to see how far we can go.

A challenge should always be viewed as positive. We should want to tackle a new challenge – one that tests our skills and abilities; one that resonates with our meaningful purpose in life and at work.

5. What is something new that you learned about Lean or leadership in general while writing this book?

I think this would be that leaders are people, just like everyone else. As you dig through leadership books and lean books, most talk about all the things leaders have to do for their people, to their people, with their people. But everything we do for, to, and with our people, we ought to do for ourselves as well. We respond just like everyone else. We need higher self-efficacy as much as our people need higher self efficacy.

The other thing I have to mention is focusing on value instead of waste. We’ve gone years and years focusing on eliminating waste. We lower the water level to expose the waste. We’ve even named waste – TIM WOOD. Poor Tim. He sounds like a nice enough guy, why would we want to eliminate him? And in using this to teach everyone in all these organizations that waste comes as a human, subconsciously we’re telling them that we’re reducing heads and so little else comes through that it’s impossible to bring people fully on board.

If we focus on the value, the work that we do, and create systems that flow from this work, we’ll create ways to enhance the value and the waste will evaporate.

6. What is something that you learned about your own practice of Lean while (or since) writing the book?

I’ve learned that I’m not as good as I should be. My confidence is high. My self-efficacy toward teaching lean is high. But my ability to build relationships and my patience for learning through failure both need serious improvement.

7. What is a question that you have not been asked about the book (either by me or someone else) and what is your answer?

How do you make people want to come to work when the work we do is so boring, repetitious, stressful, etc.?

The answer is what I said earlier – focus on the value, not the waste. Focus on what work really has to be done, then if it’s boring, break it into pieces and give different people several different pieces to work through every day for short intervals of time.

We have the best opportunity for this when we create standardized work. Too many people view creating standardized work as an activity to simply document the work we do. But creating standardized work with the people doing the work, allows us really to understand that work much more vividly, and to pluck out the valuable pieces and arrange them into work packages that allow people to work in teams and talk to each other, and help each other out. It’s a chance to change the work, not just capture the work.

We use this to set appropriate and positive challenges, to build skills through repetition and accountability for multiple pieces of work. We use this to build mastery, which builds self efficacy if we also keep the team together, build a role for a team coach to provide support and feedback, then give control of that work to the team you just created, so they will own it, and drive their own challenges.

Sign up to win a free copy of Leadersights!

Don’t miss out on winning your own free copy of Leadersights – sign up for the book giveaway here.

David also recently recorded a podcast with Mark Graban if you want to learn even more!

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