Are You Bob Woods from The Gold Mine?

Earlier this year I read the novel “The Gold Mine” by Freddy Balle and Michael Balle.  When I was finished, I thought it was a good book and I liked the novel format.  I found the book OK.  It talked about a lot of lean concepts, but nothing new and it didn’t strike me in a new way.  I was really taken aback by the behavior of Bob Woods, the main character of the story, a retired lean guy who had transformed many facilities.  When asked to help out a friend of his son, he reluctantly agrees.

What shocked me the most was Bob’s behavior in the book.  It seemed very command and control.  Do it this way or don’t call me! type of attitude.  The book is based around this attitude and his lack of patience for someone not taking action and doing it the way he said to do it.  The attitude didn’t seem very lean leadership like.

Fast forward several months, I am now reflecting on the book again.  I had to look in the mirror and ask myself, “Am I Bob Woods?”  I have a better understanding of where he was coming from now.  Have you ever gone into a situation where you know you can help?  They have asked for your help, but in the end they don’t want to do it or argue with you.  It becomes very frustrating to the point where you finally take an attitude of do it this way or don’t ask me for help anymore!

I still don’t believe this a way a great leader would behavior, but I have some empathy for Bob Woods now.  How do you avoid becoming Bob Woods as you do more and more lean transformation work?  As leaders we are to bring people along with us.  That is the definition of leadership.  Telling someone what do to is dictatorship.  Is it appropriate to display the behavior of do it my way or don’t ask at any time? I feel there isn’t a time or a place for that, but it may not be that black and white.

What are you thoughts?

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Posted on September 27, 2010, in Development, Leadership and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. How interesting! I was actually just thinking about this the other day because I was listening to the author’s take on it.
    (Full disclosure: I work for LEI, and we are putting out the product I am about to mention.)
    In a new Q&A, Michael Balle actually discusses this a bit – is Bob Woods too gruff or too much of a bully. The Q&A is part of the audiobook version of The Gold Mine that will be out in the next month. But you can listen to the Q&A for free on our site. You might be very interested to hear Michael’s take on this – he sees it in part as an issue of those being willing to learn must also be willing to try things on faith, and the difference between discussing learnings versus arguing about things.
    To hear the Q&A go to http://www.lean.org/BookStore/ProductDetails.cfm?SelectedProductId=271&ProductCategoryID=4&opentab=aqa
    The specific section I am thinking of starts at 9 minutes 55 seconds – you can download the MP3 and fast forward right to that section if you want.

  2. I read the book, as well as the second book, last winter myself. Was Bob Woods a bully? Nah, he had been there, done that, and had the scars to prove it.

    I didn’t think that Bob was wrong at all when I read the book. He explicitly tells people that it will be tough, particularly since the company was already in its death throws, and there was no room for discussion.

    Was Deming any different? I’ve seen interviews where Deming was just as straight forward. Was “Out of the Crisis” full of warm and fuzzies or warnings about our future with recommendations on how to avoid the pitfalls that Dr. Deming saw?

    In real life, I’ve experienced the fight where you know that you can fix something but the process owners just won’t take the advice. I’m sure that all of us in the business process improvement world have a little “Bob Woods” in us. Just like Bob, I’ve come home frustrated and said that I’d never do it again but I always dust myself off and try to help again knowing that if just a few of my suggestions become reality that it is better than if zero are implemented.

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