Lean Personalities

I often think that the reason that continuous improvement isn’t more institutionalized in business in general and manufacturing specifically is a leadership problem.  I don’t say that as a means to “point fingers”, although I realize it reads that way.  I mean it more in terms of the types of people and personalities that go into positions of management and the people and personalities that hedge towards Lean/Six Sigma/CI positions.  In looking back at one of Matt’s old posts, I made a connection that I hadn’t really drawn before.

I’m of the opinion that one of the most underrated aspects of Lean as a mindset is the concept of ‘hansei’.  The in depth reflection on what worked or didn’t work requires a certain mindset or skill and an organizational culture that allows that type of reflection to occur.  The talent/skill of reflection is what makes everything from Ohno Circles to Socratic teaching to a 5-Why analysis work the way they do.  This goes beyond trained problem solving and critical thinking to an area of practiced mental deep dives on subjects.

I’m not a psychologist or sociologist, but I’m inclined to think these behaviors are hallmarks of introverted personality types.  In contrast, extroverted personality traits tend to be the ones that are identified and promoted to management positions.  Companies seem to seek out (consciously or not) the more outspoken, action first types to promote or hire.  Companies tend to like their heroes straight out of a Hollywood movie shooting first, maybe asking questions later, and topping things off with a fiery quote.  This either leads or perpetuates cultures that marginalize the methodical reflection that asks the tougher questions.

Obviously I’m using generalizations to make a point, but I think there are quite a few people that could identify with the strawman here.  I’d love to dig deeper in to this subject and understand if this is cultural or if there is some other driver.  As an example, are the behaviors associated with introversion reinforced in Japan the same way extroverted behaviors are taught in the US?  Or could it be that the variance is more company to company than that?  While the different personality types may not be polar opposites, they are certainly at different places on the continuum.  The two types don’t necessarily need to move to one side or another, but I think seeking more middle ground could be a big factor in helping drive more cultures to engage in their chosen CI path.

Posted on June 22, 2012, in Culture, Leadership, People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great questions to be explored. It could be a company to company difference but I have worked for 5 different companies in the U.S. and it has always been the same. Promoting the extroverted personality types. I know that is a generalization but it is more the rule and introverts seem to be the exception.

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