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  • Susan Snedaker

Lean Leader #1 - Lead with Humility

Four pillars of Lean are:

1) lead with humility,

2) respect every individual,

3) constancy of purpose, and

4) thinking systematically

As a healthcare IT leader, you may wonder how these four principles can help you initiate and lead Lean in your IT organization.

We’ll explore each principle individually – so we’ll start with lead with humility.

Lead with Humility

What exactly does lead with humility mean? Does it mean that you behave as if you don’t know anything? That you don’t have skills and expertise? That others are more important than you are? No. Definitely not. That's disingenuous and will lead to distrust because it is disrespectful. Instead, leading with humility really means leading with the mindset that you are the team's leader, but you don't have all the answers.

A great article from Harvard Business Review in 2014 entitled "The Best Leaders are Humble Leaders" gave some very clear, specific examples that can help us see what that might look like. []

1. Share your mistakes as teachable moments

As humans, we tend to connect more fully with people who share their imperfections and mistakes. As a leader, it helps other see that we too have tried and failed, made mistakes and grown from those experiences.

When I’m leading an introduction to a communications workshop that we invite all our new hires to attend, I tell a story of having been a young, brash leader who intimidated people – not intentionally but through my lack of understanding about how different people communicate. I share the story to illustrate that I have made an effort to grow and learn and I set the expectation that our staff will do the same.

Remember, though, when sharing your story, use “I” and not “you” – humility is not telling a story of what others should do or not do; it is telling your story of growth and what you learned from the experience to allow others to come to their own conclusions.

2. Engage in dialogue, not debate

Many less experienced leaders will engage in debate rather than dialog. Humble leaders truly seek to understand by listening and discussing. Sometimes that means taking an opposite point of view than you might normally to explore a different way of seeing. Sometimes that means asking probing questions in order to really understand what the speaker means and what perspective they have.

Debate can be healthy when preconceived ideas or improperly analyzed solutions are brought forward. Debate can be great for the team when discussing differing ways of approaching a solution. However, as a leader, when you debate, you will almost undoubtedly shut down communication.

Remember to come to a conversation with a beginner’s mind. Ask questions to probe without forming an opinion. Allow yourself to consider alternate points of view.

You don’t have to ultimately agree, but you may be surprised by what you learn and how much better your decisions are when you have engaged in dialogue instead of debate.

3. Embrace uncertainty

We work in a field that is rapidly changing and almost every day brings a new twist to an old problem. Healthcare IT is challenging in that way and there is no one who holds all the answers. Inexperienced leaders often feel like they need to have all the answers – and that’s often how they get themselves into the biggest jams. Admitting you don’t know all the answers is a powerful form of humility, because it sets the stage for you to learn.

By admitting you don’t have all the answers, you create space for others to step up to try to answer the questions and address the problems. It creates a more collaborative environment in which the approach is “together, we can solve complex problems” rather than having the team look to you for every answer.

One of the most powerful aspects of a Lean culture is that it engages every employee to see and solve problems. Everyone approaches this slightly differently, and that’s the power of a team.

Remember, as a leader, one of the most powerful questions you can ask is “I don’t know, what do you think?”

4. Role model being a follower

It’s interesting because there are times you should lead from the front and times you should lead from the back. Leading from the back means showing how to be an effective follower. It might be purposely stepping back to allow others to take the lead in guiding the team toward a solution or delivering on an important project. By showing what a great team members looks like, you facilitate both the development of the leader who stepped up and the behavior of the team. That’s a pretty powerful opportunity for a leader and it’s one I really enjoy. It allows others to learn and grow and it allows me to keep an eye on things to ensure that the leader is keeping the team on track and achieving needed objectives.

5. Leaders Always Rise

I firmly believe that leaders will always rise up to challenges, but if we do not provide the room for those leaders to expand and grow, they may become jaded and give up or leave the organization. That’s a real failure of leadership and is generally preventable.

Try leading with humility this week and see how it changes you and your team.

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