#LeadWithRespect : a Challenge for 21st Century Management

Lead With Respect is a terrific book that puts the elements of genuine motivation into a broader context and helps leaders translate those principles into action.” (Daniel Pink)

Freddy & Michael Ballé have just published a new book : Lead With Respect. This is a business novel, a format which has already brought 2 Shingo prizes to the writing team so far with their previous books The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager. This time round, the focus is on one question : how to lead 21st century workers with respect ? From this blog perspective, it is a fascinating one indeed.

As an IT manager and Agile and Lean practitioner I have been using #hypertextual as a support to study extensively 21st century management : Agile methodologies, Enterprise 2.0, Lean, Free Enterprise etc … and this genuine Leadership question has been underlying ever since.

Problem with Leadership books

I have read a few books about leadership and, although I won’t go as far as Jeffrey Pfeiffer recommanding to stop reading them altogether, there are three main problems I have with such literature.  The first one is that all the stories are told afterwards. In retrospect, there is no real challenge to explain success. As Michael McFaul put it :”In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible”. The real challenge is to envision the revolution and the results beforehand.

The second problem is that sometimes, successful leadership stories seems to be adapted to fit a theory. In my humble opinion, books such as Freedom Inc. (though an inspiring book) suffers from this. For instance, Harley Davidson example is used in this book while it is very known that Harley Davidson is a Lean implementation.

The third problem is that I have seldom seen encoded leadership practices which was reproduced with success and that provide a solid track record. More often than not, I found the contents looking more like wishful thinking (such as let’s get rid of managers and everything will be fine) encoded into concepts that are abstract enough for any stories to fit into it.

Lean Leadership

The fascinating thing with Lean Management is that it is a complete system of management. With clear defined practices for anyone in the organization ladder and a very solid track record. It is one thing to explain success in retrospect. It is another to define a vision and clear objectives that the organization will achieve, describe how the organization will deal with the unpredictable and define executives, leader and team member practices to achieve actual and sustainable success. This is what I’ve seen Lean bringing to the organization.

Lead With Respect does a great job in explaining this. There is no wishful thinking, abstract concepts or success explained in retrospect here. This book is the story of a 21st century leader (CEO of a software company) discovering the heart of Lean management while developing the people in her organization. This is the description of a learning path, with all the issues, traps and mistakes that are unavoidable. The book explains how much work, thinking and dedication it takes to gain the only sustainable competitive advantage in the 21st century : the culture of continuous improvement.

Lead With Respect also provides some perspectives on these seminal leadership questions : what is it to lead with respect ? What does it mean to show respect to employees ? Are there any related practices that can be applied in different context and yet bringing encouraging results ? Is it necessary for a 21st century leader to respect her employees in order to achieve success ? What are the costs of not respecting employees ? What is the relationship between leading with respect and setting a culture of continuous improvement ?

#LeadWithRespect Meme

I have identified some ways to answer these questions with Lean. There are other answers and I would love to hear yours. So to revive this old school tradition, I shall try to kick off a meme inviting Daniel Pink, John Stepper, Céline Schillinger, Scott Berkun, John Hagel, Luis Suarez and Jon Husband to share their perspectives on that very topic. If you’re not on the invitation list and you’d love to bring your point of view on that topic, please fell free to do so. We’d love to read from you. Let’s see how it goes …


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