Leadership, Personal Development

Leadership Development Includes Learning to ‘See’

While on a hike recently, I saw this rock amazingly balanced on its endpoint. It wasn’t as obvious and easy to see as the pictures indicate either! There we lots of people on the trail, many stopping at this lookout, and looking right past this rock without noticing. Their loss!

It reminded me that our leadership development needs to include learning to ‘See’. I believe this is an essential skill for leaders. Seeing beyond what most people see or at least seeing a different perspective of the same image. Teaching your eyes to see is a learned skill that, once mastered, opens your eyes to many new things.

Teaching your eyes to see – Learning to see

An example of teaching your eyes to see that I experienced while on an in-depth TPS training program in Japan several years ago involved learning to see 1/10th of a second kaizens. 1/10th of a second is very difficult to see and equates to the slightest of hand motions, movements, or on equipment, tiny adjustments. We had the task of reducing the cycle time within a production line by 30 seconds but doing so through 1/10th of a second kaizens. Being experienced operations guys and after observing the line for several cycles, it was apparent to us what was needed. With some changes to the layout, moving equipment closer together, adjusting the material flow, and other equipment modifications, the 30 seconds was a done deal. As part of the training, we had to prepare a scaled drawing detailing our kaizen ideas. Our Sensei would review the drawings, and if approved, the improvements would get implemented. We spent several hours drafting our kaizen ideas on day one and provided the completed drawings for review and approval. The Sensei looked at the proposals and very clearly expressed his disapproval! We received a similar response several times over the following couple of days. We were ready to throw in the towel, but then suddenly, like a light switch, we could see these subtle movements of waste and 1/10th of a second kaizens.

Although I don’t necessarily advocate this teaching method, it emphasizes that leadership development needs to include learning to see what is or what is not happening. It is important to see those subtle forms of waste, abnormalities, opportunities, and, I suggest, clues that then beg questions. Good questions!

For example, one time, while on a Gemba, we came across a box of rubber gloves attached to a column of the building. Above the box was a handwritten sign that said

Gloves are for hazardous material spills only

This situation was crazy on so many levels! We didn’t just see a poorly made sign and a duct-taped glove box. We ‘saw’ many questions and concerns, such as:

  • How often are hazardous material spills happening?
  • Are spills so frequent that we think we need gloves conveniently placed?
  • Are these spills actually “hazardous materials”?!?!?!
  • With the gloves free for the taking, are hazardous material spills happening and not being reported?
  • Does the leadership even know when the spills are happening and investigating?
  • How are the gloves and wastes from the spills being disposed of?
  • Assuming for a minute that it was a good practice to have the gloves available, how do they get replenished?
  • Are the people cleaning up these spills properly, and are they adequately trained to do so?
  • Why are spills happening in the first place?

STOP!!!  TIME OUT!

This example is pretty astounding and scary and may seem hard to believe, but yet it is true. It is even more disturbing that many leaders walked right past this sign during the Gemba and didn’t even notice it. Even more frightful, the building leadership had walked past it many times and didn’t really “see” it!

So how do you learn to see? Practice.

Go to the floor with a specific purpose to learn to see. For example, go with a focus on seeing one specific thing. Such as arm overreaching, bending, twisting, outdated signs or posters, trip hazards, pinch points, sign effectiveness and meaning, opportunities to cause product damage, unnecessary motion, a specific type of waste stream, sources of floor debris, etc., etc. The point is to dedicate an appropriate amount of time to see a particular focus. Look for that focus and only that focus. Ask yourself as many questions as possible on that specific item when you see it. See beyond the obvious. Look for deeper meaning, symptoms, evidence, and abnormalities. Repeat often with a new or different focus. With practice, you will soon see these things naturally and without effort. Once you learn to see, you won’t be able to turn it off.

Nope, it’s not rocket science. Seems too easy, right? Try it. You’ll like it!

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