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What I Want for Christmas is….


World Peace, of course, but I don’t have much influence with the people who most affect this issue, so I’ll focus a little closer to home. How about working toward local peace by collectively focusing on character-centered leadership in our communities, homes, and places of work, play, and worship, and by applying timeless principles that have been taught by the world’s best teachers, and repeated in various books but with different words?

I just finished, for the fifth or sixth time, Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. First having read this book more than 20 years ago, I was reminded about the transformational value of personal character (the first three habits), applied to an interpersonal and collaborative mindset (the next three habits four through six), and continually developing these through physical, mental, and spiritual renewal (the seventh habit). This book is timeless; it’s consistent with all the world’s major religions, aligns with the principles of Lean Leadership, and can be seen in the guiding principles of the world’s most respected organizations. So whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or another holiday, this book is my highest recommended reading for you during this season.

I’ve spent a lot of time with a wide variety of organizations including my own, and I’ve seen the wide variety of management styles, some more effective than others. A common struggle is that managers have too much on their plate and not enough time, resulting in the ineffectiveness of crisis management and little time to engage with their organizational talent or customer input. As a person who has worked in many industries both on the front line and in leadership positions, as well as being a lifelong lean learner, I recognize talent is the single biggest resource wasted by organizations of all types. While wasted talent is often difficult to quantify day-to-day, the negative impacts are real and manifest themselves on the profit and loss statement through increased cost, reduced revenue, and puts the organization into a tailspin of firefighting. I believe the long-term sustainability of an organization can often be predicted by the amount of ongoing chaos at the middle management level, which has its origins in top management’s ability to balance appropriate level of control with proper delegation.

If an organization is continually struggling to prioritize, make decisions, and seems to focus on where the next dollar is coming from, it’s because there is too much non-value-added junk in the way. They’re not likely effectively engaging talent and giving them the authority to identify and correct it. Think about the cost of every unnecessary check, touch, correction, or internal tracking process that adds labor cost (often double or more), yet creates no value to the end user.  If you could identify and remove all this waste, resulting in reduced cost of 25 to 50 percent and reduced delivery time by half, how this would impact your sustainability?  Effective leaders and the culture they create don’t accept this waste as “part of our industry,” or “I can’t find good employees,” or “our suppliers are the problem,” and/or our “customers expect too much.” Every industry has its quirks and challenges that effective leaders have to recognize and accept.  While the world is not perfect it shouldn’t stop us from striving for perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I understand it’s easy to be a critic and hard to do the work to improve and that’s why, as Covey points out, modeling the behavior is so important.

As a last note, consider the fact that our working population is more highly educated and experienced than any time in history and yet as a society we still predominantly use the top down approach of “we’ll decide” and “I’ll tell you” instead of “you figure it out” and “I’ll ask first.”  My wish for the upcoming year is that managers, driven by organizational mission and guiding principles, stop trying to “control” employee energy and knowledge, and instead become leaders, mentors, guides, and facilitators that channel it toward increasing value to their customers, patients, learners, end users, etc. My real challenge for us in the next year is to be open to failure, continually strive for improvement individually, then collectively, and when we fall backward, get up, dust off, and begin again.  As we close out another year, what I want for the holidays is to get back on the path of real leadership.


Richard Wolin, Director of Training Services and the
MMTC-North Region at Northwestern Michigan College
1701 East Front Street, Traverse City, MI 49686

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