FEATURE – The conflict unfolding in Ukraine acts as a tragic reminder of the threat posed by despotic, unapproachable, and paranoid leaders, says Sharon Visser.
Words: Sharon Visser
Every single person around the world is looking at what’s unfolding in Russia and Ukraine. As time goes on, there is no doubt we will be learning a great deal about the root cause of this war, about the history that led to it, and hopefully about how to not repeat it.
To me, the greatest lesson so far has been about leadership. What we are seeing here is two very different examples of leadership at play.
In Russia, we see a power-hungry Putin, leading from a distance, autocratic and paranoid. He surrounds himself with “Yes” men and women. He sits alone at his table of fear and gets carefully served up with palatable news that feeds his ego. Years upon years of removing the voice of dissent has built his confidence and made him believe he is always right.
In Ukraine, we see Zelenskyy walking through the streets of Kyiv, trying to understand the current situation. He is listening to the bad news, as his people fight the battle and strive to survive. He is asking for help and is articulating the problems to solve. He is using every skill that is made available to him, both from within himself and those around him. A person who used to be a comedian (and was often derided for it) is now a symbol of courage for an entire nation and, indeed, for much of the world.
As Shakespeare said, all the world is a stage, and all men and women are merely players.
Zelenskyy is not the only world leader that, during a war, went to the front line to assess the current situation. Churchill constantly visited areas under heavy bombardment during World War Two. Photographs showed him crossing the Rhine into Germany on the 25 March 1945 with Field Marshals Brooke and Montgomery.
So, what has this got to do with Lean Thinking today?
Well, I see Zelenskyy as an example for the world the world to follow, and the embodiment of the skills required to be a lean leader.
- Goes to the Gemba.
- Respects for people.
- Is prepared to listen to the truth.
- Understands the current situation.
- Understands the ideal situation.
- Articulates the problem.
- Utilizes the skills of the people around you.
- Is approachable.
- Asks for help.
- Is creative and allow those around you to be creative.
- I think there are a lot more, so feel free to add.
Conversely, I see Putin as a great example of what lean leadership is NOT about.
- Sends others to the Gemba. It is their job, after all.
- Disrespects people who are beneath him in the chain of command, so they know who’s boss.
- Punishes those who bring bad news to him, even if it’s the truth.
- The current situation is what he believes it is, not what’s actually true.
- The ideal situation is what he wants, not what is right.
- Instructs others to do as they are told.
- He is the hero and has all the skills. He takes the credit.
- He has to show he is strong.
- He instructs others, no argument.
- There is no place for creativity in this place.
When I started to write this list, I realized that I have met a few mini-Putins in my life (albeit not quite as dangerous). Luckily, I have also met a few mini-Zelenskyys.
When you finish reading this, go out into the world and be courageous. Go to the gemba and seek out the truth. Follow the lean processes, as they will keep your ego in check and your feet firmly planted in reality. Let those around you shine, so you too can see clearly.
We need to make the world a better place, which is why it’s important we don’t let Zelenskyy’s example be lost.
Note from the Editor – The Lean Global Network is proud to have the Lean Institute Ukraine as a member. Sadly, the war has made it impossible for LIU to continue its work educating and supporting Ukrainian organizations at the present time. LGN has established a GoFundMe to collect donations to help the LIU team members meet their basic needs, such as food and shelter, and to continue their important work as soon as the conditions allow. Our goal is to collect $280,000, which equals the annual payroll of LIU. We invite you to contribute here.
Sharon Visser is a lean author and coach, and founder of Lean Institute Botswana.