The 1999 futuristic film The Matrix provides a wonderful metaphor for Lean leadership. For those who haven’t seen it, Neo, the lead character, is presented with a choice – take the blue pill and live the rest of his life in comfortable delusion, or take the red pill and see the frightening truth for what it is.
Traditional managers appear to have taken the blue pill. They sit comfortably in their offices reading their financial and other reports, living with the illusion that there is no more to know, and no need to leave the executive suite.
Lean managers, having taken the red pill, face stark reality. “Expelled” from the comfort of their offices, they spend their lives in the workplace uncovering a never-ending “matrix” of waste, variation, broken processes, training gaps, employee disengagement, none of which show up in financial reports.
“Lean is not for the faint of heart,” said Karl Wadensten, Lean advocate and CEO of Vibco. “This is so hard every single doggone day. Lean will surface all of your shortcomings and force you to deal with all the details.”
Continuous improvement is the only way out of the mess that becomes visible, and success is only possible because workers thrive on solving problems, and will rise to the occasion when given the opportunity and the tools. This is a story of many heroes, empowered by leaders who truly respect them, and motivated by a clear line of sight to the customer.
Karl’s office, interestingly, is located right in the plant, and the walls are glass. He’s given himself no escape from reality.