Listening to the podcast interview with Michael Ballé there were many things to like. The interviewer asked the question of what respect, in the context of lean and the notion of respect for people, meant to Mike personally. He answered that it meant really listening to people. Listening in order to understand. No necessarily to agree, but to understand their position at the least.
I think this is an important point. Leaders are tasked with making decisions and taking the organization in a direction. Successful leaders would likely agree that listening to customers, reviewing the data and weighing options are all necessary steps to developing a sound strategy. We may call it grasping the situation. But how well do we listen to understand?
In regards to leading with respect, specifically demonstrating respect in human interactions, leaders need to listen to their followers. This is far more than a morale-boosting exercise, or developing soft skills of leaders. It is as muchabout harvesting hard facts. The facts on the gemba. By definition there are far more followers than leaders within an organization. These followers are on the gemba face to face with facts that make up the performance of the organization, daily. Enlightened leaders listen to understand.
The not-very-smart leader may need to spend more time listening and being educated about the daily operations. This requires humility. I have heard too many executives say, "I can't get into the day-to-day," proudly delegating the go see and listen. In this definition listening is necessary but not sufficient. To show respect, not only for people but for the operation, one must listen to understand. This is good practice both for the growth of the leader as an individual, good practice for collecting useful management information, and respectful of people who do the work.
The important females in my life have taught me that I don't really understand. I have become better at listening, but probably still am bad at it. I am too quick to say, "I understand" when in fact I really don't. Or so they tell me. If I really understood, I would keep listening, or do something else. Other than claiming to understand. It is a mystery, and I suspect, a lifelong challenge.
Taiichi Ohno said "Understanding means doing." By this he meant that the only way he knew his students really understood what he was teaching them was through their actions and behaviors. If he taught them about kaizen, or a key element of the Toyota Production but heard them saying, "I understand" but not urgently doing something to improve the situation, they didn't really understand.
Ohno was not teaching theory, but practice. Likewise when respecting people, if we listen and truly understand, we
should be moved to somehow act, to do something, even if we do not fully agree with the other
person. That shows a deeper level of caring and respect for the other person. That is the more Ohno-esque and lean definition of "understanding".
In another time, in another universe, in another podcast...
Ohno: What does respect mean to you?
Ballé: Respect means listening.
Ohno: Why do you listen?
Ballé: In order to understand.
Ohno: Why do you wish to understand?
I wonder where the conversation would have gone from there.