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Enterprise Excellence Episode 21: Katie Anderson

#21 Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn with Katie Anderson.


Welcome to episode 21 of the Enterprise Excellence Podcast. It is a great pleasure to have Katie Anderson on the show today. Katie is a researcher, author and consultant in the areas of Enterprise Excellence. Her passion is helping people develop and grow. Katie is the author of "Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn", the International number one new release leadership book.

Let's get into the episode.


Katie began her pathway into leadership with a master’s degree in Australia. Returning to the USA, Katie worked within a performance improvement department in a children's hospital at Stanford University. She learned much about Lean practices, techniques and methodology, particularly the mindset required for successful change. Eight years later, as Katie was starting up her own consulting business, her husband had an opportunity to relocate to Japan for his work. As a continuous improvement practitioner and her second-born baby just being born, Katie was thrilled, and a little trepidatious. As luck would have it, one month later, Katie was speaking at a Lean Coaching conference in Long Beach. John Shook, the first non-Japanese Toyota employee and head of the Lean Enterprise Institute, invited his mentor, Isao Yoshino to join the conference. Mr Yoshino gave Katie his business card and insisted upon meeting when they moved to Japan.

When meeting with Mr Yoshino for the first time, Katie was well aware of his expertise and was sure it was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. They connected with his humble, genuine nature, who had a passion for helping people learn and connect with people. Meeting not only once, but many times over three years in Japan, and then in the USA once Katie and her family moved back home. The book was a crazy idea to put Mr Yoshino's learning system onto paper and quickly became the number one bestseller.

Katie believes that leaders will lose their humility, curiosity and will not be a part of the learning organisation if they do not see themselves as part of the learning process. If you seek to learn and improve as a leader, you are also challenging yourself to be a better learner. Much of the focus in organisations seems to be on the plan, do, plan, do, and not so much on the reflective elements of check and act/adjust. Katie believes that leaders must build time for reflection into each day - starting with 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect on the daily plan. Reflective time will help develop a richness to organisational learning and understanding.

Structure within work helps reflection, and Katie provides an example of the setting of structure for a company. She believes that the accelerator was a shared, standard calendar; all leaders would align with this. All employees knew that the executive team were going to Gemba on, say a Thursday. Team huddles and meetings would be held earlier in the week to talk about improvement before the Gemba walk.

Leaders were expected to develop a clear intention before going to Gemba. They were to know what they were going to look for and have five questions to draw upon to understand what they were seeing. After the Gemba walk, leaders built time for reflection and were not to rush to another meeting. As a leader on the Gemba, learning from what you are seeing. And then, how you, as a leader, are supporting the learning and capability of the employees in your team.

So, what key leadership behaviours are necessary for learning to lead effectively? Having the self-awareness that you, as leader, have been rewarded in your career for having reached the expert level. You have a high level of content knowledge and have likely been promoted into management because of this. In the leadership role, it becomes necessary to let go of your high level of content expertise, and instead, think about developing the capability of others. Don't tell people what to do, and how to think, but ask open-ended questions to support your employees in thinking deeply. An employee may also need demonstration or training or be searching for advice. So, recognising these different situations, and choosing the most suitable response for the development of that employee.

The feeling of being overburdened could be because the leader owns all of the problems. The leader's habits in being the expert and telling others what to do are creating the pressures of being time-poor; it's a vicious cycle. Creating new patterns is hard; we need intentional behaviours and structured routines and times for meetings and communication. When formed over slow time, new habits can provide leaders with more space in their calendar, and less time needed for fire-fighting. More effective leadership results, and you will feel like you have more time to coach and develop people and complete your work.

Katie is now helping leaders put the leadership stories from "Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn" into practice. The book inspires, and Katie teaches through coaching cohorts, classes and one-on-one mentoring to encourage reflection and learning.

Katie's next challenge is thinking about maintaining a personal connection and having a meaningful learning experience in a virtual world. What are the positives of working virtually?

Key takeaways

1. Creating a learning organisation is a key element in achieving Enterprise Excellence and it starts from the top with leadership curiosity, humility and constant learning.

So many studies have shown that a large portion of culture derives from leadership behaviour. Forming a learning culture within your organisation starts with your leadership. To achieve this you need your leaders to be demonstrating behaviours of curiousity and humility. Jumping to conclusions and blaming others is the opposite of this. Being curious takes more time than jumping to conclusions based on past experience. The extra time is worth it when you consider the resulting cultural outcomes. The extra time to show curiosity and humility will save you time in the long run through the improvement in culture it drives.

2. The power of reflection. Leaders who give themselves the time to reflect often will naturally learn more, demonstrate greater curiousity and humility.

For me, leadership reflection links to Jim Collins well known statement of looking in the mirror versus looking out the window and blaming others. A leader that spends time where value is created at the front line of their organisation, reflects on what they see and hear and thinks what they can do to help move the organisation forward based on these learnings is looking in the mirror. They are constantly learning and turning this learning into actions they can control to move the organisation forward.

Thanks again for your time and knowledge Katie, we really appreciate it. Bye for now.


05.33min Mr Yoshino said something that struck me as really profound about that a leaders role is to set the direction, provide and support and develop themselves.

07.48min How can we as individuals be reflected more deeply, both on the things that have happened in the short term, but also taking a step back and starting to see the patterns over time for ourselves and our organisations, and then what are we going to do to adjust and change?

16:18min And so it's both learning for you as the leader, and also how are you, leader, supporting the learning and the capability of the people that you're checking on?

16:32min so it's not just checking to see that you've achieved the outcome check, it's checking on your thinking process, and then what type of coaching or support do I as the leader need to help provide to you so that you are more effective in developing that capability to solve that operational problem?

19:21min So, for me, the number one is asking more effective questions, and then listening with open ears and an open mind, and not shutting down our own brain because of what we thought the answer was going to be.

21:47min but holding back, hold back a little bit. Allow for that struggle, allow for the thinking to happen.

22:56min set that clear direction so that people are working in alignment and know what direction to be focussing themselves but giving true responsibility for problem-solving ownership to other people, and we take that away when we tell people what to do.


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