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LEAN Techniques: Build Leadership Support with Teaching-Style Management [part 1]

This is the first in a four-part series.  View Part 2Part 3Part 4

By Bruce Tulgan, excerpted from Bridging the Soft Skills Gap

When implementing LEAN manufacturing techniques and strategies, the key to success is support and commitment from everyone at all levels of the organization. For managers, this means not only doing their part to practice LEAN in their own work but teaching the fundamentals to their team members and helping them to improve on these fundamentals every day. For employees on the younger end of the spectrum, this kind of structure and support is particularly important and critical to the success of both the individual employee and the organization as a whole.

Managers often ask me, “At what point can I back off on giving my young employees so much attention?” My answer: “Whenever you want to start losing your team’s best efforts.”

Surely some Millennials, and employees of all ages, need more attention than others. But they all need your attention at least some of the time. The superstars want to be recognized and rewarded, but they also want managers who are in a position to help them do more, better, and faster and earn more for their hard work. Low performers are the only ones who don’t want their managers’ attention, but they need it more than anyone.  And mediocre performers – the vast majority of employees who are somewhere in the middle of the performance spectrum – often don’t know what they want from a manager. But the fastest way to turn a mediocre performer into a low performer is to leave that person alone without any guidance, direction, support or coaching. Your job is to lift up all those employees and help them do more work, faster, and better every step of the way. Not just because that’s good for business, but also because continuous improvement is the key to keeping Millennials focused and motivated.

Millennials want managers who know who they are, know what they are doing, and are in a position to help. They want managers who spend enough time with them to teach them the tricks and the shortcuts, warn them of pitfalls, and help them solve problems. They want managers who are strong enough to support them through bad days and counsel them through difficult judgment calls. They want to know you are keeping track of their successes and helping them get better and better every day. That’s what I call a “teaching style manager.”

Being a “teaching style manager” means:

  • Talk about what’s going right, wrong, and average every step of the way.
  • Remind everybody of broad performance standards regularly.
  • Turn best practices into standard operating procedures and teach them to everybody.
  • Use plans and step-by-step checklists whenever possible.
  • Focus on concrete actions within the control of the individual employee
  • Monitor, measure, and document individual performance in writing.
  • Follow up, follow up, follow up, and provide regular candid feedback.
  • Ask really good questions.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Answer questions.
  • Get input.
  • Learn from what your employees are learning on the front line.
  • Think through potential obstacles and pitfalls – make back-up planning part of every work-plan.
  • Anticipate and prepare.
  • Train and practice.
  • Strategize together.
  • Provide advice, support, motivation, and even inspiration once in a while.

Teaching-style management is also how you can help your most ambitious Millennials who are so eager to take on more and more challenges and responsibilities. Millennials often tell us, “I can do so much more than I am doing. I want to do so much more than I am doing. But I don’t want to do more of the same. I want to do something new and different.” While this desire is a valuable impulse on the part of self-starting Millennials, it also poses two significant challenges to their immediate managers:


First, their job is to get the work done, whatever the work happens to be. Sometimes there are no new and interesting challenges. But wait. That doesn’t need to be the end of the discussion.  Help them make their current work new and interesting by teaching them to leverage knowledge, skill, and wisdom to do their work better, whatever that work happens to be. As soon as they walk in the door, have every new employee create an individualized learning plan in which they map out their responsibilities, and for each responsibility, make a list of learning resources (books, people, specific websites). Encourage them to set learning goals and then keep a journal of what they are learning and how they are using it on the job.

Second, if you have truly new and interesting challenges for Millennials, then you will have to make the time to teach them how to do that new and interesting work. You can’t just give them a new challenge and say, ‘Figure it out.’ The secret is to teach and transfer just one small task/responsibility at a time. Make sure the person masters each new task/responsibility before you transfer another. You can train them the old-fashioned way in short-term stages that track directly with adjustments in their day-to-day responsibilities. Every new task turns into a proving ground, which enables them to demonstrate proficiency and earn more responsibility right away.

Don’t fall for the myth that Millennials only want to learn from computers. That’s nonsense. Remember, they love grown-ups. They want to learn from people. They want to learn from you. You will never really take the place of a parent, but if you can truly become a trusted teaching-style manager, that is about as close as you can get.


Take It to the Next Level

If you want to take it the next level, go beyond regular performance coaching. Become a true champion of LEAN by becoming a teaching style leader. Make teaching/learning LEAN fundamentals an explicit part of your mission and goals for your team going forward.

Imagine the impact you could have if you dedicated just one or two hours per week to building up the LEAN skills of your team.  In just one or two hours per week, you can make them aware, make them care, and help them learn the basics one by one – one step at a time.  You can build them up and make them so much better.

This is the first in a four-part series.  View Part 2Part 3Part 4

About the Author

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (Revised & Updated, 2014). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website