Lean Houses for Dragons

FEATURE – As her new book comes out, the author discusses how it is people who breathe life into an organization and how much a leader’s behavior can influence them.

Words: Sharon Visser, lean author and President of Lean Institute Botswana

Many assume that a business has a life of its own. However, without people to do the work an organization is devoid of life, made up of bricks and mortar, equipment, products, and processes.

This statement takes us straight to the Lean Transformation Framework so eloquently explained by John Shook, who represents it as a house and speaks of the roof, the foundation, the pillars, and the inside of the home. Critically, John notes that it is the inside of the house that breathes life into an organization. Indeed, without people and their behaviors very little can be accomplished.

As people, we are social animals. In every action we perform, whether individually or collectively, there is a concept of dependency. The positive outcome of this social cohesion is that together we can achieve the impossible.

Throughout this book, I chose to use the metaphor of a dragon. While, at first, this might look better suited for a children’s book than a management title, I believe it is very effective in representing the combination of actions – the result of the social cohesion I just mentioned – that breathe life into an otherwise lifeless organization. The dragon I speak about is the response of the people doing the work to the leadership’s influence on their behavior.

As a leader, you have the choice to be a dragon whisperer or a dragon tamer. Ostensibly, whispering or taming has what appears to be the same outcome, but anyone who knows about horses knows that there is a subtle but essential difference.

Taming is quicker and gives an outward result of compliance, which often breaks the horse’s spirit. Whispering takes time, effort, respect for the horse, its fears and its needs. It promotes the development of trust before anything else.

This result of such care is a horse that willingly responds to the whisperer, while keeping its spirit and will. In a time of need, this horse will independently react to a situation without the whisperer’s command. It will always run harder, faster, jump higher than the tame horse.

As you will learn from my story, embracing the concept of Respect for People is instrumental to achieving a successful lean transformation, even though the leap from classical management to lean management – or from tamer to whisperer, if you will – is greater than one may think. Add to the mix a remote environment in Africa, a business filled with variation, a culture with diverse education levels ranging from good to illiterate, and you might just be in for something of a “lean adventure.”

I hope my book will show you how to apply lean principles wherever you are and to whatever you do. Know that if we could do it at Ngami, you can do it too. I will have succeeded if I have managed to use my words to encourage leaders to take the leap into lean, letting go of their role as firefighters and replacing it with the “joy of pull” and increased “flow” in their lives. My hope is for you to understand that the people doing the work can be true heroes and that, given the opportunity and coaching, they will awe you with their dedication, commitment, creativity, and problem-solving skills. Most of all, I am hoping that one day you might become a “Master Dragon Whisperer.”

Lean Houses for Dragons book cover

Lean Houses for Dragons is available in ebook format NOW! Buy your copy for Kindle here.

Print copies will ship this month. If you are interested in one, please enter your email address below:





Sharon Visser photo

Sharon Visser is former Dealer Principal at Halfway Toyota Ngami in Maun, Botswana. She is currently the CEO of Lean Institute Botswana.