My dog, Bailey, has a sensei – a dog obedience trainer. Actually, my wife and I have a sensei… to teach us how to train our dog. In fact, my wife and I have used the same dog obedience trainer for the last three dogs, all German Shepherds. No one will mistake us for Mr. and Mrs. Dog Whisperer.

Recently, while I was on business travel, my wife and Bailey had a lesson with the trainer. In short, the trainer was not impressed. Bailey was unfocused and not very successful at executing the new commands from the prior lesson.

The trainer astutely noted that the dog was suffering from the effect of inconsistent training. Yes, I was the master at the previous lesson (while my wife was out of town with kid #2) and maybe, just maybe,  I did not train rigorously enough to help Bailey master the latest technique…and maybe I did not effectively transfer the knowledge to my wife so that she could herself learn the new technique and practice it with Bailey.

If you have ever taken your dog to obedience school or done the private lesson thing, it does not take long to figure out that the training has more to do with the master and less about the dog. In other words, the dog does not magically absorb Lassie-like obedience and intelligence in a few hours of training.

The master is responsible for learning the techniques and commands through practice (PDCA) with their animal under the tutelage of the sensei. Then the expectation is that the master(s) will rigorously practice the new techniques and commands (more PDCA) over the following week or weeks until the next lesson, whereupon they will demonstrate their new (sort of) mastered skills and be ready for new learnings. To help, my trainer even leaves a one page “standard work” document after each lesson. It details the proper technique, command, etc.

So, the connection to lean leadership…or what my dog obedience sensei has reinforced for me:

  • Lean leaders must learn proper behaviors and techniques from the external sensei, so that they in turn can coach others within the organization.
  • Lean leaders cannot abdicate their responsibility for transformation to the external sensei.
  • The followers in the organization can only absorb so much from the external sensei during his/her relatively short time at their gemba. The long-term effect (or lack thereof) is purely up to the lean leaders.
  • The lean leaders must be absolutely (and pragmatically) consistent in message, principles, systems and tools, otherwise the workforce will become confused and frustrated.
  • Even though lean leaders often know what to do, how to do it and why they should do it, they often don’t do it. A good external sensei will keep them honest.

Dog is man’s best friend – they are loyal, loving, obedient and can prompt useful lean reflection.

Related post: WWSD: What Would the Sensei Do?