What I have learned on the flight and bus about lean leadership

Jan 10, 2015

I live in Vaxholm, Sweden and often take the bus to my office in Stockholm. The bus is equipped with seatbelts and signs that tell people to use them.

Still almost nobody uses the seat belts. Children, teenagers, adults, and seniors. We all sit without seatbelts and just hold on a little tighter in the curves, hoping that everything will be okay.

An airplane also contains seatbelts, but here we can see a whole other behavior. Every time I have been on a flight everyone has been using the seatbelts for take-off and landing. Regardless if someone is afraid of flights or used to them, part of a slightly drunk charter gang or a business traveler. We all sit happily belted and safe.

What is the reason for our varying behavior? Is the bus safer than the plane? Probably not. The bus is driving on the highway, stuffed with traffic in the morning. Multiple times I have been on a bus that have put on the brake so abruptly some people fell off their seats.

Is the reason a difference in legislation? No, according to Swedish law, everyone should be wearing their seat belts in the bus.

What is the actual cause of this big difference then?

I think the difference lies in the flight attendant. On the plane, there is someone who actually cares if we follow the instructions or not. The flight attendants check every passenger at the times when the seatbelt sign is on. They instruct and assist anyone who needs it. Should there be a seatbelt that does not work properly, he/she will take care of the situation.

Without being bossy or pushy, the flight attendant in this way makes sure that everyone will do what they have to. If someone wasn't to oblige they would have to speak to the flight captain and take some measures, but it is rarely necessary.

In the bus, on the other hand, nobody tells us what to do. Instead, we look around us. If no one else is wearing their seatbelt, it feels weird to put on yours. I am sure that many travelers are a bit scared that the bus will be in an accident, but the disinclination towards going against the stream is stronger than the safety concerns.

I think this comparison is a good example of how managers/team leaders can work in a Lean-organization.

I think the leader should, like the flight attendant, in a friendly manner instruct their employees. Then the leader makes sure that everyone understands the instructions and properly follows them. If the instructions for some reason is difficult to follow, the leader should initiate problem solving and improvement work. If anyone has a problem, the manager should be supportive and helpful.

On the flight the airline company has trained the flight attendant into this behavior, it is a part of their mission.

The question is – what is our leaders mission and how have we taught them to act? Do we want everything to work like on the bus or the plane?

By Oskar Olofsson

 

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