Want High Performance? Build High Degrees of Confidence.

By on July 8, 2015
Want High Performance? Build High Degrees of Confidence.

More than a few years ago, I was a student pilot in USAF flight training. One of my classmates, let’s call him Bill, was an honors graduate of the School of Engineering at a large Midwestern university and a varsity athlete. He was very bright. He had all of the attributes that one could imagine as being needed in an Air Force pilot. At the beginning of our training we all viewed Bill as the guy in our class who would go on to a very successful career in the Air Force, flying high performance jets.

Like almost all of us, Bill entered pilot training with high degrees of enthusiasm and excitement coupled with occasional twinges of doubt. He excelled in our classroom training and at the beginning of our flight training seemed to be progressing like the rest of us. An occasional hard landing. Periodic cases of the instructor pilot having to make corrections on the takeoff run to insure the plane was perfectly aligned with the center line of the runway. Not elevating the nose of the plane at quite the right angle on takeoff. Typical stuff for a student pilot.

But then Bill started to say things that weren’t typical. He expressed serious doubt about his ability to fly. He said, “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t think I can be an Air Force pilot.” And, coupled with these expressions of doubt in his ability to fly came problems with flying. Bill’s doubts had overwhelmed his natural abilities and he washed out of pilot training.

During my years as an Air Force pilot, I often thought about Bill. Superb athlete. Honors graduate in engineering. And I thought about myself. Athlete? Not really. I could hit a tennis ball but that was about it. Engineering student? No. English major. I came to realize that there was one crucial difference between Bill and myself. He didn’t think he could become an Air Force pilot. On the other hand, I had an instructor pilot—a veteran of WWII—who drilled into my head every step of the way that I was definitely going to graduate from flight training.

During my years of work at St. Louis Community College as a Lean consultant, I’ve also thought about Bill and, specifically, the number of “Bills” and “Marys” I’d observed at work on the line in factories. I’d seen hundreds of intelligent people whose creativity and knowledge had been bottled up by doubt, by a lack of self-confidence.

Removing the crippling effect of doubt from “Bills” and “Marys” is the single most important thing that a management team can do in any company. Why do I say this? Because the most valuable asset any company has is the knowledge, the intelligence, and the creativity of its workforce. Deriving maximum value from this asset often spells the difference between success and failure in the marketplace.

I’ve seen, over and over again, what happens when doubt is replaced by self-confidence. For example, I recall Doug. Doug was a member of a 5S team at a manufacturer of seats for the automotive industry. For months, he had sat quietly in our 5S meetings. During one of our meetings during which we’d discussed a problem on the line, I asked the team if anyone had any ideas on how to fix this problem. After the meeting, Doug came up to me and said that he thought he knew how to take care of it. I said “great” and asked him if he’d be willing to present his ideas to the team at our next meeting. He said he would and at our next session brought in a flip chart filled with notes outlining the fix he was suggesting. He made a great presentation. His fix worked.

It’s what happened following the meeting that really made what Doug had done stick in my memory. With tears in his eyes, this veteran of over twenty years on the line told me that this had been the first time that anyone had ever asked him, “What do you think?” For Doug, this simple experience became a life-changing event. He became an active contributor to the 5S team, filled with enthusiasm and not at all reticent when it came to sharing his ideas.

All organizations are filled with Bills and Dougs. Individuals like Bill whose abilities are crippled by doubt and people like Doug who experience the joy that comes with the discovery that they can contribute a lot more to their company than they previously thought they could.

Turning Bills into Dougs is one of most important initiatives any company can undertake.

Lean thinking and work processes can make this happen. Properly executed, Lean creates a work environment in which respect, trust, and candor are the defining characteristics. As this happens, the veil of doubt that limits the ability of individuals to make full use of their knowledge and creativity is lifted and great things start to happen.

Want high performance? Lift doubt. Build confidence.

I’d very much appreciate having the opportunity to discuss with you the ways in which our Lean consulting and training resources could do this for your company. You can reach me anytime at 314-303-0612. Let’s talk.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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