My Kaizen Experience: Personal Growth

Over the past few weeks I have been engaged in a truly empowering and mind-opening experience at work.  I was leading a team for our local Shingijutsu Kaizen event, which was entirely new to me.  I was previously familiar with kaizen principles - and throughout my masters degree program I was certainly experienced in using lean tools and process improvement - but a kaizen event, especially of this magnitude, was new to me.

Last fall, I was in the process of restructuring my department and for about two months I worked 70 hours a week, so when Christmas time came along I was very pleased to be back to normal hours.  When I was presented the challenge of leading a kaizen team in early January, I freely admit that I accepted with a bit of resignation.  Thankfully, I am genuinely passionate about patient care, and I am a deeply competitive person.  Finding innovative, competitive ways to enhance patient care is exciting to me.

The details of the project and the tremendous work that went into it are a story of their own.  My team and I were faced with a very challenging task and the work that went into our project is something of which I am very proud.  But this is my story, the personal growth experience that I have had over the past few weeks.

I have been with my current organization for ten years this year, and my biggest frustration has always been how under-utilized I have been.  I am a 35 year old woman, educated, experienced and passionate about leadership, and yet in the not so distant past I have had managers pull me away from my leadership functions to have me answer phones at the reception desk for weeks on end.  In previous roles I have taken on projects resulting in big results for our region, and yet later on I was shifted into roles where I have worked in almost total isolation, with no opportunity to engage with anyone at all.

There were times in my journey where I was beyond frustrated.  I was demoralized.

I have only been in my current role for a short time but my new manager has expressed so much confidence in me.  She gave me this kaizen opportunity saying, "I want everyone to see you shine."  She used the word shine.  She empowered me and set me free to do this hard work that she believed I could do.  During the process she was present, but not domineering. She let me find my own way.  She supported me without stepping in to prop me up.  And when I shared some of the feedback with her that I received along the way she said, "I knew how impressive you would be."

The week of the actual kaizen event brought new challenges.  Our original scope, which had been so carefully managed so as not to rock the boat, was blown open when our sensei challenged us to think bigger.  My team struggled with thoughts of "but we need finance/commercial/operations leadership to make those decisions" but sensei said, "as a team, decide what you would do.  Think bigger!"

My team delivered on this challenge, and so impressed me.  As a team, we transitioned into a state of empowerment, where nothing was impossible for us.  We were asked on day four to share the story of our team, and it was one of empowerment.  That story is a reflection of my own personal empowerment from this process.

I had conversations this week that I will never forget.  Things that impacted me beyond this project, or even this job, that I will remember as I advance through my career.  There were moments of great praise, and there were moments of tough feedback.  There were moments where I felt elation, and in others that I felt defeated.  But then I would look away from the "stuff" and look into the eyes of my team members, and I saw their expectations, their reservations, their potential, and I found within myself the courage that I have always had.  The courage that comes when you are passionate about people.

A few years ago, one of my superiors bluntly told me that she could see no discernible evidence of my leadership abilities.  Not in that moment or in any moment since did I believe her.  I do not understand why some people try to put a lid on me.  People use all kinds of words to tear me down.  Other people use all kinds of words to build me up.  But at the end of the day, they are all just words.  I know who I am.

This kaizen week was a challenge.  I was not feeling 100% healthy, long days left my team tired.  There was conflict, change, and challenge all happening at once sometimes.  But I got to prove something to my doubters this week: I am a capable leader.

My mom, who happens to work with me and was a member on my team, told me afterwards that she couldn't have been more proud of the way I presented myself this week.  It meant so much coming from her, because no leader in my whole life has been as great a role model to me as she has been.  It is an honor for me to follow in her footsteps.