This is the back story to why some of my books are written in a tough tone.

I receive a lot of feedback on my books. Most of it is positive, though occasionally it is negative. The negative feedback most often relates to the tone of my REAL LEAN and Lean Is Not Mean books, which are perceived as is too harsh, possibly turning off the intended audience of managers. One amazon reviewer had this to say about Volume One of REAL LEAN:

“…this book will most likely alienate the very people it needs to influence: today’s managers in US industry… I am pretty sure Emiliani’s approach here would discourage any serious consideration [by] any manager, fairly quickly.”

I understand that viewpoint, which suggests that a sugar-coated approach would be more acceptable. Perhaps the reviewer is right.

The tone I use is not indiscriminate. I purposefully chose to use a forceful tone because management is a huge responsibility that is often taken lightly. Management is a serious activity that has serious consequences for people. Bad management causes human suffering* and can have major life consequences (divorce, death, etc.). In my view, bad management must be made visible to see reality as it actually is. Furthermore, the hundreds of errors managers make clearly reveals that management practice lacks professionalism and must be improved.

I have found that both the sugar-coated approach and the direct approach I use are imperfect and each has limitations. Managers, like any person, filter out what they do not like or pump in more of what they do like, regardless of the approach employed by the writer. I chose to be consistent with Lean principles and practices and present the facts, knowing that how managers react to my writing is out of my control.

As former manager and current teacher, I feel it is my duty to be tough. I wish that more people felt the same way. The tough tone is my way of responding to a tough problem: poor quality management that is almost always supported by flawed ideas, largely the result of incuriosity. After years of reflection, I believe that the tone is appropriate for the intended audience, managers, who seek positions that make them responsible for other people’s lives and livelihoods.

I am certainly willing to take the criticism on the tone of my writing, as that was my own choosing. But, I’d also like to offer some criticism of my own. I believe that the majority of Lean authors have been too soft in their tone, cheerleading for Lean while ignoring the pervasiveness of Fake Lean and the human suffering that accompanies it. Trumpeting success while ignoring failure does not accurately represent the real world. Misleading people in this way is inconsistent with the “Respect for People” principle.

The real world can be a tough place that requires, at times, a tough tone.


* For example, layoffs as the first response to nearly any problem shows zero critical thinking and zero creativity. Imagine if a company’s cash flow went to zero; the managers would go berserk. But they have no problem imposing that pain on employees (or suppliers).

2 Responses to The Back Story – Writing In A Tough Tone

  1. Jim Haugen says:

    I agree completely with you belief that a “tough” tone is not only appropriate, but required due to the huge responsibility that managers have over both the business as well as the employees. I have met very few managers who actually believed and acted in a way that reflected employees are the most valuable and important resource in any enterprise.

    I am also continually stunned by the lack of knowledge that management shows regarding what goes on in the larger world, and how it could impact – positive or negative – the business. They seem to be at best ill-read, going through each day with blinders on, focused on nothing other than their goals and how to appear to have met them.

    But perhaps I am being a bit harsh?

    • Bob Emiliani says:

      No, you’re not too harsh. One average, that’s about right. “… ill-read, going through each day with blinders on, focused on nothing other than their goals…” There are exceptions, as you know. Some are better and some are worse.

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