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In memory of a true leadership hero – Eliyahou M. Goldratt

On June 11th, 2011, the world lost Eli Goldratt – a true leadership hero.

Many call him a management visionary because of his Theory of Constraints – a management and improvement focusing approach that in retrospect most see as “just common sense.” A fact that he accepted as praise.

But, or maybe in addition, I call him a leadership hero because of one of the fundamentals underlying his work – his assertion that people are good.

As a business leader for many years, I know how easy it can be to blame problems in a business on the people doing the work. “If we just had smarter, harder working, more careful people. If people just did what we wanted them to do, everything would be fine.”

But the fact is that as managers, we often attribute the problem to people when it’s really a situation or a policy issue. Goldratt referred to this in his early work as a policy constraint. Policies are not physical constraints, like a production bottleneck, but they still act to constrain the system’s bottleneck.

For example, if we fail to plan new product projects and then communicate the plans should we expect people to just know what the best use of their time is? Or when they should stop and move on to something else? If we laud multi-tasking as a valuable skill, is it any surprise when multiple projects suffer and nothing gets done on time.

But Eli’s one little assertion, that people are basically good and want to do the right thing, leads us to first ask how the policies we have put in place, both formal and informal, cause people to act. If we start with that assumption, what can we do to put people into situations where it is obvious what doing the right thing means.

Of course, it can be a big bad world out there, and no manager should be so naïve as to think that there aren’t exceptions – Eli certainly wasn’t. But rather than building our policies around the exceptions, let’s build them instead around what Eli knew was true – that the vast majority of your employees want to do the right thing, and as leaders it’s our role to put them in situations where they can do just that.


{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Marian Thier June 21, 2011, 11:12 am

    I appreciate your bringing this news forward to us. The Goal was a seminal book that engendered many hours of discussion among both consultant colleagues and clients.

  • Derrick Roberts June 22, 2011, 12:24 am

    We appreciate your news of the sad demise of great original thinker.
    I have read some of his books and try to practice TOC. I am not sure how many in India are familiar with his TOC.
    Our heartfelt sorrow to his Family and Associates.Derrick Roberts India

  • Curt Rice June 22, 2011, 8:39 am

    Very saddened to hear of this news. I recently read the book and thought it was a great read. TOC is not new but he surely broke it into the simplest terms to understand for all disciplines.

  • Jerry Pollock June 27, 2011, 6:26 pm

    ‘The Goal’ was actually required reading at a former company. I am so glad it was, as it added a focus and clarity to understanding complex management situations. I am sorry for his passing.

  • Neil Shaw June 28, 2011, 2:08 am

    Many years on I’m still moving Herbies

  • NARAYAN July 28, 2011, 3:08 am

    The Goal is the first management book I’ve read that felt like it came from a person who has seen it all.

    Taut as a thriller , for the first time , it was great to say you worked on the shop floor ; the factory was where it all happens.

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