Sensei Sue???

I was talking with a group of people about leading lean, and someone asked me, “Are you a Sensei?”

So of course I said “No!” I don’t call myself a Sensei, because I consider myself to be at the grasshopper-level of lean expertise.

However, the question did make me think. I call myself a Black Belt without blinking an eye – on the checklist of how to be a Black Belt, I have filled in all the boxes: [ ] Go through formal classroom training with hands-on practice and exercises. [ ] Be mentored in leading a project team through a Six Sigma DMAIC project, with all the bells & whistles (graphical, statistical, and lean analysis). [ ] Get seal of approval in the form of a signed certificate from the MBB teaching the class. [ ] Fulfill additional years of leading Six Sigma teams with demonstrated tangible & intangible benefits. And, because I’m an overachiever, [ ] Obtain certification from a national professional organization so my credentials would be a little more portable/marketable (being honest about it!).

So why don’t I call myself a Sensei? What’s the checklist for that? One of my teachers told me it would take leading hundreds of lean projects. There’s a lot of debate about whether Lean practitioners should get into the certification race. I’m starting to see jobs posted that require “certification in lean.”

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Are you a Sensei? Do you know anyone who is? And what does that mean? Inquiring minds want to know!

Comments 7

  1. leanguy

    I’d liken this to cowboys.

    If you go to a country bar (I live in Texas so there are lots of them) and you see some guy decked out in fancy dried cleaned Wranglers with his shirt starched beyond what most humans thought possible… well, chances are this is some office worker pretending to be a cowboy.

    If, however, you see some guy over in the corner minding his business… wearing a ball cap… with some normal jeans and some normal looking shirt… well that could very be a real cowboy.

    With this said, anyone that actually calls themselves a sensei is probably… well, you know, not.

  2. Chris L.

    The perennial debate…degree vs experience…

    6Sigma = meeting customer requirements

    Should you walk into an interview which requires the dreaded certification, one could argue all day long that your journey is more effective than some certifications…but the key quality characteristic the CUSTOMER (employer) is looking for is that piece of processed wood pulp.

    Are there drugstore cowboys out there? Sure. If you are okay where you are and don’t need it, then it becomes a personal value proposition. If there’s a chance you’ll be heading out the door soon, the paper is probably worth it.

    I recently met with a group that is hiring ONLY Master Black Belts and one MUST be "certified." So here’s the rub….the philosophy that espouses standardization (sigma) really doesn’t have one and many organizations develop programs and self certify. The whole MBB thing is even more ambiguous.

    With that said, any bets on how many Harvard/Princeton MBA and Accounting degrees brought down the US economy?

  3. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks Ron and Chris for your comments!

    Like Ron, I am more impressed with someone who acts like a sensei – in other words, a master of the approach and a teacher at heart – than someone waving a certificate around who has never done a project.

    As Chris points out, there are starting to be employers who value the certificate as an entree to a position. Similar to requiring a degree, isn’t it? As a starting qualification regardless of skills, experience, or accomplishment. Hmmmm…..

  4. Stephen C. Crate

    I would say you are a sensei. As a former karate student I remmber sensei was used as a descriptive term like teacher or professor. I did a Sensei wikipedia search and discovered that is exactly what it means. Certainly the skill and expertise to organize and facilitate lean initiatives rises to this definition.

  5. David Budzynski

    Sensei = teacher = one with experience who can TEACH.
    There are many individuals out there with more degrees than a thermometer however, they could not teach a person to 5S because they never got their hands dirty.
    I would take a Greenbelt with a dozen or so hands on completed SUCCESSFUL project over a pushy Six Sigma Certified consultant any day.

    The Sensei test is to find out what others think of your skills anonymously. By chance they agree unanimously that you are Sensei material then I would hire you in a heartbeat!

  6. Sue Kozlowski

    Stephen, thanks for the definition check – the connotation of teacher is somewhat blurred in this country, I think, because we flash back to our elementary or high school days… and many of us know at least a few professors who are knowledge experts beyond doubt, but can’t teach.

    I love David’s phrase, "more degrees than a thermometer" – I’m definitely adding that to my vocabulary! And I agree, successful responsibility for projects is worth more than a piece of paper any day.
    –Sue K.

  7. GaryPCox

    Hi Sue and all,
    As I read the answers and responses I’m thinking; who is the judge of a good teacher, the student or those who witness the student put the learning into practice? Maybe both?
    I’ve recently been certified as a Lean Black Belt in addition to my previously acquired Six Sigma Black Belt. I coach GB’s and BB’s in their projects and most of my staff are trained as BB’s or GB’s who lead projects. Does this make me a MBB or Sensei? Who’s to say?
    What I am most concerned about is not what title I am called but the results of my coaching efforts. Are those I coach learning to apply new skills in problem solving and process improvements? Are those skills being transferred into other areas of their lives? If the answer is ‘yes’ then it matters not what title we have, satisfaction of demonstrated results should be enough, if a potential employer wants ‘certification’ show it, if they want to hear how you achieved results offer those you coach as references.
    They will determine if you are MBB or Sensei.
    My thoughts…

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