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How I Define Lean Leadership (Or How I Don’t)

Posted by Andrea Roussel

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May 12, 2015 7:01:00 AM

Andrea_RousselI believe that leadership is best defined by the ability to inspire others to be their best self. I also believe that too often, the words “management” and “leadership” are used as synonyms to describe the actions of supervisors in an organization. This is a mistake because these terms carry different meanings to employees within your organization.

Managing is a daily function, but true leadership should be focused on creating a vision and inspiring others. When it comes to the Lean Environment, the manager must play a critical role as a leader.

Good Lean leadership is based on the following:


Lean leaders don’t always have to have a position of authority. 

In my experience, Lean leaders in an organization exist at many different ranks – they can be the hourly shop floor employee, the procurement specialist, the warehouse supervisor, all the way to the director of operations. They are the people in your organization who are committed to making a difference. They are committed to doing what ever is necessary to improve the situation, and they are the people that you see “pulling” in your organization. They are constantly asking “why”. “Why do we do it this way?” “What would happen if we did it this way?” When you find an employee that pulls, it is your job as a Lean Leader to encourage that person, and foster these behaviors.

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Lean leaders challenge the “We have always done it that way” mentality.

Every organization has the people that constantly think things are good enough. They are comfortable, and they don’t see the importance of getting better. As a Lean leader, you have to work very closely with these types of people to develop a relationship with them and uncover their passions. Everyone has a passion, and when you uncover this passion, use it to start him on a Lean journey. In my last role, I worked with a machinist who was very proud of the fact that he knew exactly which tools to use to produce the highest quality part. He is still an excellent engineer, but as I worked with him, I watched him search over and over for the specific tool he needed for each specific job. It didn’t happen that day, but as he and I developed a relationship, I was able to introduce the idea of 5S and help him transform his cell into a more efficient way of working. Again, find their passion and use it!

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Lean leaders are teachers – they lead by example.

I was fortunate enough to work in an environment where my Lean leader believed that if he “taught” me, I would be able to “do.” He didn’t tell me what to do; he SHOWED me what to do. He always took the time to show me what an opportunity for improvement looked like on the manufacturing or office floor. We would play catchball every day. There wasn’t a day that went by where either he or I would say, “I have this idea, what do you think?” Lean leaders willingly participate in continuous improvement, and are constantly teaching and encouraging their staff.

Webinar Recording: Why Great Leaders Must Unlearn to Succeed in Today's Exponential World

Lean leaders set the vision, develop the culture, and measure the success. 

A Lean leader’s job is to set the vision and develop the culture of the organization. Key performance indicators (KPIs) should be clear and should be something that can be measured. Examples of KPIs are safety, quality, delivery, cost, etc. Once the organization’s vision is clear, individual departments can set their own vision and develop an improvement culture. Each group must find a way to measure how they are performing against KPIs. For example, if you are measuring delivery, you might develop a metric around on time delivery to customers. How are you performing to your first commit date? The measurement piece is critical to determining the success of your department your organization.

How to Manage Your Improvement Metrics
I challenge you to talk to five people today and ask them to define leadership and Lean leadership. I would be willing to bet that each of those people will define it in a different way. The definition isn’t always as important as the actions. Develop your Lean leaders and they will help transform your organization. 

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