Monday, June 27, 2011
The Role of a Lean Leader
My Friend Matt Wrye recently wrote about his role as an internal Lean consultant. He talked about the struggle some management places on Lean leaders between just doing it and influencing change. This got me thinking about my own experience, why this struggle occurs, and what the true role of a Lean leader should be.
Like Matt, I too have found myself in both types of roles. I believe this struggle with how the role is defined has a lot to do with the level of knowledge by management. So let me clarify by knowledge I mean true understand of Lean thinking as a business or management process that goes beyond improvement tools to capture employee development and engagement. I say management because it is often not just one person but a collection of managers that share a similar thinking and approach.
The level of involvement in Lean by the management team often shapes the role of the Lean leader. In my experience the less knowledgeable the management about REAL Lean (Bob Emiliani’s term) the more they think of it as a set of tools the more they want you to just do it. These are the managers that are usually hands-off with Lean and want to see the short term gains to demonstrate they are improving the process. They are focused on the results and outcomes and not the means by which we achieve them. This task oriented approach to management unfortunately is only sustainable while the doer is doing.
However those managers who truly know Lean understand the benefit comes from developing people to think and improve their own process the more they define the role as influencing or coaching. As Mike Rother said in Toyota Kata management must focus on how solutions are developed. Develop, via practice with coaching, the capability in people to develop new solutions. In this view the Lean leader can have the biggest impact coaching or influencing the process of improvement to capture the ingenuity of those in the organization.
In my experience being a coach is the most important aspect of a Lean leader. They are not the ones to come in and do it for you. They are the ones to show you how to do it with confidence so that you will be able to do it for yourself. A Lean leader must be relentless in teaching and expecting learning through actual practice.
The best analogy of a Lean leader that I have heard is related to agriculture. The Lean leader is a farmer not a hunter. Farmers take the long view, and win in the long term. Hunters take the short view, get early gains but ultimately die out. Farmers are shepherds and Lean leaders should do the same.
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