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Monday, December 2, 2019

Leaders Need to Lead – Six Principles of Lean Leader

Lean thinking is fundamentally transforming the way organizations operate. The Lean principles of continuous improvement, respect for people, and a relentless focus on delivering customer value are making teams and organizations rethink the practices that might have guided them for decades. A new, transformative approach to working requires a transformation in leadership, as well. For Lean to be truly effective, it needs effective Lean management — to champion Lean principles, offer guidance, and ensure that Lean is being used to optimize the entire organizational system for value delivery.

In a lean organization changes occur in all processes at all the areas of the institution. Therefore, lean leadership is required at all levels to ensure overall success. From the CEO to plant managers to supervisors and unit leaders, every leader has an essential role to play in sustaining the lean program. Ultimately, they have find ways to drive continuous change and maintain momentum from year to year. There is really no sure-fire approach to achieve this, but there are specific actions and behaviors which leaders at all levels can take, to sustain a lean initiative and ensure the program continues delivering long-term results and benefits to the organization.

Because lean demands continuous innovation and new processes, leadership in a lean organization is constantly faced with unique problems as they strive to sustain continuous-improvement. Therefore, to improve their effectiveness and hence meet some of these challenges, lean leaders incorporate the following principles in their personal leadership style.

1. Self-Knowledge
True self-knowledge leads to humility. The mark of a good lean leader is the ability to reflect and acknowledge their own weaknesses, seek improvement, learn constantly; and to give and receive challenges.

Before a leader can effectively lead a team and seize control of an institution, he or she needs to ‘know' themselves first. Far too many people lack a true understanding of their own capabilities - most underestimate their weaknesses, while overestimating their talents. As a result, they often make bad decisions about what they can handle on their own and where they should seek assistance from others. The trappings of power, titles and privilege can also fool one into pride, or the false belief that one is more qualified, smarter, or more experienced than those they are leading.

To effectively improve their leadership, lean leaders use some method to gain insight into their performance other than personal perception. This may involve completing a proficiency test in their field, taking an IQ test, or requesting their team to fill out an anonymous survey about themselves. The idea is to get a wholesome and objective feedback about oneself, and though it's an uncomfortable process, it's always well worth the effort.

2. Be Open to Change
To efficiently and effectively drive change in a lean organization, a lean leader must be open to change. This basically means being open to new ideas including those which they do not like, support, or claim ownership to. They should also constantly challenge assumptions and ideas, especially their own; and need be open to being wrong as well as willing to mend their ways.

3. Lead by Example
A lean leader sets the example for others to follow. He or she must be an excellent role model by following what they teach and ask of others.  For instance, if a leader expects team members to complete standard work and show proof of this, then he or she should also complete their leader standard work and provide proof of it for all to see.

To lead by example, a leader needs to act with highest integrity and be genuine. Also, their actions and decisions must at all times be aligned with and supportive of the organization's principles and mission. As a leader your actions should echo your words whenever possible – so practice what you preach.

4. Be Respectful
Every single person in the organization deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Lean leaders treat all people - especially their direct reports - as human beings who know how to think, come up with creative solutions, and solve problems. When employees and other stakeholders are treated with respect, only then can they be enabled to learn, think, and improve.

Leadership is about being a servant to the people who report to you, and supplying them with the resources they require to serve customers and abide by the company's principles. It's all about trusting, teaching, and allowing failures which impart important lessons.

5. Go to the Gemba
A lean leader must go to the gemba as often as possible. They must be present on the job site on a regular basis, actively engaging with the people closest to the customer- rather than spending most of their time in the office or conference rooms. This, as a result, ensures that they are able to truly understand the real situation, allowing them to take effective actions to improve performance.

A true lean leader frequents the workplace both when things are going well, and when problem arise - otherwise, employees are less likely to communicate the real situation if their boss only shows up when problems occur. 

6. Develop a Culture of Continuous Improvement
True lean leadership fosters continuous improvement even when the ideas for improvement do not measure up to expectations. A lean leader empowers their workers to take on the responsibility for resolving their own problems, by making it acceptable to attempt something even if it does not work out. It's essential to demonstrate that participating in improvement activities, challenging existing practices, and observing processes, are all part of a complete problem solving approach that will advance the organization.

Leaders play an integral role in motivating and influencing employees to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. If the leader does not demonstrate the behaviors and mindset required for successful lean implementation then they cannot expect their employees to.

When leaders are true role models for Lean behavior, this inspires everyone within an organization to deepen their understanding of Lean, fully engage with a transformational program, and close the gap between Lean tools and Lean thinking to fully realize the value of Lean.

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