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Friday, December 6, 2019

Lean Quote: Act your way to the thinking you want’ - Lean Leadership is the Act

On Fridays I will post a Lean related Quote. Throughout our lifetimes many people touch our lives and leave us with words of wisdom. These can both be a source of new learning and also a point to pause and reflect upon lessons we have learned. Within Lean active learning is an important aspect on this journey because without learning we can not improve.

"Act your way to the thinking you want. — John Shook

Lean management (and the leadership implicit within the role) plays an essential role in the operation and success of lean businesses.  Without a willingness to adopt a lean leadership approach, companies will struggle to fully benefit from the implementation of lean, as leading influencers will still be fixed in traditional management methods.

Managing lean businesses requires a fresh approach, with managers being considered as coaches, leaders and mentors rather than simply a ‘boss’.

This style of leadership goes hand in hand with the core principles of lean, as it focuses on optimizing all aspects of the business, including working relationships between managers and employees.

It has six basic qualities, which are:

Leaders as superior observers: They go to the action -- they call it the gemba -- to observe not only the machines and the products but also to spend significant time with the employees. They also are in contact with their customers. A much overlooked leadership skill they have in abundance is the ability to be an empathetic listener.

Leaders as learners: They do not assume they know it all. Rather, they go to the floor to learn. They are in “lifelong” learning mode.

Leaders as initiators: They plan, they articulate and sell their plans, and they act on their plans. They are not risk averse. They are not cavalier.

Leaders as teachers: They are “lifelong” teachers. When something goes wrong, their first thought is not “Who fouled up?” but “Why did if fail?” and “How can I use this as a teaching opportunity?”

Leaders as role models: They walk the talk. There is no substitute for this. NONE.

Leaders as supporters: They recognize they mainly get work done through others, so they have mastered the skills of “servant leadership.”

These six qualities are by no means exhaustive, but I believe they do capture many of the behaviors that we have come to associate with Lean Leadership. They are generally distinct from the general leadership qualities and should thus be considered ‘additional’ traits above and beyond the foundational ones. It is important to cultivate these leadership expectations by institutionalizing them in practices for leader development. But most importantly, leaders must build a lean culture by themselves adhering to the principles of lean leadership on a daily basis, thus generating the repeatable behaviors in the organization that will result in a high level of performance. As John Shook says, ‘Act your way to the thinking you want’ --- Lean Leadership is the Act.

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