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Monday, April 8, 2024

The Role of a Lean Leader

There is often a missing link in many Lean organizations - which is, the set of leadership structures and behaviors that constitute a lean management system. People frequently equate ‘Lean' with the tools used to standardize processes and generate efficiencies; and organizations tend to focus more on the implementation of these tools. However, implementing tools only accounts for, at most, 20% of the effort needed in lean transformations. The remaining 80% should be spent on changing leaders' behaviors and practices; and eventually their mindsets.

Lean leadership bridges a crucial divide: the gap between lean thinking and lean tools. Lean leaders have an essential role to play in lean transformations.

What’s Lean Leadership?

Lean leadership is all about commitment; commitment to your employees, commitment to the system and commitment to making changes towards improvement. Leaders in a lean environment need good communication skills to understand the problems their people face.

Lean leaders can give their teams the tools to succeed and encourage them to make wise decisions that lead to long-term, competitive growth. It typically involves helping individuals achieve professional and personal progress and acknowledging their contributions to the workplace. This type of leadership can foster a culture of continuous improvement through employee engagement, decision-making and communication.

Here are some roles and responsibilities of lean leaders:

Coach and develop others

As a leader, it may be your responsibility to help others improve. Coaching can enable continuous improvement and personal growth. When your teammates reach their full potential, this can ultimately make your task as a leader easier. Coaching can also enable you to take an interest in your team's development and show that you care about their success, possibly making them more loyal to the company. Giving your team the tools to succeed and encouraging them to make wise decisions can lead to long-term, competitive growth. Mentoring employees can also make them more valuable to the company.


The lean leader should serve their team by providing support, guidance, and development opportunities while challenging them to improve performance. Lean leaders must challenge their teams to go beyond their comfort zones and aim to achieve excellence. This can involve setting ambitious goals, providing feedback, and encouraging team members to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

Facilitate Teamwork

Teamwork is a key component because lean leadership requires employees from different departments to collaborate to improve processes. Encouraging teamwork can help streamline communication channels and ultimately improve communication. Teamwork can also contribute to developing a positive culture, which can boost employee satisfaction by motivating them while at work.

Go to Gemba (Walk the Floor)

As a lean leader, you can use Gemba, a method that encourages you to visit the workstation and engage with employees face-to-face. Instead of depending primarily on reports, executive summaries and other edited forms of information, you can go to the source to listen to employees and learn about the processes that guide the organization’s success. To create an effective environment for improvement, it can be helpful to develop faith in your team's abilities, expertise and experience.

Drive Continuous Improvement Mindset

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.

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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