Can lean leadership be a good way?

In an increasingly volatile and complex world, due to the emergence of new technologies, various types of management in this context appear as saviors of the homeland, but undoubtedly the Lean, based on the Toyota production system, processes of digital transformation, because it is based on essentially human characteristics. And, Lean leadership is necessary to make the most of the methodology. The Lean manager ends up exercising more of a mentoring role than of management, in a sense.

The main function of the Lean management manager is, among many, to create, motivate and raise new leaders and help his team adopt a culture of continuous improvement and "smart-fail". The Lean leader is undoubtedly a critical component of the Lean philosophy.

Since the new challenges require that management mechanisms can be created or modified, as a consequence, the behavior of leaders must always be consistent with the new fundamental premises, when the goal is to sustain the transformation effort.

Whether you’re on top of a leading company or as an engineer working to guide a group of operators, in your Lean journey, you need a variety of leadership skills.

But while the specific tools you use to lead different roles and work processes may vary, the basics are the same.

What is lean leadership

Lean is a set of principles and practices for efficient manufacturing and operations that have grown from Toyota’s production system developed in Japan.

Lean management focuses on problem solving and continuous improvement to increase quality and eliminate waste.

Lean leadership inspires behavioral change that promotes complete Lean transformation. But what exactly is Lean leadership?

Lean leadership is defined by the ability to empower people. It revolves around the concept of helping people achieve professional and personal growth, allowing them to be proud of their work.

One of the main characteristics of the Lean manager’s profile is to ask questions instead of giving answers. Leading the team to reflect and rationalize the impact of the work being done and its possible improvements.

This reflects the fundamentals of Lean management that say everyone, at all levels, should build new resources and that people closest to a problem usually understand it better, in this regard, it fits the concept of "coopetition" and horizontal organizations.

The Lean manager does not always need to have a position of authority to give his best.

Within business management, Lean leaders in an organization exist at many different levels - they can be the shop floor employee, the procurement specialist, sales, the warehouse supervisor, and even the operations director.

Lean leadership wants to drive improvement, drive engagement and drive problem solving - and still do their daily work. Every human asset that creates value within business models can be part of Lean leadership.

Lean management challenges leadership to go to the places where work is being done in order to optimize processes, improve work and develop people to become better.

Instead of relying solely on reports, executive summaries, and other forms of edited and condensed information, Lean leaders go directly to the source.

The Key to a Successful Lean Journey? Leadership!

An organization that tries to transform itself, needs to have strong and passionate leaders at the top of the company who own or have learned a number of core behaviors and values, and who shape them every day, since digital transformation is not about technology, soft-Skills should always be present at the root of the strategy.

Always think beyond the adherence of tech, whether artificial intelligence, machine learning or internet of things, Lean leadership needs to understand, create and think about how to impute value flow from project management to customer experience.

So what are these values and behaviors, and how can a leader teach and apply them to the organization as a whole?

Learn. Develop. Sustain. This is the reason for existence of a Lean manager. It’s about setting high standards, providing value to customers in a way that is uniquely yours.

Next, check out six characteristics of the manager who follows the Lean philosophy.

1. Servant leader

Servant leadership is being a coach and a player. If you’re a CEO, you really need to know what it’s like to be in each other’s shoes, it requires an exercise in empathy. That’s servile leadership.

2. Embrace change and learn

The journey never ends and we must learn forever. There will be difficult lessons to be learned throughout the Lean journey, but the manager who follows this philosophy is not afraid to admit mistakes and accept change as the best way.

3. It leads to chaos

Disciplined chaos is the ability to recognize where you want to go and stay focused on that goal, without allowing chaos (problems, difficulties) to take you away from your goal.

4. It has values and follows them

Some fundamental values of a Lean manager is to be honest, fair, always fulfill their own commitments, respect the most different individuals in society and stimulate intellectual curiosity among their work team.

5. Cultural revolutionary

The essential values of a company should be the "cement" on which the Lean manager builds his base. The revolution is what happens above that, but it was exactly the cement that allowed it to happen.

Key qualities of a Lean manager

Although great managers possess a number of values and qualities that set them apart, the leaders of an organization striving to become Lean exhibit a number of very specific and necessary qualities respecting their individuality.

Discipline and humility form the basis. Why discipline? Because Lean transformations and change management efforts are hard, exhausting, and often thankless goals.

While the rewards are worthwhile, a very regimented and highly disciplined approach to daily work is needed to reinforce the focus on standardization and ensure that the organization remains optimistic about the future.

The most powerful, though often overlooked aspect of a Lean company is standardization.

If people within the organization are being asked to structure and standardize their activities to learn and improve, this should begin with the very work of managers and business processes.

In addition, the only way to drive improvement is through a methodical application of the scientific method / Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) process to problems and opportunities.

Thus, due to the continuous and daily focus on standardization and application of the PDCA by "everyone, everywhere, every day", long-term efforts are doomed to failure without a strong sense of personal discipline on the part of the organization’s managers.

If leaders shape discipline, others follow closely by simple example. When we think of strong managers, we usually think of difficult, dynamic, assertive people, such as command and control.

However, why is it important to have humility in the profile of the manager of an organization that loves Lean management?

Before answering, let’s start with another question: what is the ultimate goal or "holy grail" of a Lean company? Opinions vary, but in their simplest form, the ultimate destination is to become a learning organization.

So, how does humility work in this concept of organization that learns? We can probably answer for ourselves by reflecting on our own experiences with not-so-humble leaders.

Is the arrogant or proud manager open-minded and in a position to learn from your successes and mistakes? Unlikely. A humble person is in a much better position to be open to new paths, new ideas and improvements.

The dangers of becoming very proud or satisfied with our current performance can be noted through many examples - the Roman and British Empires, the Soviet Union, not to mention GM, IBM, Delphi and Enron, to name a few.

But for a Lean organization, the biggest threat of all is the resurgence of waste. One of the most significant benefits of being Lean is the reduction of waste.

Complacency and a state of satisfaction are completely contrary to what we are trying to build in a Lean company, because they allow waste back into the system.

It is much easier to maintain low levels of waste than to remove it again. Consequently, humility is an essential quality of a leader and forms the basis for the development of a learning organization.

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