Does Your Lean Leadership Style Balance Inquiry and Advocacy?

lean-leadershipLean Leadership teaches that leaders need to know the right time to advocate and the right time to listen (inquiry). Both are needed in a lean culture, and each has its own techniques.


Advocacy: Advocating a point of view; stating or defending your opinion;act of pleading or arguing for something

Inquiry: A process that has the aim of augmenting knowledge, resolving doubt, or solving a problem; getting to the point by asking questions; seeking to understand other points of view while withholding judgment

Some key points regarding advocacy and inquiry in lean leadership include:

  • Advocacy and inquiry should always be supported by the organization's guiding principles.
  • As a leader, you will be more successful by increasing the percentage of the time you spend inquiring.
  • When a leader uses inquiry well, it sets an environment where others can listen and contribute without fear or retaliation. It can also result in more creative ideas, better team communication, and a greater willingness to engage.

Effective Advocating in Lean Leadership

  • State what you are advocating and show an example.
  • State your understanding of the problem and the root cause of the problem that come from:
    • the data you have used.
    • practicing Go-See – the Gemba where the problem exists.
  • Put yourself in other people’s shoes to hear what you are saying.
  • Invite people to challenge your ideas, as challenges will make it stronger.
  • Refrain from being defensive.
  • Openly reveal where your ideas are weak.

Effective Inquiry in Lean Leadership

  • Listen intently to understand the other person’s mental models and position. Listening can occur at multiple levels:
    • Tier 1 (What): What are you saying? What is being promoted or questioned?
    • Tier 2 (How): What information is the person sharing and by what means? How do I interpret the means? Is there meaning in the emotion?
    • Tier 3 (Emotion): What is the emotional state of person sharing with you? Am I understanding what they are trying to say – do we understand the subtleties? Have subtleties been translated into direct points?
  • Understand what assumptions/data are used to form this understanding?
  • Questions need to directed to the problem and process, not the people.
  • Questions should not be leading or interrogative, but exploratory to improve your own understanding.
  • Offer your own views and advocacy.
  • Discuss the gap analysis of the different things being advocated and look for solutions.
  • Listen for the larger meaning that may come from open sharing of ideas.


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November 13-15, 2014

Georgia Tech Supply Chain and Logistics Institute

Transforming an organization from traditional thinking to lean thinking requires lean leadership. This is the third course in a three-course series on becoming a Lean Supply Chain professional. While the previous courses focus on strategic and tactical implementation of the lean supply chain, this final course builds the individual into a lean leader. This transformation is critical to navigate through the waters of change management required to successfully execute and sustain the lean supply chain journey. Participants will learn practical skills that can be applied directly upon return to the workplace and begin to see their culture in a new light.

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Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

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LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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