Lean Leadership

4 Keys to Strategic Lean Leadership

Written by: Clint McCrystal

Theodore Roosevelt is often revered as a pioneering historical figure, with accomplishments that include a stint as the President of the United States of America. Often, however, the most well-recognized and documented portion of his resume comes from his time serving in the Spanish-American War as a “Rough Rider.” It was this role that saw him step out of the government and join the brave men fighting on the front lines. Although he pre-dates the current conventional notion of lean leadership, Roosevelt demonstrated a very important part of it. Roosevelt embodied the concept of leading by example when he stepped into his soldier’s uniform, and that is just as powerful in today’s workplace as it was on San Juan Hill.

Lean leadership tactics encompass many techniques and tools thatLean Leadership are designed to move the organization forward with a long-term vision. A big part of that is to develop employees in a manner that will not only help them contribute to the results of their business but also grow them into future lean leaders and power players in their organization. The key to achieving this is by really getting them to buy into their roles and the organization as a whole. As beacons of lean leadership, it is up to supervisors and managers to set the example and give employees a standard that is worth following.

In order for leaders and managers to do this, they must first establish their credibility, or ethos as it has been so termed when referring to one of the different forms of argument or persuasion. By establishing a real, true credibility with employees, you can better convey the organization’s purpose and objectives in a genuine way. One of the best places to learn strategies for creating this rapport with team members is in a professional lean leadership course or workshop. I know that this helped me tremendously in organizing my thoughts and translating them into a form that worked well with my lean management style. On the other hand, there are some basic strategies that can be used for new participants in lean leadership that are readily available and with which I have personally found great success:

1.Go to the Gemba.

Some supervisors are in a position that requires them to be on the front lines with their immediate reports, while others do not. Regardless of your distance from the work, make an effort engage your employees in their everyday environment so that you are visible and perceived knowledge distance is reduced. In addition to building relationships there are many opportunities to gain insight into the business that you are charged with managing.

2.Walk the Talk.

This is a phrase that is almost cliché in today’s business world but there is still power in it. Lean leadership is about truly believing in philosophies and concepts that are being used to drive the organization forward. What made Roosevelt successful as an officer in the war effort was the fact that he rode into battles with his men. He did not ask them to do something that he wasn’t willing to do himself - they all took on the risk of the initiative together. Obviously comparing warfare and lean leadership is a bit extreme but there are parallels among them. Countless times I have seen employees willing to go the extra mile on our Operations team to thoroughly handle an issue or project. In these cases, their leader is either working beside them or had demonstrated countless times before that they, too, would give all that was needed to get the job done.

3.Don’t Only Answer Questions, Ask Them.

In the lean leadership book People: A leader’s day-to-day guide to building, managing and sustaining lean organizations (Gran, Martichenko, Miller and Pearce), the authors indicate that “…observation and communication are the foundation of the tactical infrastructure of lean.” While the previously mentioned practice of going to the Gemba hits on the observation section, good communication is really reinforced with listening to team members and valuing their perspectives on both the work and the organization. As leaders we are often challenged with being the all-knowing…which isn’t always the case. Being a good teacher involves being an equally good, or even better, student. Without using the strategy of inquiry correctly it is impossible to get some team members to commit to and have confidence in their own knowledge. Plus, it demonstrates that leadership values their feedback and respects them.

4.Demonstrate Dependability.

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to build credibility through lean leadership is to demonstrate to the team members that they can count on their managers and the organization. Loyalty is built through consistency of leadership, constancy of purpose and an unwavering system of organizational values. As one manager in my organization that also reports to another manager, I know that being able to count on that individual in different circumstances is paramount to having that trust. Likewise, I must convey that to those team members who report to me. If a leader is not dependable it calls all other aspects of their guidance into question.

When it comes to conveying the organizational mission to your team members, lean leadership tells us that we need to set the example to our employees. We are in a society that strives for meaning and authenticity and what better way to achieve this then by leading by example and establishing credibility among the people that you work with. Even though we may not all go down in history like Teddy Roosevelt, we can surely make our mark enriching our workplace and spreading the lean message.

What type of lean leadership have you experienced and what would you have liked more from your leaders?


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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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