The Lean Leadership Training Series: Understanding Your Functional Area



Lesson 3: What Should I Know?

Lean Leadership Principle

Content Based Leadership – Have deep knowledge of your functional area and adjacent functions. Understand key operating principles and communicate these effectively to team members.


As leaders, we need to have a deep understanding of our functional areas so that we can help, coach, teach, and train our members to better support our organizational purpose and principles.              

Let’s focus on this…

A Little History

Are you familiar with the term Ethos?  No, it’s not one of the Three Musketeers.  It’s actually one of the classic Greek “modes of persuasion” that would be used to engage or gain support from the audience in an argument or discussion.  Specifically, it refers to the perception of an individual’s credibility based on their history, expertise and demonstrated knowledge.

Leaders who have deep-rooted abilities and experience within their functional area have a real advantage in establishing ethos with their team members.  Simply put, team members want to follow a leader that knows their stuff.

Functional Areas: How Do I Deepen My Understanding?

In order to gain the knowledge that we need to establish our own functional expertise, we need to invest in the below activity:

  • GEMBA TIME!! – Getting your hands dirty doing the work is the best way to learn the work. There is no substitute for good old-fashioned repetition.  Yes, Allen Iverson, we’re talking about practice!
  • Process, process, process – Take a step back from the tactical work and think big picture. Study the processes that make up the job function and how they piece together in the system with the other functions of the organization.  Understanding the relationships, transactions and flow allows Lean Leaders to identify the failure modes and the customer impacts.
  • More inquiry, less advocacy – Start asking questions. It’s ok not to know everything when you are willing to learn as much as you can from those who do.  Gaining deep understanding requires gathering feedback from stakeholders and process owners at different levels of the business unit and from the customer.  Remember, the last two weeks’ lessons focused on customer alignment.  VOC is kind of a big deal.  Just sayin’…
Leader As A Student

Just like in anything else, stagnation is the enemy of improvement.  Lead leaders must not rest on their laurels of past gained knowledge and experience points, but push forward to always learn and grow.  In Chapter 5 of the PEOPLE book, there is a focused discussion on the importance of leaders taking the student approach.  Some of the key ideas include:

  • Creating a personal-development plan – making the time and space to learn
  • Approaching every situation with a willingness to learn – treating every interaction with others as an opportunity
  • Taking a listen first approach – jumping to solutions can derail true learning
  • Embrace learning by doing – discovering the gap between what we think and what actually happens

Attitude is paramount to squeezing the most out of your opportunities to learn and teach every day.  Humility and hunger can pay big dividends in our personal growth. 

Get A Visual

Along with approaching your day with a student’s mentality, leaders must search for and seize hold of opportunities to transfer knowledge while collaborating with their teams.  Creating a visual workplace is a great place to start because it lowers the water level and exposes issues. With these rocks exposed, we can perform real-time problem solving with our team to prevent service failures and successfully navigate ourselves through the turbulence.                 

 A lean culture is a learning culture, and studies and experience have shown that learning through problem solving is the most effective form of learning. So every time we let a problem go on to the next hour, we lose a learning opportunity. As leaders, if we are not knowledgeable of the process and worse yet, don’t know why we have problems (or gaps in our process), then that is unacceptable.


Next week, we'll discuss the principle of Content-Based Leadership - PART II.


Looking for a Lean Leadership certificate course? Register for the next session of our Certified Lean Training for Leaders - Collaborative Learning Program.

This interactive and unique e-learning experience combines online modules and weekly coaching sessions with our Lean Deployment Executives. 

Lean Leadership with Coaching

Posted by LeanCor Training and Education

blog author

LeanCor Training and Education delivers proven methodologies for individuals and groups to conveniently advance themselves and their organizations. With public and private offerings for the associate to executive levels, our curriculum and stories are rooted in our team’s collective operational and corporate experience. Training can be delivered in online, virtual, or classroom settings.

LinkedIn Google+



NEW! Transportation Management Project Resources

Free Template Library

Issuing an freight carrier bid? Trying to resolve issues with suppliers? Need to improve your receiving dock schedule? We’ve rounded up some of our most-used project templates for daily continuous improvement in transportation management. Free for download!

Browse and Download Templates

Subscribe Now!

Recent Posts

Supply Chain Brief