6 Quick Lean Leadership Lessons

Road To Hana - Maui, Hawaii

Image by IronRodArt - Royce Bair via Flickr

Today’s manufacturing plants are busy places.  While the factory has always been home to long hours and hard work, it certainly seems like the pressure has been turned up a notch or two over the years.  The Lean Manufacturing journey can and will improve your operation yet time is still a factor.  Training and development often suffer when it’s crunch time.

Terry Starbucker notes that time is a hindrance for training in many businesses when he states, “Sometimes it’s hard to get their full attention for 10 minutes, much less the time it would take to do a full-scale training session.”  Terry compiled a list of 6 time-tested, quick hitting one line lessons that he has used to develop his team even in the busiest of times.

Here are the one-liners with a brief commentary on how these apply to Lean Leadership:

  1. Teach – don’t tell:  teaching and coaching are absolutely critical to any Lean initiative.  You are driving a culture change which cannot be dictated.  You must be developing your teams and you must convince your front-line leaders to teach as well.
  2. Be an enabler, not a disabler:  It’s hard to imagine any leader being successful without an enabled team.  It’s safe to say that you won’t be a successful Lean Leader without an empowered team.  Provide your team with the tools they need and help them win.  Your front line leaders must also be enablers.
  3. Don’t do second things first:  Your parents taught you to do first things first.  It’s one of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  So why do we delay or even derail progress by doing anything else?
  4. If you are not going forward, you are going backwards:  Lean Leaders embrace this mantra.  Teach your team to live it too.
  5. Bad news is good news:  The Lean world thinks of losses in terms of 7 forms of waste.  Any losses falling into one of these 7 wastes look like bad news.  The Lean Leader sees an opportunity to make the process better.
  6. The road to greatness is paved with mistakes well handled:  Lean Leaders should be constantly reflecting on how they and their teams can do it better next time.  This is the spirit of the Deming Cycle and at the heart of any continuous improvement process.

Lean Leaders are pressed for time at least as much as other leadership.  You can use these one liners to informally teach and re-teach your team.  Is your training taking a back seat because everyone is too busy?  Could your team benefit from any of these lessons?  Who can you reach out to today?


You are encouraged to read 6 Quick-Hitting One Line Lessons.

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About Christian Paulsen

Christian Paulsen is an Executive Consultant with 20 years of Lean Manufacturing. Chris adds value to organizations by driving process improvement and bottom line savings. Chris intends to help others by sharing the lessons learned after a quarter century of operational leadership, marriage, parenting, and even longer as a Cubs fan. Your comments on this blog are welcome. You can also connect with Chris via LinnkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook in the right sidebar. Chris welcomes your comments. Christian's professional services are available by contacting him through LinkedIn (right side bar)
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12 Responses to 6 Quick Lean Leadership Lessons

  1. Pavan says:

    My favorite is – The road to greatness is paved with mistakes well handled. I seriously hate mistakes, but all we can do is improve upon them. I’m in the user acqusition stage right now for my start up Company – Bloggers Compete and it’s tough. I’m making mistakes and i’m not winning – but i’m improving every time.

    • Learning from one’s mistakes really is a key to life. I’ve tried to instill that concept to my kids. We are all going to fall. The winners get back up, dust it off, learn from it, and move forward better for it.

  2. thecoachlee says:

    Great quick lessons and I would add ensure sustainability. One of the key results of lean is sustainability so that costly redos can be avoided.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Increase Sales Coach
    Author of Be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits

  3. thecoachlee says:

    Chris, Yes not only systems/processes (operations) but understanding the people and the environment as well when making decisions regarding change management as sustainability should be one of the goals of any change management initiative. In mentioning systems, organizations have what I call readiness gaps between strategy, structure, systems, incentives and people that impede the growth and innovation of the organization. When these 5 elements are in alignment, then both efficiency and effectiveness (think lean) are improved.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith

  4. Hi Chris, how do i lead a group of people who are just not so keen in doing additional work ?

    • You could write a book on this subject! Here are a few things that come to mind:

      One thing that seems to help is that people are more likely to take on the extra work if they see a benefit for them. In other words, “what’s in it for me?” Sounds selfish but frankly most of us have at least some selfish motivation, right? Lean activities in particular should make the operators job easier. One of my bosses commented about someone that just moved into a critical operators role. He said that this gentleman was going to be really good because he was smart and lazy. He’d find better ways to do the job…. Other benefits would include that the operator’s skills are upgraded, they get to learn something new and different, they have more control of their destiny, they can feel good about contributing to improvements, and they will learn things that they can apply at home (5S and Lean principles can be applied universally).

      Be careful not to give them any reasons not to help. Make sure you follow through on your obligations and help them get the resources they need. You may have some damage control in this area if others have failed on this in the past too. “We tried that 26 years ago and so & so didn’t get me the wrench I needed.”

      Sometimes people resist for a variety of other reasons. They may have a shortcoming, either perceived or real, that they are afraid will come to light. I once had a mechanic who was really dragging his feet on facilitating a team meeting (the team wanted to rotate this role). I talked to him about it several times when he finally told me the real reason which was that he could barely read. We worked through that and helped him save face….

      Here are a couple other posts that might help: http://wp.me/pZiRD-P5 & http://wp.me/pZiRD-y

      I hope this helps.


  5. Great tips and I would stress the team members accepting “ownership” so that everyone on the team feels a loyalty and a passion for the company, the project, whatever. Thanks for a great post!

    • Hi Sandra,

      Ownership is definitely a key factor in a team’s success. Engagement seems to build ownership. What have you seen that helps build ownership? Thanks you for your insight and feedback.


  6. Thats right “WIIFM” make sense and some small talk with the team clear the road block in implementing improvement.

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