How to Become an Effective Lean Leader

Lean is a popular form of leadership which places an emphasis on people worth rather than the company. In recent years, more and more business owners have discovered that the business world is a people world. Lean management ensures the needs of clients and employees are met and served by the company’s resources and values. This creates an atmosphere of collaboration and a healthy company culture, allowing businesses to thrive.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash-like-a-boss
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash-like-a-boss

Broadening focus from spreadsheets and numbers has allowed businesses to make a shrewd observation. When corporations and small businesses alike strive to serve everyone in their organizations, productivity soars because, as the saying goes, “teamwork makes the dream work”.

Caring for your people—clients and employees alike—not only means business owners can meet needs more efficiently but means they themselves will become more well-rounded, focused leaders in both the professional world and their personal lives. This is a key principle of lean leading.

Let’s explore the other main principles of lean management.

The 5 Main Principles of Lean

  1. As a company, it is paramount to define the value of a service or a product from the viewpoint of the client. By keeping the customer in mind, the business can develop a product or service according to the consumer’s questions, needs, and personal values. These needs are the entire purpose of the order.
  2. Recognize all values of your offerings and identify the value stream to create a plan of execution. Shed all aspects of the process which do not create or add value to the final product. Funneling time, revenue, and materials saved into deeper development of the product or service provides the client with extra features they may not have expected. Not only will this please the client but it will stretch the company’s team to reach new heights.
  3. Combine the value-creating steps so they form a tight-lined sequence. The final product should move smoothly from development to the consumers’ hands. This process will cut no corners to provide the greatest quality for the consumer possible.
  4. Implementing flow and pull. At this point, the flow of steps has been implemented and leaders work with clients to find out the value of the product. The clients pull the value from the next stages of development. This focus on client involvement in the production process sets lean manufacturing apart from all other forms of production.
  5. Throughout the lean process, you continuously improve the process. As you usher flow and pull into the production process, the process goes through a cycle of regeneration until the product or service’s development has reached a state of perfection with waste completely eliminated. Creating an ideal plan of production throughout the production process allows for continual reinvention.This is the main concept of lean philosophy: constant growth, renewal, and learning to embrace new forms of efficiency. This makes lean leadership so paramount in business. The practicality of learning from the past combined with new product ideas and personal potential breeds an atmosphere for a new creative life.

How Lean Leadership Developed

Lean leading met the business world through the influence of Henry Ford. With his production of the first moving assembly line, Ford developed the concept known as lean manufacturing. This manufacturing was famous for allowing workers to finish their part of production safer and faster.

Using the minimal number of tools to do the maximum amount of work, Ford’s assembly line saved both the business and the workers valuable time, resource, and revenue.

This efficiency model is being adapted to leadership and management to produce not only some of the world’s greatest products but some of the world’s greatest up-and-coming leaders.

Toyota: The Lean Leaders’ Leader

The concept of lean leadership is easy to understand when it’s written out on paper. However, the difficulty comes in the continuous execution of the 5 main principles to be a truly lean leadership driven company.

One of the few companies that have executed these principles continually is Toyota. While the leaders at Toyota produce hundreds of cars per day, their true goal goes far beyond quota.

Their main goal gets into the nitty-gritty of ensuring that the people they are leading are the best they can be in all areas of their work and personal life.

The leaders at Toyota break down a mentorship role into 4 categories.

  1. Self-Development
  2. Development of Others
  3. Further Development of Others
  4. Improving the Goals

These four categories are ongoing in the development process of creating and being lean leaders.

In self-development, lean leaders develop awareness within themselves. Internal and external alertness of strengths, weaknesses, and needs leads to more focus and mindfulness in what they do. This increases personal productivity and problem-solving abilities, preparing them to teach these principles to their employees.

Toyota’s leaders teach their employees to self-examine in a way that matches each individual’s personality. Lean leaders never try to make their followers see things from their point of view. Rather, they ask leading questions and present personal challenges to their employees to inspire them to rise and find the personal conclusion themselves. This encourages creativity, focus and a spirit of self-discovery in the employees. By developing their employees in such a way, lean leaders create more freethinking leaders underneath them. Not only does this boost morale and productivity, but this practice will allow the values of the company to instill themselves in the hearts of employees.

Once team members understand these values in the heart, they are on their way to becoming lean leaders themselves. Leaders cannot learn these skills in a classroom but need to live them every moment of their lives. This ongoing practice makes Toyota’s leadership system sustainable.

How Your Business Can Leverage Lean Leading

As stated above, lean leading is a simple concept on paper. However, the actual execution of this can be tricky. Lean leadership becomes a living ebb and flow between implementing the old and establishing the new. This balance is tenuous because often developing one habit requires more attention than another—while both are important for achieving the task at hand.

Leaders run into issues when they attempt to develop lean leadership into a hard and fast system. While the principles are universal—continue to develop the self while developing and uplifting the spirits of others—working to build people up is not always an efficient task.

How do leaders stay on task with the people they are mentoring and still accomplish their work effectively?

1. Keep the Central Values Central

Remember the core ethos. All action should stem from the mission. Every goal set should seek to develop and achieve the main mission a leader signed up to achieve.

This helps lean management delineate urgent items from the important items both on the work floor and in their fellow employees. If each action works to feed into the main ethos, executing lean leadership becomes an afterthought.

2. Recenter

Focus requires the ability to recenter amid stressful situations.

When a leader feels themselves getting distracted, focusing on the task at hand will help bring their focus back to the central ethos and bring them back on track.

Just remember lean leadership requires a continuous improvement or Kaizen mindset–the ability to view things longterm, and patience in execution. With the plan–do–check–act cycle, you will soon be motivated and refocused on growth plans.

3. Listen to Employees

While every leader should know their employees’ jobs inside out and backward, not every leader has time to stay updated on industry changes. Listening to the employees in the thick of it will help leaders understand where waste has worked its way into the system.

This shows respect to employees and allows leaders to work together with employees to tighten up management, materials, and time usage.

Feedback should be a two-way street, both given and received. With regular and timely feedback and ideas you get from different roles, you will know what areas need improvement.

4. Establish Pull

Keep the team focused on a few tasks as possible. Leaders need to ensure employees know their duties and have clear goals for the day. This will help them streamline their schedules and allow them to keep snafus to a minimum.

Use automation through technology to free employee time up from monotonous tasks. This lets them apply themselves to the task at hand without the extra clutter of answering repetitive questions or filling out paperwork.

Final Thought

Applying the principles of lean manufacturing and lean leadership to a business is a constant work in progress.

This is the main goal of lean leadership, to begin with. Allowing a business time to implement this is the key to moving forward with success. A vigilant search to use lean leadership properly will ensure that it develops as it should. Lean leadership is all about effort.
If we put the effort in, positive results will follow.

Lisa MichaelsAuthor Bio:

Lisa Michaels is a writer, editor, and striving content marketing consultant. She does her best to stay on top of the current trends in business and know the latest technology to enhance her daily tasks. Feel free to connect with her on Twitter @LisaBMichaels


The content published on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

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