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Is Your Leadership Style a Bottleneck to Creativity?

Leaders have a tough job. They are in charge, so the success and failure of an organization rests on their shoulders. It makes sense that they want to have a lot of say in how things are done.

It is also true that most managers got to where they were as a result of their competence. Despite being the butt of a lot of jokes in cartoons and TV shows, most leaders didn’t ‘luck into’ their jobs. They had to perform well and work hard to earn their position.

That feeling of responsibility and history of success, though, can sometimes hinder a leader. When they try to make all the decision on their own and are reluctant to let other people take the reins on projects, their leadership style can hamper the progress of an organization.

This is especially true in Lean companies where success is a function of how many people on the team are actively contributing to making improvements and solving problems. When a manager doesn’t learn to trust his team and give them some leeway in making decisions on their own, the manager becomes a bottleneck to creative thought.

A Creative Bottleneck Wastes a Team’s Intelligence

Here are some clues that your leadership style is creating a bottleneck that is limiting the creativity of your team.

  1. You have a big stack of projects on your desk waiting for approval.
  2. You feed more ideas to your team than they feed to you.
  3. You don’t take vacations because things won’t get done while you are gone.
  4. You get a lot of phone calls requesting instructions when you are away from gemba.
  5. Your team is more likely to let a problem get worse than to risk facing you if they take the wrong action.
  6. You very seldom hear anyone disagree with your ideas.
  7. You have something to do with most of the process changes that happen in your area.

So leaders…if you see yourself in more than one or two of the items on the list, think about what you can do to learn to trust your team more. You can get them training. You can adopt more of a mentorship role. Or you can simply give them a chance to shine on some low risk projects to show you what they can do on their own.

But it all starts with recognizing that you are, in fact, a creativity bottleneck.

I’ll finish up this article by asking for your contributions. Please share any method you might have used to help open up your creativity bottleneck and get your team more engaged in problem solving and continuous improvement.


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Share Your Thoughts    |5 comments|


  • Lucky says:

    I think the thrust of the article is that lean leadership is akin to more delegation of improvement initiatives responsibiities to subordinates such that there is a greater chance for success at the end of the day. I enjoyed the article. Thank you Jeff.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      Right. The more people working on improvement, the faster it will go. Leaders should focus on being mentors and coaches rather than “doers”.

      Just make sure that leaders don’t delegate the responsibility to hit targets to their team. They need to retain that for themselves.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

  • Stuart Fisher says:

    I agree with a lot of what you highlight in your various articles, however, this one leaves me confused???
    Over the last 25 years, I have been very fortunate to work as both consultant and employee with blue-chips and tiny SMEs, internationally and in a variety of industries. The one thing that is remarkably consistent is a misunderstanding about the differences between leadership and management. Leaders are nothing to do with hierarchy whilst managers (management) is the heirarchy. Most large companies retain a pyramid structure because behavioural change/operating culture takes longer to get completely right (i.e. from the titular head to the shop floor) than a charismatic, inspiring front-man has in the job. Gifted leaders will always find a way to success because their peers intuitively know to support and follow … there are many managers however that become bottlenecks and have to be worked around (cf Peter principle) as an operational challenge … their peers and subordinates take the path of least resistance. Anyway, bottom line is … managers don’t work enough ‘on’ the system because they are pre-occupied with completing tasks ‘in’ the system (cf Deming’s SPK).
    Hope this is an interesting addition.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      I look at leadership and management as two different features, like eye color and hair color, not like two different colors of hair. While a job title may say “Team Leader” or “Plant Manager”, in truth, every person in every job typically has some sort of leadership responsibility and some sort of management responsibility.

      There is, however, both formal leadership (CEO) and informal leadership (the alpha male in a group of friends). This article is talking specifically about formal leadership positions.

      Of note, being in charge of a team requires both management and leadership. A boss needs to lead the team to inspire them and motivate them, but also needs to manage them–review performance, track attendance and sick days, etc. The best bosses are good at both managing and at leading.

      Thanks for the comments.

  • […] Is Your Leadership Style a Bottleneck to Creativity? dal blog Gotta Go Lean di Jeff Hajek: Il tuo stile di leadership rende dipendente la tua organizzazione dalle tue decisioni? Ecco come riconoscerlo e cosa fare per responsabilizzare i tuoi dipendenti… (traduzione automatica) […]

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