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The 11 "C's" of Lean Leadership (+ 5-Page Lean PDF)

Acronyms and other mnemonic devices help embed concepts into people’s brains. As it turns out, many of the key concepts of Lean leadership start with “C”, creating a unique way to look at this core tenet of continuous improvement.


Click the cover image to download this term on PDF.

Interestingly, this term started as the 4 “C’s” of Lean leadership waste, but, with the input of many readers, has grown to the current 11 “C’s”.

While this tool is not useful in the sense that it can be reached to in times of need, it does present a look at leadership through a different lens. This can be helpful to new leaders who are just learning who they are going to be as the person in charge. It can also be helpful for seasoned leaders who are finding that they are losing their way or are getting frustrated with some of the challenges of leading. This list can be a good catalyst for reflecting on ways to improve as a leader.

Continuous Improvement Audio Terms

Lists such as these often have two flaws. The first is that there is a stretch to make a word fit the theme. Sometimes word with the right letter is not as effective as a different word. The other problem is that they may be truncated because a word with the proper letter cannot be found.

Fortunately, those flaws have very little impact on this list. The terms on this list, in most cases, are the best words to describe that particular aspect of leadership. The list is also comprehensive, and broad in nature. Most leadership concepts you could come up with will fall into one of these items. For example, one commenter mentioned “trust” which is, in fact, critical to leadership, but falls squarely into “character”.

The 11 C’s of Lean Leadership

  • Communication: A leader must be able to clearly convey his or her thoughts and instructions in a way that rallies people behind them. The delivery is as important as the message. A well-crafted speech at a stand-up meeting in the morning can mean the difference between a motivated team and one that lacks job satisfaction.
  • Commitment: Leaders need the courage to stay the course. That means continuing to trust that the Lean principles work, even in the early stages of a transformation where the costs outweigh the benefits. (I’ve seen some estimates that it can take 2-3 years for Lean to start paying for itself.) It also means not abandoning processes when the pressure rises.
  • Connections: Leaders must have relationships with their subordinates, peers, bosses, suppliers, and especially customers. This comes primarily from trust. When those groups trust that the leader will do what he or she promises, and won’t put personal gain first, great things can happen.
  • Competence: Leaders must know their jobs well, and to a great degree, the jobs of their teams. That’s not to say they need to be able to swiftly navigate the nuances of every computer system their administrators use, or be able to produce parts on every machine in the factory, but they should be able to talk intelligently about the processes they oversee. Leaders don’t gain that competence sitting at a desk. The get it from going to gemba.
  • Challenging: Empowerment comes from being pushed a bit beyond one’s limits. As people realize what they are capable of, and of what their leaders will let them try, they will take more on without direction. And they will be far more prepared to succeed.
  • Consistency: Leaders need to be predictable. Mood should not play a role in discipline or support. Standards start with knowing that a leader is going to follow them uniformly, and that the team is expected to as well.
  • Confidence: Wishy-washy leaders introduce waste because they fail to make decisions quickly, or seek approval to make every little change. Strong leaders make a decision and stand by it. They change when conditions change, but they don’t second guess themselves. If a leader has no confidence in him or herself, a team won’t either. Interestingly, confidence comes as a result of many of the other “C’s”.
  • Courage: Good leaders are calculated risk takers. Moving forward requires…

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As a junior member of your organization, you have two ways to look at leadership. The first is to understand it from the survival perspective. Your job satisfaction relies upon your relationship with your boss.

Having a deeper understanding of the leadership challenges she faces, and more importantly, making a plan on how to handle her shortcomings, will go a long way towards improving your relationship.

The second way to look at leadership is…

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Look over the items in the list and perform a self-assessment. Ask yourself how well you live up to each of the characteristics mentioned, and more importantly, make an improvement plan to get better.

This exercise is far more difficult than it sounds. People are notoriously poor at evaluating themselves. Enlist help in doing this. Find an HR rep, a trusted associate, or even…

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  • There are many facets to leadership. Well rounded leaders tend to be more successful.
  • Self-assessments are critical to improving one’s leadership talents. The concept of a ‘natural born leader’ is a myth. Becoming a better leadership takes hard work.
  • Frontline employees need to understand leadership both for survival, and for future advancement.


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Share Your Thoughts    |17 comments|

Practical Guide Info


  • svp3761 says:

    It’s great for a unique leader very practical in real world though possible if leader is conscious of what is happening and doing.

  • Kurt Robertson says:

    Instead of confidence, I would use TRUST (which includes confidence).
    You can have the other 4 leadership traits, but if your team and stakeholders don’t trust you, you don’t go far.
    Try a book called “The Speed of Trust” by an author named Covey.

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      I agree that trust is critical. But there are really two kinds of trust. One is trust that the boss can do the right thing (confidence) and the other is trust that he will do the right thing (character). I need to revise this article. Since it was written, commenters have added confidence, character, creativity, and “consistent empowerment” (a reach as far as ‘C’ words, but important).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • john1978 says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Your post is very interesting. I always use mnemonic devices but I have never used them for these kind of things. I run a blog about mnemonic devices so maybe I’ll come back to share some ideas.

    Thank you,
    Mnemonic Devices – The Revision Guy

    (Editorial Note: John’s website is mnemonic-devices.info/blog/ I have disabled the link as it has been unchecked by McAffee’s SiteAdvisor.)

  • Investment Rental Property says:

    This is a great list and I love the additions in the comments… I consistency is important. By which I mean consistency of behaviour. If you are an unpredictable leader then people will not know what they can expect from you and often get confused by what you’re trying to say. By being consistent with how you deal with people builds trust and puts them at ease

  • Mikkel Smith says:

    Hi All,

    Great article! Thanks 🙂

    I work as Lean consultant in Denmark (Scandinavia) and for certain we have one more skill that management has to handle – Empowerment.

    The Lean tools are nothing if the organization isn’t involved in the proces of finding waste, coming up with suggestions and the proces of finding a better proces (i.e. value stream mapping).

    So if management doesn’t empower and delegate responsibility to the organization Lean will soon be a management tool – and the possibility of gaining the full potential of Lean will be lost.

    Agree? Or is it just a Scandinavian thing?

    • Jeff Hajek says:


      No, it isn’t just a Scandanavian thing. Empowerment is important all over the world. It is extremely hard for leaders to do, though, as it requires a lot of trust, and a lot of training.

      I think it should be added. Any thoughts on how to make it start with a ‘C’ to fit with the theme?

      Looks like it will be 8 C’s once we figure this one out.

      Thanks for the addition to the list.

      • Mikkel Smith says:


        Not sure how to make a ‘C’.
        Maybe ‘Consistent empowerment’ to signal that all managers in an organization have to empower at the same level and also that the empowerment is an ongoing skill management has to handle. But please be aware that I am not native English speaking!

        Another skill that I normally remind managers is some kind of security in the organization. Not sure exactly how you explain it in English.
        Nobody should be nervous loosing their job because they remove waste in their job processes.
        If employees are nervous loosing their job they will not come up with suggestions to remove waste and they will not be 100% open to improve processes.
        Yes it can be necessary reducing the number of employees in order to stay competitive, but then I recommend management to decide and inform who plays the ‘first team’ – from the beginning!

  • Yes, you have to have confidence in there…so it turns out C is quite an important letter when it comes leadership!?

  • Changing the way your business runs is about more than just moving machines. It means working with people, too. Experts estimate that 80 percent of becoming a customer-focused business or Lean enterprise is culture-related. The way employees work, their attitudes toward work and change, their relationships with each other and management..Thanks..

  • AVLution says:

    Hi all,
    How about creativity? Leaders need to be able to be creative, come up with ideas and ways to ‘defy the norm’, rather than move sideways. Thoughts?

  • […] decisioni di acquisto solo in base al prezzo? Allora leggete questo… (traduzione automatica)The 4 “C’s” of Lean Leadership dal blog Gotta Go Lean di Jeff Hajek: Le 4 C della leadership lean (traduzione […]

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  • Jeff,

    Great post! Your 4 C’s are a great list for lean leadership. You should definitely include Confidence as your 5th C. One addition could be Character ( http://wp.me/pZiRD-bd ). Thanks for sharing.


    • Jeff Hajek says:


      OK, confidence is in. And I can’t believe I left off character. I guess I just take it for granted but it is more important than all the other ones.

      So, now we are up to 6 C’s.

      Thanks. Great comment as always.

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