Leadership is a critical component of Lean. Whether you are at the top of a company leading the Lean charge, or an engineer working to guide a group of operators on their Lean journey, you need a variety of leadership skills. But while the specific tools you use to lead in the different roles may vary, the underlying principles are the same.
So what are the leadership principles that link to success in Lean organizations? The principles in this article are distilled from over 20 years of leadership experience, including…
Possibly more important than my own leadership experience, though, is the opportunity I have had in my career to work with countless other leaders. I have been able to watch them in action. As I observed them, I recognized that their success correlated greatly to the principles listed below.
As you read the principles, you may notice that they are very general in nature. They apply to any leadership situation you face. The unique aspect to leadership in a Lean company lies not in which principles apply, but in the leadership challenges you will face. Lean pushes people out of their comfort zones, so the personal interactions can be more stressful. Lean requires constant innovation and new processes, so the problems leaders face will be unique. This stream of new issues and highly charged situations lowers the margin of error for those in charge. Incorporating the following principles into your personal leadership style will stack the deck in your favor.
The 18 Principles of Lean Leadership
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An audio version of this article is included in this section of the Intro & Exploration volume of our Nuts & Bolts Guide to Continuous Improvement:
These principles are like the stars used for navigation. The landscape around you may change, but you can always look up and find your way by orienting yourself to the points of light in the sky.
When you are faced with a leadership challenge, these principles can guide the way. While they won’t answer the technical questions of how much inventory to leave in a kanban, or where to do the next kaizen event, they will help you conduct yourself in a manner that improves your chance of success.
Start out right now by putting principle one to use, and grade yourself on each of the other principles. See where you stand, and then start working to improve. Oh yeah—that’s the third principle.
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By Jeff Hajek
November 2nd, 2010
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