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What is Lean Leadership: How To Become a Lean Leader

by Joe Aherne

Home » Resources » Blog » What is Lean Leadership: How To Become a Lean Leader

As industries, businesses, and sectors change in our fast-paced world, leadership must take on new meanings. Leaders must adapt using different techniques to guide operations in the right direction. This is where Lean leadership comes into play.

Lean leadership is a mindset and practice that can transform organizational processes. In this article, we’ll dive into Lean leadership principles and provide you with actionable steps to become someone who can drive efficiency, innovation, and sustainable success within your team.

What is Lean Leadership?

Lean leadership is an approach rooted in the principles of Lean methodology. At its core, it aims to reduce wasteful processes, streamline operations, and consistently improve organizational performance. 

A Lean leader is not just a manager but a catalyst for positive change within their team or business. They prioritize the following fundamental principles:

  • Value-Centric Approaches: Lean leaders focus on delivering value to customers by identifying and eliminating activities that don’t contribute to that goal. This helps in resource optimization and customer satisfaction.
  • Continuous Improvement: Lean leaders encourage all team members to seek better ways of doing things and participate in regular reflection.
  • Respect for People: These leaders understand the value of their team. They respect their ideas, support their contributions, and foster their growth.
  • Gemba Walks: Lean leaders frequently visit the “Gemba,” or the place where work happens, to gain a firsthand understanding of processes and challenges.
  • Lead by Example: Good Lean leadership demonstrates the behaviours and mindset expected of team members.

Why Do You Need Lean Leadership

“The reality is that the only way change comes is when you lead by example.” — Anne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe.

Adopting a Lean leadership approach has many benefits that will help you stay ahead of the curve. When those in management roles lead by example, encourage continuous improvement, and take on a value-centric mindset, the result is:

  • More efficiency and cost reduction: Lean leaders have an eye for identifying wasteful practices, leading to reduced operational costs and increased profitability.
  • Enhanced customer value: Focussing on value-added activities results in higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Better adaptability: This helps organizations quickly adjust to a fast-paced, ever-changing environment.
  • More employee engagement: Providing the space for teams to collaborate and reflect creates more engagement.
  • Competitive edge: Lean leadership allows you to pivot seamlessly when markets and customer demands change, giving you a competitive advantage.
Leader standing in front of a whiteboard speaking to her team.

How to Become a Lean Leader

Becoming a Lean leader requires a commitment to learning and application in your real-world context. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Understand the Lean philosophy by familiarizing yourself with the basic principles and tools.
  2. Assess your current leadership skills. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a leader? Where do you see room for improvement?
  3. Invest in learning and training. Enroll in workshops or certification programs to better understand Lean leadership.  
  4. Build a Lean culture in your organization by embracing tools and practices like Kanban boards, value stream mapping, and Gemba Walks.
  5. Embody the principles of Lean in your daily work. Demonstrate the behaviours and habits you want to see in your team and always strive for continuous improvement.

Skills of Lean Managers

  • Problem-solving
  • Data-driven decision-making
  • Clear communication
  • Coaching and empowerment
  • Effective management of change

Habits of Lean Managers

  • Listens with respect
  • Continuously learns and values personal growth
  • Gemba walks and the desire to stay connected with core operations
  • Prioritizes the use of visual tools, like Kanban boards, to make information accessible and drive accountability
  • Leads by example

How to Develop a Lean Leader in Your Organization

Whether you or someone in your organization wants to become a Lean leader, creating a pathway to open up this possibility is essential. Here’s how you can develop a Lean leader:

  1. Identify potential leaders: Look for individuals within your organization who exhibit qualities such as problem-solving and a commitment to continuous improvement.
  2. Provide training, resources, mentorship, and coaching: This will equip aspiring leaders with the knowledge, tools, and guidance they need to embrace Lean principles and apply them to real-world situations. 
  3. Promote leadership opportunities: Create clear avenues for emerging leaders to take on these roles within Lean projects or initiatives, allowing them to gain practical experience. 
  4. Offer feedback and recognition: Foster a culture of learning and improvement by offering constructive feedback and celebrating the efforts of these individuals.

Final Thoughts on Lean Leadership

Lean leadership is not just a leadership style; it’s a transformative philosophy that empowers individuals and maximizes value for customers and organizations. By embracing Lean principles, leaders can navigate the ever-changing business landscape with agility and efficiency. Keep in mind that this journey requires lots of learning and practice—but the rewards are significant and include enhanced team performance, satisfaction, and growth. 

Ready to begin your Lean leadership journey? At Leading Edge Group, we offer courses, certifications, and mentorship opportunities to help you guide your organization toward long-term success. Contact us today to learn more.

Joe Aherne Photo
Joe Aherne

CEO of Leading Edge Group

Joe qualified as a Certified Public Accountant in 1982. It was a decision that reaped great benefits for Joe, providing him with an international recognized qualification which allowed him to follow in his father and grandfathers’ footsteps who had both worked and lived abroad. Having qualified as a CPA, Joe took up financial positions in the Middle East and UK.

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