Lean Management Approaches: The Role of Lean Leaders

Lorenzo Del Marmol

July 12, 2018

Lean Management approaches are management process that has attracted so much following in the world of business. It is the approach to running an organization supportive of the continuous improvement concept.  It is a long-term management approach that systematically seeks achieving small but incremental changes in order to improve quality and efficiency.

The objective of lean management is the elimination of waste in time, money, or effort by clearly identifying each step in the business process with the aim of revising or eliminating steps that do not contribute value. As a philosophy, it was originally conceived in the manufacturing sector.

It is based on the following principles:

  • Define value using the point of view of the end user.
  • Identify every single step in the business process and discarding the steps that do not produce much value.
  • Creating a tight sequence of the steps that create or produce value.
  • Repeating all those steps on a progressive basis until all the wasteful steps are eliminated.

Lean leadership

For a business proposition to survive there is the paramount need to improve and prosper. Changes are always needed in order for a business to improve and in order to effect the changes necessary to improve, there is the need for strong leadership.

A lean business can be successful only when changes are effected in the entire organization. Lean management cannot just be applied in some selected areas of business but not in the entire organization.  It is therefore required that lean leadership is present at all organizational levels, from the highest policy-making level to the floor level.  It is necessary that every single worker exhibits the important leadership skills as follows:

  • Ability to envision the future
  • Using communication and actions to align people, and
  • Inspiring and motivating fellow workers into action.

It is important to emphasize here that leadership skills must not be expected only from people with positions and responsibilities but rather must be expected from every single member of the organization. Lean management requires everybody to be a leader.

People who are not familiar with lean management might ask why there is a need for everybody to be a leader. The explanation will come from the basic concept which is continued process of change to achieve the desired result. If there will be changes in every aspect of business, it follows that there must be leaders in all of those aspects. Example is a worker on the floor who solicits support and ideas from other members in his group. He needs to discuss the process with people currently working with him and workers who will continue the work in the next shift. In the process, this worker is aligning resources in line with his vision of completing the work. When other workers in the group and those in the next shift contribute to the completion of the work, the worker motivated others to work in order to complete the project. That by all means is leadership on the floor level.

The lean leader

We can draw the profile of the lean leader as follows:

  1. Technologically competent – The lean leader, at whatever level, needs technical expertise in order for him to grasp the strategies, skills, and tactics needed to attain the business objective.
  1. Presence where the action is – The lean leader must be in the site of work on a regular basis in order for him to get a clear picture of what is going on and create the vision of where they are going. Lean leadership cannot be exercised from a distance.
  1. Action person – The lean leader must not only instruct and preach; he must be a hands-on person who can effectively do what he is asking others to do.
  1. Excellent role model – A lean leader is one who walks the talk. He must show to his people and that he knows what he is talking about. He must give a good example of the ideal worker who has a vision of what he is doing.
  1. Teacher – The lean leader must be a good teacher, teaching his staff or fellow workers how to exercise lean leadership by themselves. Everybody must be trained to take over the leadership rein when necessary.
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