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Leadership: It can Make or Break Lean Success

Leadership has the ability to either make or break a business. Good leadership practices can send a business into uncharted waters of great success and opportunity, while on the other hand, poor leadership tactics may leave a business floundering in a sea of defeat. In most traditional business hierarchies, leaders are usually the staff members at the upper management level who are responsible for guiding business endeavors and making important decisions. However, when it comes to the practice of lean, it truly is a team effort. All members within an organization from the highest level leaders all the way down to the newly hired entry level employees need to be on board and motivated to participate. When practicing lean, it is important to note that there is also a shift in overall business emphasis. Instead of focusing mainly upon separate assets, utilizing technologies at each level, and positioning employees’ value based upon vertical department importance, lean challenges business organizations to really optimize services and products in a horizontal manner and to place a greater focus upon value streams. The key components of lean really focus upon eliminating waste while maximizing customer value.

Type of Leadership is Important

Being a leader within a lean work environment can be quite different when compared to a traditional work environment. In a lean work environment, there is usually a noticeable paradigm shift. Leaders not only lead, but also inspire others to want to lead as well. One of the true objectives in creating a successful and effective lean work environment is for ALL employees to be involved within lean practices. A leader who just tells employees what to do without actually sitting down and discussing costs and benefits is essentially just tossing seeds into the wind and hoping they will plant in the right location. Conversely, a leader who takes the time to genuinely explain lean tactics, benefits, and discuss possible opportunities to eliminate waste with employees motivates and empowers employees to want to do the same. Lean leadership is a visionary type of leadership because the sky is really the limit and there is always room for improvement, hence the commonly used lean term “continuous improvement.”

Tips for Lean Leadership Success

One of the most beneficial tips in creating a successful lean leadership style is communication. Communication is truly a two-way system and should never be one-sided when it comes to lean. Leaders can talk but also need to listen as well, and employees need to feel valued and heard. In fact, it is often the employees who come up with some of the best lean ideas to reduce waste since they are the people who are out working in the industrial work setting each day. Furthermore, passion is also an important component of any lean management strategy. Leaders who are passionate about lean inspire others to become passionate about lean as well. Lastly, leaders should make a commitment to embrace humility and to never stop learning. Many leaders tend to view themselves as more experienced or more qualified than others due to their business title; however, in order to fully embrace changes in lean leadership, one must be willing to set aside his or her business title and pay scale for genuine transparency. It is when leaders are able to set aside titles and logistics for continuous learning, experimentation, and willingness to take on challenges that lean truly becomes a success.

The value of implementing lean practices should not be underestimated. The lean movement towards improving customer satisfaction, while eliminating waste is gaining momentum and is quickly becoming a staple practice within many industrial environments. If you are a leader working in a lean work environment, take some time to evaluate your own leadership style and challenge yourself to fully embrace the practice of great lean leadership.

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