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How to Develop Lean Leaders and Still Get Work Done

by Eric Ethington
January 16, 2014

How to Develop Lean Leaders and Still Get Work Done

by Eric Ethington
January 16, 2014 | Comments (6)

(Pssst! Want to be let in on a secret about how to develop lean leaders?) PDCA works. Not Plan, Debate, Criticize, and Argue (as tempting as it is!), but Plan, Do, Check and Adjust. This allows experiments to happen in a controlled manner, which results in meaningful, lasting positive change.

Three years ago the leadership team at Cardinal Health asked if LEI would help them create a program specifically designed to develop lean leaders. Our first step was to use A3 thinking to clearly understand the problem and come up with and follow through on effective countermeasures. PDCA! Now, we are about to launch our third wave of candidates into the program.

To hear the full story, you’ll have to see Cardinal Health’s presentation at LEI's transformation summit in March, but I do want to share a little bit of what we have learned with you here. 

  1. A3 + PDCA = real progress.
    As in progress you can actually see, explain to others, and build upon... not progress by chance or progress dependent on just one individual. The A3 forces us to clearly define the problem we are trying to solve. In this case: What are lean leaders? Why do we want to create them? What's in it for the lean leader? Who are good candidates? How are they going to learn? What are they going to learn? How do we know if we are making a difference? We asked these questions and more when we socialized the A3 with stakeholders. We also defined the target characteristics of a lean leader by creating a conceptual model of how strategy translates to actions within a business, explaining the lean leader's role in making this happen. This socialization led to a logical, well-conceived plan, but we still didn't have all the answers. We had just done enough homework to give the organization confidence in our initial Plan. Only then were we given the go ahead to proceed to Do, Check, and Adjust. Rather than endlessly debate what might be done down the road, we created consensus and confidence to try something. 

  2. Real problems + coach support + effective coaching = changed thinking.
    It can be hard to capture and hold the attention of a top leader, even for the purpose of their own development, even if they know it’s for their benefit and the organization’s benefit. But when the problems a top leader really faces day-to-day are the focus, and that leader has the support of a capable coach who can guide them through the learning and problem solving process (while addressing real problems), then it's much easier to get and keep their attention. The question of every top leader, “Why should I care?”, gets answered. After a few successful cycles of this type of one-on-one coaching, you see a marked shift in how the leader thinks and engage others. It’s rewarding for all involved: the leader, coach, everyone in the company. Another benefit of this approach is just-in-time tool training. Rather than train leaders in a variety of lean tools, the coach carefully introduces only those tools that are needed to address a problem. This makes the learning more experiential and durable. Again, it’s about changing the thinking. 

What to learn more about the actual Cardinal Lean Leader program and our discoveries? Come join us at the LEI Transformation Summit March 5-6 in sunny Orlando, Florida!

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  A3,  leadership,  management,  management system
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6 Comments | Post a Comment
kevin kobett January 16, 2014
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Everyone assumes a non-lean company has no innovation. This assumption is incorrect. We naturally strive to make our lives easier. If your company has happy, return customers, someone in your company is making that happen.

When starting a formal lean program, one of the initial steps is to ask each employee to provide a list of past achievements. Now the company has a list of employees who are internally lean motivated. Ask these achievers, "Who was helpful?"

If a name is continually mentioned, you found your leader. This leader has already started his or her development as a lean leader. Who is going to be more motivated than that leader? This leader will not ask, "What's in it for me?" He has been waiting a long time for others to join in.


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John DiNicolantonio January 16, 2014
Kevin your comments are on spot.  Every company has some accomplishments- these typically are done by motivated employees who want to make improvement.  When you ask the second question around who helped you will find your natural leaders who like to help and make improvements.  It is much better to motivate using the positive then discipline or punishment.

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Ken Hunt January 16, 2014
PDCA also does not stand for Plan, Discuss, Complicate, Abandon.

As to Kevin's comment, I don't believe that EVERYONE assumes that a non-lean company has no innovation. That said, if a non lean company is competing with one that has embraced lean, want to guess who will win? 

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kevin kobett January 17, 2014

In the above article, looking for employees already using lean leadership priciples was not mentioned. I have never read anything on this subject. If you know of anyone doing this, please let me know.

I have never been associated with a lean comapny (less than 10% of lean implementations succeed). I have been associated with very successful lean employees. The only way to succeed at lean is to collect as many successful lean employees as possible.

SOP is for the sensai to force the boss to the gemba and teach him how to be a lean leader. If you have to drag the boss to the gemba, odds are this SOP is not going to work. A better alternative is to go to the gemba and find the leader that is already there. Asking achievers to identify this leader is the best and only SOP.

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Sherri Lampman January 20, 2014
Kevin, what does SOP stand for?

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kevin kobett January 22, 2014
SOP means standard operating procedure.

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