Lean leadership is a managerial style adopted from the Toyota company. Toyota has perfected this style of management, which has since been adopted by other companies because of its success. While Lean leadership is prevalent in the manufacturing industry, it's not limited to it.
Lean has been introduced to multiple industries including healthcare, government, banking, and IT. The concept of Lean has found places in various industries due to its belief in efficiency and waste reduction.
Organizations who practice Lean want results—long-term results. These can focus on safety, quality, delivery, or morale. In the end, the organization wants to accomplish sustainable change in some aspect of their business model. Therefore, Lean is about having the right resources in place to do the correct work for the customer, with exceptional quality, at the right time.
What is Lean Leadership?
Lean leadership is simple to follow; it's only comprised of two components. The first component is to eliminate waste and non-value-added activity through continuous improvement. When looking at long-term results, this first part of Lean increases a business's efficiency by improving their day-to-day operations and processes. If a particular process isn't working, you find a solution and test it. If that still doesn't work, you go back to the drawing board and try again. Once you've found a solution that works, it may only work for a limited amount of time before variables change, and another solution must be conceived. This continuous improvement ensures your supply chain is operating on full cylinders and eliminating non-essential tasks. Lean thinking changes the focus of management from utilizing separate technologies, departments, and assets, to optimizing the flow of products and services across entire value streams. These horizontal streams flow across technologies and departments to customers. Eliminating waste across entire value streams, instead of isolated points, creates processes that require less effort, space, capital, and time. Companies are then able to respond to changing customer wants and needs with high variety, quality, and output times.
Part of this first component is Gemba. The idea of Gemba is that problems are visible and out there, and the best solutions for improvement come from the Gemba walk. This walk is an activity that sees management visit the floor to observe processes, find the problem, and then create a solution, rather than sitting in their offices looking from above. Gemba takes supervisors to the front lines of work to look for waste.
The second component of Lean is practicing respect for people. Lean managers empower and enable their staff in a hands-on manner. They push their employees professionally and personally, helping them take pride and ownership of their hard work. Instead of setting targets, disappearing, and reappearing for evaluation, lean leaders coach their staff to achieve their goals. Therefore, only a tiny amount of the manager's time is spent sitting in the office. They lead their team and actually observe what happens rather than reading reports. Because Lean leaders are hands on, they develop great relationships with their team, motivating them to do their best and learn everything they can, which increases employee morale.
Lean leadership is a way of achieving more with fewer resources while creating a more flexible business that focuses on its customers. By eliminating waste, the business's efficiency increases, which positively benefits the consumer. By respecting people, Lean leaders develop a motivated, hardworking team. Lean produces results because it focuses on the two most important parts of a business—the workers and the customers.
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