David Peacock: Lean Leadership

David Peacock

On this blog, I’ve discussed trends in manufacturing, in mentoring, in hiring. The overarching theme for each of these topics can be summed up in one word: change. In every industry, in every generation, and in every market, change is the one constant.  Leadership is no different.  While the principles of leadership remain true throughout time, their application is no less impacted by change than any of these other areas previously discussed.

Lean leadership has demonstrated its effective applications of leadership principles in the modern workforce.  The key to its success is its ability to not only adapt to change, but its expectation of and embracing of change. Lean leaders—whether they are formal leaders within the hierarchical structure of an organization or informal leaders addressing challenges in the trenches—are committed to improvements.  These improvements are achieved through change.

Lean leaders are people at every level of the organization who are leading change in their companies and in the industry in three main ways.

They embrace new ideas

It’s not enough to do the same process over and over because that’s the way things have always been done. Lean leaders challenge the status quo to continuously improve their operations and companies.

A leader like this will seek new processes to get products from point A to point B. They will search for ways to update the existing technologies and solve problems with new technologies that pave the way to new markets. They embrace collaborative leadership—one that seeks to elicit ideas from across the full spectrum of the workforce.  They recognize the value of each person involved in the process and the vision from each unique perspective.

They refocus on the customer

The key tenet of Lean is a focus on the customer.  Leadership’s reconnection of this is imperative. Quite honestly, if you, as a leader, haven’t gotten that basic concept, you should probably explore other endeavors.  Opportunities available today to refine that focus on the customer include:

  • Onshoring.
    • As previously discussed, onshoring puts the customer first by refocusing on speed to market, quality and the necessity to shorten the distance from the raw materials to the end user.
    • Those extended transit times from distance production facilities to the users are becoming less and less acceptable.
    • Additionally, those involved in the value chain are recognizing the tremendous cost of quality when delivery pipelines extend for weeks to offshore facilities.
    • There is carrying costs for the material being shipped in those extended pipelines. Those costs are going to be passed along in some form to customers.
    • In survey after survey, communication is always identified as a shortcoming. Whether this communication is upstream to suppliers, internally within the team or downstream to our customers, we must always look to improve how and what we are communicating.
    • Technology continues to expand our abilities to coordinate our activities with customers and to keep them informed. The speed with which we successfully adopt these changing technologies will offer a competitive advantage to those that properly leverage this opportunity.
  • Continuous improvement.
    • This is no surprise as continuous improvement is the very center of Lean manufacturing.
    • Too often, organizations implement an improvement, assume they have solved the challenge and then take their eye off the goal. Were it that easy, manufacturing wouldn’t need Lean.  Each change…whether evolutionary or revolutionary….brings new and fresh opportunities for more change.  Relax and you will find yourself chasing those more vigilant organizations.

They utilize charismatic leadership styles

These leaders have shared values that they work to solidify at all levels of the organization. Lean leadership values its leaders as:

  1. Teachers – enabling others to learn
  2. Learners – empowering others to share ideas
  3. Supporters – enabling others to act

Ideally, each person in the organization embodies all three of these styles, although some will be more adept at certain categories. A Lean leader embraces new ideas to improve the organization and focuses on prioritizing the customer.

It’s only through Lean leadership that a sustainable Lean methodology can be implemented in any workplace, including throughout the manufacturing industry. To embrace the change that has already happened and to encourage those in the organization to seek improvement through on-going changes, we have an obligation to empower folks to be a Lean leader in our organizations.


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