Six Characteristics of a Lean Leader

By Ron Pereira Updated on March 2nd, 2021

lean leadership

There are a plethora of books on leadership. I have read many such books and seem to gain something from each of them. I don’t always agree with the authors but in the end I feel better for studying these folks.

But, if I were to summarize what it means to be a good leader of men and women I would put it something like this:

  1. Go and see. The Japanese words “genchi genbutsu” mean to “go and see” for yourself. In short this means you cannot manage and lead from a board room or office. You must go to the “gemba” which is a Japanese word for the place the work is actually done. Now, if you work for a radio station like my big sister this means something totally different than for me who used to work for a manufacturing company. But, at the end of the day both of us are better leaders when we go and see what is happening in our respective gembas.
  2. Lead by example. One of the most powerful pictures I have ever seen was of a company president on his hands and knees cleaning the floor before work started. This was part of their daily 5S program. This is the type of example that causes people to go to battle for a leader. This is the type of leadership that earns allegiance rather than demanding it by intimidation.
  3. Expect results. A good leader is not a push over or happy go lucky all the time. Just read about Taiichi Ohno (father of Toyota Production System) and you will hear about a man who got after people when they were not doing their best.  A good leader also develops a “results based organization” versus an “activity based organization.” The contrast between the two is huge.
  4. Be an enabler of knowledge. A good leader must also be able to assess his or her organization’s stengths and weaknesses. With the strengths the leader must find a way of leveraging them even more than today. For the weaknesses the leader must find a way to close the gap. This may be accomplished by benchmarking others, attending courses, self study, or hiring consultants in order to gain the necessary skills.
  5. Learn. I recently discussed the importance of having mentors in your life. I also believe it is important for a leader to continue learning him/herself. For me, I love to read and learn this way. I also love to ask a million questions of others. So many people feel admitting you lack knowledge in a particular area is a form of weakness. I don’t. To me it demonstrates humility and respect for others which is the last trait I want to discuss.
  6. Respect others. The ability to respect others is actually embedded in all of the topics I have discussed so far tonight. I think the whole phrase “our people are our best assets” has sadly become bastardized by so many people wanting to say the right things. So if you are a leader and don’t walk through the halls saying hello to everyone you see or simply stopping by the operator on the line to ask how their day is going I think you have work to do in this area. I am far from perfect with this aspect of leadership but continue to strive for improvement.

If you study past leaders I think you will see they exhibit all of these traits (and more). Some leaders that come to my mind are Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Pope John Paul II, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and Taiichi Ohno. So, if you’re interested in another book on leadership picking one up about one or more of these people may not be a bad place to start.

  1. sean

    October 4, 2007 - 11:43 pm

    Creating a results-based organization the wrong way is likely to drive people to distort the data, or distort the system, when we want them to improve the system.

  2. Mark Graban

    October 5, 2007 - 7:10 am

    Yes, I’d agree with Sean… Toyota leaders get results by managing the process. Traditional companies (oh, like Ford and GM) have been extremely “results driven”. That’s the “management by objectives” trap that Deming railed against.

    So, yes, results matter to Toyota, but I’d be careful in using the phrase “results based” in our modern business environment, because that will be misinterpreted.

  3. Ron Pereira

    October 5, 2007 - 8:55 am

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    I think the terms “results driven” may be misleading.

    If you read the links in the post you will see what I mean by results driven… Or what the guys that coined the phrase meant.

    Toyota is most definitely results oriented when you clarify what is meant by the terminology.

    Thanks for the great comments guys.

  4. John Hunter

    October 15, 2007 - 7:39 pm

    Thanks for the worthwhile post. My favorite management book is the Leader’s Handbook by Peter Scholtes (he is a friend, so I am biased). A great book on many of the same ideas in the post.

  5. Ron Pereira

    October 16, 2007 - 8:47 pm

    Thanks for the comment and link John. Cheers.

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