A Place to Find a Better Way

By Steve Kane Updated on September 27th, 2019

I spent the first part of this week in Riverside, California at the Global Lean Leadership Summit hosted by Rick Eglin of Fireblast Global and Angel Sanchez of Phenix Technology.  The second part of the week I was in Ann Arbor, Michigan attending the Kata Dojo, presented by Tilo Schwarz.  Both events were devoted to developing people.

Training is for individual contributors

An oft repeated message from the Global Lean Leadership Summit was that Lean is about developing people.  This is probably nothing new to readers of this blog. There was a similar message at the Dojo.

An interesting difference between the two events seemed to be that the GLLS was about leaders developing individual contributors.  The Dojo was about developing coaches (leaders).

Leaders often struggle

I’ve long held the opinion that Lean is leadership–a very specific method of leadership. It is a skillset, and it’s one that leaders often struggle with.  These skills must be deliberately taught, practiced, and continually improved upon.

Where do leaders go to learn and practice?

Tilo made an interesting point regarding the purpose of the Dojo, which was that we provide training to individual contributors and create spaces and exercises for them to learn and practice.  While managers have access to advanced learning, there is rarely a place for them to go to develop and practice leadership and coaching skills.

Dojo: A place to find a better way

Imagine the possibilities of having a safe space to for leaders to learn, practice, and improve their skills in the area leading others.



  1. Stephane Duplessis

    September 27, 2019 - 2:10 pm

    Interesting concept… what might a leadership dojo look like?

    • Steve Kane

      September 30, 2019 - 8:28 am

      A leadership dojo could be a simple room where leaders can go to develop and practice leadership skills. This could be any training room that allows for tables to be easily moved out of the way. The key is that there is a trainer/coach/sensei who recognizes the skill gaps and can provide exercises to practice in order to build skill. The key is that the leaders who are developing skill have the freedom to practice and make mistakes in private so that those they lead aren’t adversely affected by the mistakes.

  2. Jenna McGuire

    September 28, 2019 - 8:56 am

    Neat article, similar to Stephane’s comment above; I am curious what a leadership dojo would look like. Where does this take place? How can someone not necessarily in a top leadership role attend and begin to learn these principles and lean practices?

    • Steve Kane

      September 30, 2019 - 8:30 am

      This cold take place anywhere leaders could meet privately. A typical training room would work. The facility itself isn’t as important as what happens in it. The important thing is that the leaders are engaged in deliberate practice to improve leadership skills with structured exercises.

  3. Allie Goldman

    September 29, 2019 - 11:57 am

    This is a really interesting way to look at Lean. Realistically Lean improvements can only be implemented and controlled with the right leadership. And to leader these improvements, it does take a special skill set. Among the leaders in Lean manufacturers you’ve met, have you found many of these leaders have similar styles in managing their sites and teams?

  4. Steve Kane

    September 30, 2019 - 8:37 am

    Yes, I’ve found the most successful Lean leaders are those who have deliberate conversations with each of their direct reports, as well as the associates, daily. The conversation involves these elements: Where are we going next? Where are we now? What obstacles do we face? What is our next step? When can we go and see what we’ve learned from taking that step? The conversation, of course, is adapted for personal style. By having this conversation, the leader is saying “You’re headed in the right direction and you have support. Please continue.”

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