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The Role of the Leader

This month our LPAS learning session focused on the Role of the Leader. In Art Byrne’s book ‘The Lean Turnaround’ he states that over 90% of Lean turnarounds fail long term based on the lack of sustainability. The role of the leader is to create the environment for sustainably of improvement efforts through: purpose, planning and people.


It is important for leaders to create and share the vision for an organization. When everyone understands where they are headed, and why, employees develop a better sense of purpose and their contribution to the company and the direction of that company increases.

It is crucial that leaders develop a vision that is seen as a challenge. This inspires the organization to strive to reach an ideal state. While they may arrive, steps in the right direction are what really matter. As Ethane Hawke noted in ’20 Rules for a Knight.’ “To head North, a knight may use the North Star to guide him, but her will not arrive at the North Star. A knight’s duty is to proceed in that direction.”


Without planning, a vision is merely a nice idea. Planning is how the vision is turned into reality. The leader’s role is to lead the development of the plan using input form the organization. It is extremely important that everyone is speaking the same language and understands the plan. If people do not understand – you, as a leader, have not done a good enough job explaining and detailing the plan.

A powerful way of cascading a plan up and down an organization is through visual management. Visual management translates the vision and plan into visual indicators that are accessible and understood throughout the organization. Word of Wisdom: Take care to ensure you are measuring the right thing – the wrong measure can be detrimental to a team causing relationship, trust and morale issues.


At the root of any organizational transformation is people. People are often referred to as the most valuable resource a company has, and this couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Many organizations start lean transformations with the believe that eliminating waste and implementing continuous improvement leads to a lean culture. This is an operational approach which will achieve operational results. For a more strategic approach, leaders need to flip that belief to focus first on fostering a lean culture, which will then lead to elimination of waste and ongoing continuous improvements. The leader’s efforts are redirected to respect for people, creating a chain of support, understanding client experiences and nurturing a different type of behaviour, such as failing fast and relentlessly reflecting.

One way to incorporate purpose, planning and people is with Gemba walks. Gemba walks allow managers to observe the work, gaining knowledge while engaging with employees. Many leaders and improvement professionals struggle with Gemba walks. To explore this topic further be sure to join us for our February LPAS session!

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