Leadership – Part 3

What do leaders and Leader Standard Work look like in a Lean environment?

Well, first I’m going to talk a little bit about three warlords that ruled over Japan hundreds of years ago- and stay with me- you’ll understand why in a moment! So, these three warlords, in successive years managed to unify the country and bring an end to the violence of what they call the Warring States period. These unifiers all took a different approach to how Japan was bought into the modern age and how it became a very team-oriented environment. A place where the thinking and the theory around total quality management, which came out of America, became the idea and the concept of Lean, as we loosely coin it.

Samurai ArmourThe image on the left is a picture that I took of a suit of Samurai ceremonial armour. It is actually the ceremonial armour of one of the shoguns of that unifying period, and quite spectacular. Samurai Standard WorkThe image on the right is the standard work required to put on Samurai armour! It became so harmonious during that peaceful period that the Samurai had forgotten how to put on their armour, and from what I understand, this was one of their attempts at being able to help the Samurai remember how to put it on, at times of ceremony, and so on. Even back then, the concept of leaders having Standard Work was a thing!

When we talk about Standard Work for leaders, there are a few levels to this.

Supervisors and Team Leaders

From a supervisor and team leader level, one of the things that they need to be doing for their teams is to facilitate Kaizen with practical wisdom on a day to day basis. They need to be always working towards change for the better. Another part of the role that’s really important for supervisors and team leaders is data gathering because, without the data, we can’t understand how we are performing. It’s important to note that data and numbers aren’t everything! Being engaged and present with your team is important for their morale.


The manager is really there to monitor KPI’s and remove roadblocks for your supervisors and teams. You’re there to facilitate their ability to get a bit better every day. You’re also there as a manager to run improvement projects, keep on top of the major initiatives, and keep improvement aligned to strategy. It’s important for a manager to be involved in facilitating problem-solving, but not coming up with the solutions.

Leaders and Leadership

At every level of a business, there are leaders. Within small teams of people who do the work, there are leaders. People who show leadership ability and conduct themselves in a leader type manner exist at every level of a business. In this case, let’s talk about Leaders at the top of the business – executives and senior managers who are above the manager and often in charge of cost centres or departments. These leaders should seek to understand what’s going on particularly where the work actually happens – where customer value is actually delivered. As a leader, you need to be very in touch with what people are doing in your factory, in the field, or office. It’s important for leaders at this level to keep asking questions that lead to Kaizen and positive change towards the KPIs. You’re managing the business based on KPI’s, and you want every level of the business to understand the importance of the KPI’s and that you get what they do to contribute. Be humble, be curious and tell people you appreciate their efforts.

I’m going to go into a bit more about how that all works in subsequent blogs, but these are very important aspects at a high level.


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