K&P leadership series: Linking Lean and leadership

Aug 6, 2021

This article was originally published in the April 2021 edition of The Audit Connection newsletter.

Lean principles have stood the test of time since their introduction by Dr. Edward Deming in the 1930s because they are universal to all process work and applicable to any organization. From large to small, private industry to public sector, east coast to west coast to around the globe, Lean principles are a proven system's approach to successful process improvement and performance excellence.

In fact, Lean principles go far beyond this original purpose of organizational process improvement and can easily be the foundation for an individual's personal value system. Many of us would make better personal decisions if first we clearly defined our goals and then took the time to understand our current condition so we didn't lose or give away anything critical or valuable to our happiness.

If we go slowly to create a comprehensive plan before moving fast to make changes in our lives and simultaneously take the time to keep our personal work space clean and organized, there is no doubt we can achieve more of what we personally desire.

The Leadership Challenge

Similar to Lean principles, the Kouzes and Posner Leadership Challenge (K&P) remains as popular today as when it was first introduced in 1987 because it is applicable to any leadership position whether that be at work, volunteering or with your family.

This article is the first in a series meant to demonstrate how the K&P leadership model connects to Lean principles bringing more success and personal satisfaction to people dedicated enough to follow them both. Today's article summarizes the five K&P behaviors or practices of exemplary leadership. Future articles will expand on how these practices connect to specific Lean principles to gain followers and improve leadership results.

Growing Your Leadership Skills

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner believe that leadership is learned, not a quality some people are simply born with. And what is a leader without followers?

As professors at Santa Clara University, they studied thousands of leaders that followers reported to be exemplary. Their research asked what those leaders do when they are performing at their personal best. These case studies turned into their book, The Leadership Challenge, describing five core behaviors that anyone can use to become a better leader regardless of their management style or personality.

The five behaviors are a system and must all be embraced together to achieve success:

  1. Model the way: Leaders know that followers watch and duplicate their actions, not the words from speeches or motivational posters. This means that leaders must be clear and confident about their own personal values so their unconscious actions are consistent with their words. “Titles are granted, but it's your behavior that wins you respect. Concentrating on producing small wins, leaders build confidence that even the biggest challenges can be met.”
  2. Inspire a shared vision: Leaders dream of a different future and then ignite enthusiasm for their vision in others by tapping into their followers' desire and motivation to contribute. “Leaders have a desire to make something happen. Leaders forge a unity of purpose by showing constituents how the dream is for the common good.”
  3. Challenge the process: Leaders are pioneers who are willing to step into the unknown and seek out personal challenges that go beyond their status quo. They often take risks based on the suggestions and feedback of peers, staff and customers. “As weather shapes mountains, problems shape leaders. They learn from their failures as well as their successes.”
  4. Enable others to act: Leaders give away information, power and authority allowing the team to achieve extraordinary results, far beyond what can be achieved by the leader alone. “Those who are expected to produce the results must feel a sense of ownership. Leadership is a relationship, founded on trust and confidence.”
  5. Encourage the heart: Leaders know that achieving great results takes a big commitment and long struggle, which can leave teams frustrated and exhausted. A leader recognizes individual efforts and team accomplishments to fuel excitement and motivate followers through barriers. “Genuine acts of caring can uplift the spirits and draw people forward. Encouragement can come from dramatic gestures or simple actions.”

Over 30 years after The Leadership Challenge was first published, the five practices of exemplary leadership continue to be relevant today. Anyone can learn this model of easy-to-grasp practices if they are willing to step up and accept the challenge to lead.

Applying these leadership skills to your role

Specific roles require different skill sets. Future articles will provide suggestions for how K&P behaviors coordinate with Lean principles for leaders in any role. Regardless of whether you are an experienced executive, first-time manager, frontline supervisor, manager with a new team, or subject-matter expert with no formal management responsibility at all (an informal leader), this series of articles is for you. Watch this blog for those upcoming articles.