5 elements of Lean Leadership

by Mascha Westen-Reinders Folmer, Reinders Folmer Consultancy, 19 February, 2021

Lean leadership is not a skill, but a whole system for the sustainable implementation and continuous improvement of Lean. It focusses on the collaboration of workers and management in their common pursuit of perfection. Both customer focus of all processes and the continuous development of all employees and leaders are an important part. The essential components of Lean leadership can be clustered in these five main elements:

  • Improvement culture: Striving for perfection. Failure in order to improve and learn
  • Self-development: Lean leaders lead by example. New leadership abilities are vital
  • Employee development: Long-term education of employees. Continuous learning
  • Gemba: Shop floor management. First-hand knowledge as a basis for decision making
  • Hoshin Kanri: Customer focus. Aligned goals on all levels

Methodologies to support these elements for Lean leadership are the ‘diamond model for leadership advancement’ [1] and the Toyota kata [2]. The two methodologies are described below:



The Toyota kata show two standardised approaches:

Improvement kata for process optimisation

An open ended schedule that has no predefined result. Representatives use it to experimentally improve their processes toward an ideal target condition. It uses short improvement cycles and single factor analyses, that help to distinguish cause and effect connections.

Coaching kata for employee development

This is used to implement the improvement kata in the entire company. Managers lead their subordinates by posing a set of standard questions every time they meet, that help to structure the continuous improvement thinking.


In contrasted with other methodologies, Lean doesn’t predefine the approach. Leaders don’t decide if a employees should use kanban, 5S or U-cell. To develop their employees, it is essential develop the process and the employees towards a specific target.

Standardised problem solving routines based on consistent use of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycles, should be used to support self-development and employee development. This way of working not only improves processes, but also helps to build a continuous improvement culture for both employees and managers. Pre-requisite is a standardized and scientific problem solving approach.



[1] Jeffey Liker. The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership – Achieving and sustaining excellence through leadership development

[2] Rother M. Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results

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