The Lean leadership develoment model

by Mascha Westen-Reinders Folmer, Reinders Folmer Consultancy, 16 April, 2021

In blog #5, I talked about Lean leadership self development and 2 supporting structures:

  • The Lean leadership development model
  • The Toyota kata

Today I will elaborate on the Toyota Kata structure.

The Lean leadership development model (the diamond model) – The Toyota Way to Lean leadership

A structured and focussed approach towards a Lean Kaizen culture

In his book Toyota Kata, Mike Rother describes management as: “the systematic pursuit of desired conditions by utilizing human capabilities in a concerted way.” He mentions that the improvements and solutions are not enough to get sustainable results. You also need a different way of doing things on a daily basis: a continuous improvement (Kaizen) approach.

This requires teaching the skills behind the solution and that is te primary task of leaders and managers. This is where the Kata comes in. Kata is derived from the martial arts, where a set of standard moves are practised deliberately on a daily basis as a way to memorize and perfect the movements, and let them become second nature. This can be applied in organisations as work- and learningroutines and were translated into 2 main Kata’s:

  1. Improvement Kata
  2. Coaching Kata

In the next paragraphs these 2 Kata’s will be explained more indepth.


1. Improvement Kata

The Improvement Kata forms the continuous improvement habits of the method. The Improvement Kata guides the teams through a four-step process focused on learning and improving their way of working:

  1. Understand the direction or challenge
  2. Grasp the current condition
  3. Define the next target condition
  4. Move toward that target condition iteratively, which uncovers obstacles that need to be worked on.

The main difference with most other approaches, the Kata does not try to predict the path or focus on implementation. While using the improvement kata, teams learn as they strive to reach a target condition, and adjust based on what they learn. 

4 steps of the Improvement Kata

The purpose of the Improvement Kata is to learn more about the processes within the organisation. Building the organisation’s understanding of how work works. With this understanding and ability to learn, the organisation can improve their way of working, striving for a state of excellence through iterated steps and small focused experiments.

Improvement-kata thinking and behaviour is universal; applicable not only in business organisations, but in education, politics, daily living, etc.. The book‘s underlying message is that when people practice and learn a kata for how to proceed through unclear territory, they don’t need to fear the obstacles, changes and unknowns they encounter. Rather than trying to hold on to a sense of certainty based on one’s perspective, people can get their confidence from a kata for working through uncertainty.


2. Coaching Kata

The second and equally important part of Toyota Kata is the Coaching Kata and supports the Improvement Kata. You can therefore only use the Coaching Kata, after gaining experience in using the Improvement Kata for some time.

The Coaching Kata is s a set of teaching routines that help managers and leader to develop the coaching skills needed to support their team in the Improvement Kata. This way they learn how to teach Improvement Kata thinking and acting and to help their team to focus on learning, improving, and pointing in the right direction in everyday work. The teams focus should be on tackling the obstacles, that stand in their way towards the next target condition, one at a time and the coach helps them with this focus. The leaders challenges them to take small steps to not only improve the process, but to improve themselves.

5 questions

The Coaching Kata questions are used during the last step of the Improvement Kata, where incremental steps are taken towards the target condition. For each incremental step there are 5 questions the coach will go through with their team:

  1. What is the target condition?
  2. What is the actual condition now?
  3. What obstacles do you think are preventing you from reaching the target condition? Which one are you addressing now?
  4. What is your next step? What do you expect?
  5. When can we go and see what we have learnt from taking that step?

This way they learn to reflect on the current situation and to remove the obstacles that are stopping them from reaching the next target condition and finally reflect on the success of the removal of the obstacle.


To develop a Lean Culture in your organisation, managers and leaders throughout the whole organization on all levels will have to act as a coach for their team by applying the Coaching Kata on a daily basis.

If you are interested in introducing Toyota Kata in your organisation, you can read more in the following books:

Other books related to creating a Lean Kaizen culture:

When you are not so much into reading, you have any questions, or are interested how this could apply to your organisation, feel free to contact me.