The role of a Lean leader is simple: to use Lean thinking to enhance your business’s profitability by focusing employee efforts. A Lean leader takes a goal -- such as increasing production by 5 percent or eliminating 80 percent of the waste that results from reworking bad parts -- and engages the workers in the process of achieving that goal. He makes the goal theirs and guides their efforts toward reaching the goal.

About Lean

The role of a lean leader is to lead the operational change to enhance your value stream using the same or reduced resources. Lean manufacturing creates greater value for the customer with reduced resources. According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, it focuses its efforts and processes on that goal “through a perfect value creation process that has zero waste.” Your company’s value stream – every process, from receiving materials to production and shipment – depends on adding value from which the customer benefits.

Leadership Styles

The lean leader provides vision and incentive. She provides coaching and support “at the front lines of the organization,” according to the Lean Enterprise Institute. LEI also proposes that there are three styles of leadership, including the dictator who demands things be done his way, and the “1980s empowerment style” in which the leader does things the way the employees want them done. A Lean leader always asks one question about the work: “How can we make it better?” She answers her own question, saying “Follow me and let’s figure this out together.”


Lean leaders work with the facts in front of them. They develop a hypothesis to improve a process, set up a small-scale experiment and act on the results of the experiment. If the experiment enhances the quality, reduces the cost of production or eliminates waste, the results are implemented through the company. If not, the process, called the PDCA cycle in Lean, starts over. These small incremental changes for the better are the basis of constant improvement in Lean thinking.

As Coach

A Lean leader takes steps to standardize work. She develops employees so that they think critically and understand the process in which they participate. She encourages them to look at ways to improve the process. A simpler account might describe the lean leader as a coach, encouraging team members to look at the work they do and figure out how they can make it – the product – better, in less time and at a lower cost.

As Motivator

The role of the Lean leader includes ensuring workers’ jobs contribute to customer value, measured by the same standards of reduced production time and waste, as well as greater quality. A Lean leader identifies the employees in your company’s value stream and engages them in the process of change toward that standard. A Lean leader motivates them so that they take the initiative, develop solutions to problems and improve their work, by planning and testing small changes. A team approach to this method leads to incremental improvements in the value added to each product.