The Lean Leader-Manager

The Lean Leader-Manager

The concept of lean has been successfully imported from lean manufacturing into many sectors and industries. So, why not into executive management? As a process, lean management has a lot in common with managerial effectiveness. It can be a game changer for many organizations.


The failed journey to lean
For those that misunderstood what lean is all about, achieving improved results wasn’t sustainable.

They missed the hidden part of the lean journey. It’s not just a bunch of cost-cutting measures you can push through a top-down approach.

Lean leadership is about the interaction that occurs within the organization at different levels. It’s about how people are set for success to develop the right skills, the right habits that ensure lasting change through continuous improvement.

The lean leader-manager
Leader-managers often find themselves managing teams following a rewarding promotion from an individual contributor role. They may confront legacy processes or an entrenched culture that may have taken years to accumulate. It’s easy for those leaders to find themselves in an organization that cannot deliver results. Teams that are busy with activities, but with not much to show for them.

To be effective, the new executive or leader-manager has to act fast with a lean mindset.

Eliminate Waste
An effective leader would never tolerate waste. We all know we can never completely eliminate it. But we all need to recognize that the job is never complete. A lean executive is always on a mission for continuous improvement.

Listen for phrases in meetings that justify stalling tactics. Heed the long wait for feedback from others that never comes. Simplify approval processes.

Control the contribution and don’t let the meeting get sidetracked. Target the result each topic takes up. Most important, start on time and finish on time.

Speed up decision-making
Meetings can eat up time like nothing else, and often, with nothing being accomplished.

Holding well designed meetings with a clear purpose, agenda and outcomes speeds decision-making.

Control the contribution and don’t let the meeting get sidetracked. Target the result each topic takes up. Most important, start on time and finish on time.

It makes teams far more productive. An overly consensus driven culture with lots of red-tape and unclear roles, can easily get trapped in slow decision-making or no decisions being made at all.

Many great ideas get stalled at the conception phase. The result? More nimble competitors move in to scoop up opportunities.

Prioritize days and weeks
Upper management’s time is one of a company’s most valuable resources. Leader-managers can find ways to save or make more money, but, talented as they may be, they can’t make more hours in a day.

A Survey reported by the Harvard Business Review of over 1,300 managers (including more than 500 presidents and vice presidents) show poor priority setting is common. The study noted that even though most executives work very long hours, only 47% of their working time is taken up with managerial activities.

Plan each day and week around key priorities that contribute the greatest impact you can bring to your organization.

Cut poor email habits
No one writes, “Spend 3 hours answering email today” in their calendar. Yet an inordinate amount of time is wasted slogging through the long list of emails that seem to breed in inboxes overnight.

No one writes, “Spend 3 hours answering email today” in their calendar.
To help their team run better and increase productivity, leader- managers need time to plan, strategize, make decisions, and often, just observe and think. Yet only 9% of executives claim they’re satisfied with the way they spend their time and 89% of employees admit to wasting time at work every day, according to

Just reading them all, let alone writing appropriate responses, can extend the workday and erode the time both leader-managers and their staff need to produce actual work.

Empower teams with trust
In an autocratic environment, it’s easy to see why projects stall. Enable managers to empower individual team members. Ensure decision making abilities are pushed down as low as possible.

Create a culture of success where teams can take pride in their work. Resist the promotion of restrictive processes that limit their ability to act. As a leader-manager, you need to trust your team and let them shine and thrive.

You will find it helpful to act as a coach. Develop employees so they think critically. Encourage them to look at ways to improve the process. Does it work? How can we move things faster?

Lean management = Effective organization
By saving time and eliminating time-wasting activities for yourself and the members of your team, you can improve the quality and efficiency of your output, knock off targets faster, speed decision-making and processes, and achieve faster, more stellar results.

In the words of Peter Drucker, “Nothing else, perhaps, distinguishes effective executives as much as their tender loving care of time.”