How to become a Lean Leader

A common misconception about implementing Lean (TPS) is that the people doing the work (value-added frontline workers) will have to change. But actually, it is the leadership that has to change, or you can only get a fraction of the benefits of the tools and methodology.

There are 4 things a leader must know or experience to help implement Lean in their organization

  • Lean Principles
  • Culture of Toyota Production System (TPS)
  • Lean Accounting
  • Learn from others

Lean Principles

We have set up a simple page to explain the concepts, tools and techniques of Lean, so we won’t focus on that much on this page.

Culture of TPS

  1. The Story of NUMMI – To truly understand Lean, you need to listen to the amazing story of NUMMI. It was a joint venture between General Motors (GM) and Toyota in the early 1980’s. To prove that TPS could be successful in the United States (not just Japan), they re-hired all the former GM workers at the same plant that had previously shutdown, and transformed it into the best GM facility. Listen to this podcast from This American Life from 2010:
  2. Mike Hoseus – He spent many years in Human Resources at Toyota, where he developed his TPS skills at the TMMK facility in Georgetown, Kentucky. He shares his experiences and learnings on the importance of psychological safety, the origins of the andon cord (stop the line), how to build a high-performance culture, the difference between problem identification and problem-solving, the significance of respect and trust, and the intentional development of a lean culture. He is a co-author of “Toyota Culture: The Heart and Soul of the Toyota Way” with Jeff Liker.

Lean Accounting

In order to make the best decisions to run your company in a Lean way, you have to change the way you manage. It starts with the Finance team, because it drives many non-Lean behaviors, and Finance has such a strong influence on what decisions companies make on a regular basis.

  • Mark DeLuzio – He is a former Corporate Officer and Vice President of Danaher Business System (DBS) for Danaher Corporation. Danaher has been recognized as the leading implementer of Lean globally. He is also credited with developing the first Lean Accounting process in the United States for Danaher’s Jake Brake Division, where he served as their Chief Financial Officer.
  • Art Byrne – Art Byrne has been implementing Lean strategy in various U.S.-based manufacturing and service companies, such as Danaher Corporation, for more than 30 years, including The Wiremold Company, which he ran for 11 years. He gives good examples of why Lean Accounting is critical. The podcast is embedded below, or you can watch the interview on YouTube.

Learn from others

In order to truly understand a leader’s role in transformation, it helps to see it modeled.

I had the pleasure of working at Rockwell Collins while Clay Jones was CEO. He was a great advocate for Lean. He brought Lean into the company, and he continually spoke about the importance of Lean every time he spoke and communicated to employees. He also spoke at a Lean conference back in 2006 about the Lean journey at Rockwell Collins. Hopefully this speech can help you see the passion and focus he had for Lean.

I’m working on a podcast series with my thoughts after watching this video. Here are the episodes so far:


Want to learn more about Lean and Six Sigma tools, and apply them to an improvement projects? Check out these low-cost online courses and certification programs



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