“You can’t do it without leadership. It’s all about leadership,” the CEO of a hospital told us. He had presided over a transformation that had so far brought their emergency room wait times from almost last in the jurisdiction, into the top quartile.

But how?

When overseeing a lean transformation, leaders may perceive the following dilemma: “If I get involved, it will be seen as micro-managing, or disenfranchising my people.  If I don’t get involved, things may go off track”.

There are many valuable, mission-critical roles for a leader in a Lean transformation, but they are not widely understood.

Creating the Conditions and Systems for Continuous Improvement

  • Build psychological safety and trust so that problems are not punished, but learned from, and people are happy to identify and solve problems instead of hiding them, where they cannot be solved. 
  • Use visual management for your own work and insist that the performance of your unit’s core processes is visible so that all can learn and adjust; problem-solve so that little problems do not become big problems.
  • Create improvement routines at a regular tempo to ensure that the team develops new habits. 
  • Create a direct line of sight to how each level contributes to the organization’s larger purpose and priorities. Make this visible and revisited at a regular tempo.
  • Go and see – walk around and see for yourself what is happening in the work, instead of relying on reports and hearsay in your office.

Wastes that Only Leaders Can Eliminate:

  • Identify with your team the “must-do, can’t fail” priorities and put them ahead of all of your other potential priorities – carving out time and capacity to address these, so that they don’t get crowded out by other “nice-to-have” priorities that eat up capacity and focus, but do not create as much value.
  • Say “no, not yet” to shiny objects and interesting, but less important, priorities to avoid overwhelm and loss of focus.
  • Conduct voice of your client exercises to learn what your clients really need, and keep connecting with them to improve delivery and reduce the impact of over-delivery and rework on your team.
  • Create more clarity in your requests – don’t just request for a task to be done:  indicate the desired output, and most importantly, the desired outcome of the task.  “I need you to update the TPS report by close of business tomorrow SO THAT we have fresh data to decide if we are on track to meet our quarterly target.”
  • Providing feedback on documents in meetings (physical or virtual) instead of exclusively by email.  Email feels faster,  but resolving issues by email is actually slower and takes more total effort.
  • Most processes traverse multiple silos or functional islands. Ensure that you have created strong and effective “bridges” to these other islands so that information and work flows smoothly across them. 
  • Build trust across the islands to reduce the amount of effort and time spent in over-documenting, ultimately making it comfortable and expected to work face-to-face with them to make things flow better.
  • Identify the top types of failure demand/preventable work and ensure that you and your team are working to eliminate them to free up focus and capacity to do the important work.

In this content area, we cover:

How to:

  • Free up your own capacity to lead a transformation. Target: free up 10-12 hours of your time every week.nderstand the role of the leader in a Lean transformation, and create your own “Leader Standard Work”, or a set of routine, simple behaviours to create and sustain continuous improvement in their organization.
  • Understand the critical success factors of successful Lean transformations and know how to tangibly apply many of these principles to make continuous improvement a natural part of life in their areas of responsibility.
  • Create trust and psychological safety
  • Apply the High-Performing Team Model
  • Creating and maintaining accountability in a Lean environment and deal effectively with naysayers.
  • Understand the “wastes” or non-value activities that leaders can control directly, and how to free up capacity by eliminating these wastes.
  • Creating continuous improvement routines, habits and systems.
  • What does the day of a Lean Leader look like?  Both for Leaders of teams and Leaders of Leaders.
  • Create improved alignment and free up the team’s capacity to make improvements by applying the principles of Lean strategic planning.  
  • Creating a tangible, specific, and practical plan to get started implementing workshop topics directly into your own work and the work of your teams.


Seddon, J. (2019, October 28). Failure Demand: John Seddon Vanguard Consulting. Vanguard. https://vanguard-method.net/failure-demand/