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Understanding Lean Leadership

By MEGAN JAMES, European Business Development Manager

I previously shared the S A Partners implementation model for Enterprise Excellence and how to use this to build effective training programmes. In case you missed it, you can find it HERE. I received some great queries specifically about the design of the Leadership element so I wanted to share some further insights on how we develop this with our customers and why it is so critical.

Fundamentally, the role of Lean Leadership is to create the right environment in which a culture of continuous improvement can be realized, where every individual has the capacity and capability to solve problems; improve their task, processes and systems on a daily basis. It is not just about tools and techniques but also about understanding the systems required to achieve Enterprise Excellence and how those systems can drive the right culture and behaviors.

To do this a different approach to Lean Leadership is required – one that truly equips leaders for the challenge ahead. Over the years we have seen Continuous Improvement & Lean programmes live and die because of the Leader in charge, the culture they have created.

Leaders that have the accountability for deploying Continuous Improvement and Lean, potentially need to change the way their teams work, think and behave. They, themselves will need much more than an understanding of Lean tools and principles. They need to understand which systems are required to drive the right behaviours; and how to engage their team in those systems to make them sustainable.

This is a very different skill set to what is traditionally taught in “Lean Leadership”. Many organisations have general leadership programmes that teach core skills, but these often don’t provide the specific lean context, alternatively some programmes do provide an understanding of the principles of Lean but focus too much on Lean tools rather than the required Lean leadership capabilities. Somewhere in the middle there is a gap, leaving leaders ill-equipped to face the challenges ahead.

With this in mind, S A Partners has developed a Lean Leadership programme that supports leaders to be the enablers of Lean that we need them to be. This programme focuses on 3 core capabilities:

Who I am:

All Leaders at all levels first need to develop a deep understanding who they are, how they think, speak, listen and connect with others. We have characterised this as the Leaders DNA, what makes them tick, what they are good at and what can they improve.



What I do:

This element focuses on what needs to be done. To do this we use the Enterprise Excellence model which provides a framework for understanding what makes an effective organization, business, department, or team. It looks at purpose, process and people in conjunction with how the organisation aligns, engages and improves to deliver sustainable customer results. Leaders are taught how signature systems are constructed, how to create their own development plans and learn how to diagnose their own activities and teams. Leaders will learn how to effectively use Go-look-see as a way of understanding the current state, measuring progress against their roadmap and engaging with their teams.



My Team:

The third element is developing the skills necessary to engage and align the team. To do this we use a tried and tested framework to first identify what needs to be done and then develop the essential leadership skills to ensure it is delivered. Leaders are first taught how to diagnose current reality, set improvement goals, understand development needs and reflect the right leadership style. Following this their skills are developed enabling them to successfully instruct, mentor, coach and delegate.




70:20:10 Learning Philosophy

By focusing on the 70:20:10 learning approach (see below) we put the emphasis on supporting every Leader throughout their Leaning journey, translating the learning into a roadmap for their part of the organization that will truly drive and sustain change.

Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996)
The Career Architect Development Planner


If you’d like to find out more about how we could work with your leaders then do get in touch with our team on or visit our website for further resources.



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