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Lean Healthcare has the potential to radically improve hospitals and healthcare organizations, yet its impact is often limited in many organizations that try to implement Lean principles.  This notion alone magnifies the importance of Lean leadership in organizations that plan to make a larger and broader impact with Lean.  Organizations that aspire to transform through Lean Healthcare must have a transforming leader.

The qualities of a transforming leader include:

  • The ability to create a lean vision for the organization
  • Understanding that people are a major source of information
  • Being visible where the work is performed (Gemba)
  • Listening twice as much as speaking
  • The ability to persuade and influence, rather than coerce
  • Focusing on operating processes
  • Mentoring and motivating people to determine how to get it done
  • The ability to coach

True Lean Healthcare leaders always spend time in the Gemba. So, let’s discuss what your daily standard work should look like as a leader:

  • Do you go to the Gemba? Is this part of your daily system and do you model this to other leaders in your organization?
  • Do you recognize waste when you see it, and do you work to eliminate it? Do you discover and resolve problems? Are your managers, staff, suppliers, and partners identifying and eliminating waste?  Or, do you still own it all?

So, what makes Lean leadership different? An effective Lean leader must be a good coach. Lean is about “shared thinking” along with common philosophy, ideas and principles.  A Lean leader needs to be a source of endless energy that drives the organization into action.  They need to create positive tension — not stress — around the gap between the current reality and the ideal state. Lean culture involves action, experimentation and new thinking so a Lean leader must be an innovator and risk taker. Lean leaders should be able to lead through visible participation and not by mere declaration.

In the past 20 years I have heard a lot of excuses coming from leaders about why they can’t make the transformation to Lean thinking and Lean leadership to truly lead their healthcare organizations to become the best they can be and deliver exceptional care and value to their customers. My answer to all these excuses is to get out from behind your desk and spend time in the Gemba and help staff make changes happen. True Lean leaders embody this and drive the Lean Healthcare transformation in an organization.


Today’s blog was written by Michael Kellner, a Director with HPP.

With more than 30 years of experience, Michael has optimized organizations’ delivery systems through Lean, Six Sigma and continuous quality improvement methodologies.  He has led lean transformations in Healthcare for both private organizations and the military, including the Office of the Surgeon General.  Michael has also held senior leadership roles with Johnson Controls, Tenneco Automotive, and Warner Electronics.  Additionally, he served with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam.

Michael holds a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology from Tennessee Technological University. He also holds a Senior Sensei and Master Black Belt Certification.

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