It Takes Humility to be a Lean Leader

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Recently, in my first blog post, I asked the questions, “Why do financial executives so frequently find themselves following, rather than leading, during a LEAN initiative? Has your company implemented LEAN in the finance/accounting area? If not, why not?” It is my experience that the single biggest obstacle to a creating a truly LEAN culture in an organization is the character of the leaders tasked with implementation. And, among the character traits that we will discuss in these series of blog posts, I truly believe that HUMILITY is at the heart of, and foundational to, any successful effort at LEAN leadership.

If you are like me, a leader who has reached a senior level in their career path, you know that personal ego is no small thing when it comes to your leadership. Properly managed, it can be an effective force in leadership. However, more commonly, it is a destructive force. And, even worse, one that most of us, as leaders, fail to acknowledge or even recognize,

LEAN is about acknowledging that our work, no matter how good we feel it is, is NEVER finished. It is a mentality of constant, never-ending improvement. Ego is our natural state. In other words, we constantly seek to reinforce what we already think we know. LEAN leadership is embracing the knowledge that we must constantly work to break out of our natural state. It is changing the assumption that I will be considered talented and intelligent if I can simply come up with unique ideas and then protect them jealously.

C.S. Lewis said that, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” LEAN leaders know that their talent is to be deployed not for their own individual good, but for the good of others before themselves. LEAN thinkers know that they are in a battle against waste, and they look out for the fellow warriors on their right and on their left, no matter what position they hold in the organization. They say, “Look, I had a great idea! Now, how fast can someone else improve on it?” And, most importantly, they CELEBRATE that next improvement.

This is particularly important for financial leaders, as we are the “gatekeepers” of an organization. We can, very quickly, bring things to a screeching halt. While the “gatekeeper” analogy is appropriate for much of what we do, I would rather we focus on being fellow warriors in the battle against waste. Only a HUMBLE expression of our leadership will allow us to do so.

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