Anatomy of a Lean Leader

UL, LLC (2012)

For 30 years, Jerry Bussell studied leadership while bringing lean practices to companies such as Medtronic and becoming a passionate, well-known advocate for lean. In that time, he saw many lean initiatives fail through lack of leadership or repeated missteps by those in charge. Realizing that leaders rarely understood the needs of an organization that is becoming highly efficient, self-motivated and improvement driven, he set out to help. In a lean environment, after all, true leadership is not a nicety; it is a necessity.

In this book, Jerry identifies the ten essential characteristics of a lean leader and illustrates those traits with stories from modern CEOs and one of this country’s greatest leaders, President Abraham Lincoln. Whether you are a CEO or running your first kaizen, this book will keep you engaged and help you focus on the behaviors and attitudes that are essential to creating the kind of continuous loop of improvement activities that is the heart of lean thinking.

Winner of the Shingo Prize.


Known as the father of the Japanese industrial revolution, Sakichi Toyoda modernized the weaving industry and then created the company that would become the global juggernaut, Toyota Motor Company. The son of a poor carpenter and by all accounts a modest man of restless intelligence, Toyoda was always seeking to improve on his inventions. He encouraged his son to study loom making outside of Japan, and then supported his interest in automotive manufacturing.

Five years after Sakichi Toyoda’s death in 1930, his son Kiichiro Toyoda set down what he had learned from his father in a document that became known as The Original Toyoda Precepts. These were to be the underlying principles that would guide the company through nearly a century of growth and change. It will surprise some to know that there is nothing about inventory control, finances, or growth. The first precept:

  1. Be contributive to the development and welfare of the country by working together, regardless of position, in faithfully fulfilling your duties.

What does this have to do with respect? Everything.

For years, I have been watching companies flounder or stop short on the meaning of this all-important pillar of lean thinking. Executives say "respect," but then describe simple manners or company picnics. Even in lean companies, respect often ends at the Friday report out. Saying "please" and allowing employees to make improvements are nice—even empowering. Respect, however, reaches far beyond the niceties and follows us home and into our communities.